Made in Birmingham: Industrial style metal shelving by Bowles & Bowles

London has long been seen as the design arts & crafts and music centre on the United Kingdom. Didn’t Tracy Emin, David Bailey and The Beatles all beat a path to London to find success? Maybe, but there has always been something that Sheffield, Birmingham and other “northern” cities have got that London no longer has- a manufacturing history and heavy industry credo.
Despite the recent economic downturn, quite a lot of it still goes on in the Midlands you know? And that’s not just mindless manufacturing, but some crème-de-la-crème design and craftsmanship. Bowles & Bowles furniture is such a beacon of midlands’ excellence; characterised by functionality, quality of materials and best-of-British skill. Available in either weathered copper or zinc wire mesh (yep, hold on to your hats here!), the original 12-piece launch collection includes seating, storage and tables inspired by the old school lockers made at the group’s Birmingham metalworks.
Of course Birmingham’s nouveau rich illuminati have tried to move on super-fast from the city’s roots and portray it as a more gentile sophisticated and glossy city. That’s as may be, but I think people should never forget the city and surrounding areas’ glorious industrial heritage, and celebrate it rather than sweep it under a carpet like it never happened.
This innovative furniture company is named after founders Peter Bowles and son Charlie. With its sense of purpose, history and stripped back aesthetic, Bowles & Bowles furniture is characterised by functionality, quality of materials and best-of-British honed craftsmanship. The father-and-son team have a track record in reinvigorating British design and industry (that’s a nice term for saying they’ve kicked up the rear some established furniture designers who prefer to sit on their laurels rather than go outside the envelope. With the goal of taking traditional manufacturing techniques and making them relevant for today’s audiences, Bowles & Bowles has lifted simple wire mesh from its humble roots.
How is each piece manufactured? Each piece is pressed, welded and folded in Birmingham using the factory’s genuinely antique tools and original machinery. Steel wire is bent to create the outline of each piece, held in place by a wooden jig. Then individually cut mesh sheets are spot-welded to the frame inch by inch, then cut and smoothed by hand. Lockers and desks are finished with door catches pressed from sheet steel using a traditional fly press, while desks and tables are topped with tasteful smoked glass that again evokes the “dark satanic mills” up north!
The business is expanding and in 2014 Bowles and Bowles will be launching non mesh-based furniture collections. I hope that this is just in addition to their trademark designs and productions- we can’t have Birmingham’s industrial heritage being left behind again! But somehow I trust this father and son team to keep to the products that made them and keep wire mesh furniture in their catalogues for years to come.