KilveBeach

LDF13: Modus Furniture in Somerset, UK

Despite being closely associated with the UK, and with top Brit designers like Simon Pengelly and PearsonLloyd, there’s nothing particularly British about Modus’s actual furniture: Sleek, modern, and mostly solid in color and material, its sofas, lights, and chairs have a kind of pan-European or even slightly Scandinavian feel. So we were surprised to see the brand celebrating its new London Design Festival launches (some of which are pictured below) with a companion exhibition of striking photographs by Angela Moore, which document the otherworldly landscapes of rural Somerset, England — the home of Modus HQ. “Shooting the local landscape is a little random for us,” says Modus co-founder and Somerset native Jon Powell, who credits London creative agency Studio Small with the idea. “But it actually made sense to us to say look, we’re British, and we’re committed to sustainable design.” In addition to all eight of Moore’s images, which are on view this week and next in the show “Out of Sight” at Modus’s London showroom, we asked Powell to tell us a little bit more about the brand’s home base, and what it’s like making very urban furniture from a place that’s anything but.

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“Both myself and Ed Richardson grew up in Somerset; we were friends at school. I stayed in the area and Ed moved to London, which works perfectly for us because a lot of our business is based in London. But our head offices are here. From a manufacturing point of view, there’s no particular advantage or skill base to being based in Somerset. If you go to South Wales for instance, there’s a wealth of upholstery experience there that we don’t have. Our being based here is more coincidental, since it’s where we grew up. After I left university, having studied engineering, me and Ed worked together for another furniture company, then started to establish our own business in 2000. We met Simon Pengelly, developed a shelving unit together that was manufactured in the UK, and decided on the direction of the company being very much a British manufacturing business.”

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“In Somerset we do some manufacturing, but mostly distribution and component assembly. Our headquarters at the moment isn’t as idyllic as you could imagine, but we’re in the process of relocating to a very idyllic location, on a country estate that’s very quintessentially English — it used to be featured on a British TV series called To the Manor Born. We’re building a special manufacturing facility there and expanding our head offices. It’s a very nice place for staff to work as well. We’ll get to see the cows and sheep grazing from our windows.

“Somerset in general is very rural. It’s about three hours from London, sandwiched between the north and south coastlines, and there’s a lot of farming in the area. But the landscape also varies: There are the Somerset Levels — which are very low-lying levels with a lot of dikes and small streams — plus caves and the gorges of Cheddar, plus a lot of moorland, which is a very rugged landscape, as well as rolling countryside and of course orchards. It’s a very beautiful part of the country. A lot of Londoners have property in the area, so it’s heavily visited in the summer months as a tourist destination. As a company we do go out quite a bit locally, for company picnics, or the occasional staff fishing trip since we’re close to the coastline. We’ve gone clay pigeon shooting in the past for Christmas, too, and have our Christmas outings to chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage. It’s quite nice in that respect.”

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“For the exhibition, it was very intentional to reference Somerset — it was Studio Small’s idea, as they wanted to punctuate the catalog with landscapes as a way to break up all the furniture and try a different angle to make it more interesting. They felt that it made sense given our location to photograph our local area, partly to emphasize that there’s a drive in the business for environmental design and sustainability and partly to reinforce our heritage and British roots. They gave us a list of potential photographers to work with, and as I was familiar with Angela’s work through the Frieze art campaign, she immediately struck a chord with me. She’s London based and had never been to Somerset. She spent six days exploring the area early in the morning and late at night. We came up for the name of the exhibition, Out of Sight, because she said she came across so many unexpected environments and settings that surprised her. It’s hard to encapsulate Somerset in eight photographs, but I think it’s a very well-rounded cross section, ranging from seascapes and the Somerset Levels to the gorge and the moorlands. The images are featured in the catalog, but we’ve also done a limited-edition run of 10 of each print for the LDF exhibition.

“Our furniture feels predominantly European with a few quintessentially British pieces; it has an Anglo/Scandinavian look, maybe. It’s hard to pigeonhole where we’re from just by looking at our furniture. But even people who do think of us as British, few of them actually know where we’re based. I don’t think people were very aware of our roots before. Now they are.”

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