Paul Firbank is a contemporary craftsman and modern day totter. He and his partner Royal College of Art alumni Lizzie Gossling have worked on international interior projects for hotels and restaurants, as well as with interior designers, architects and private clients. Andrew Peters caught up with a very modern reincarnation.
London didn’t officially have rag-and-bone men until 1588 when Elizabeth I granted privileges to mudlarks and to those who collected rags for making paper. Fast-forward more than 400 years and the once-thriving profession and common sight on streets and suburbs vanished. The last ‘totter’ was documented as Alf Masterson; he parked his barrow and faithful Jack Russell (he no longer used a horse and cart) over 10 years ago. This centuries old practice morphed commonly into today’s car boot sales and so didn’t disappear without trace.
Paul and partner Lizzie produce some stunning bespoke and functional furniture and lighting made from historic engineered and architectural components that they spot potential in and divert from the melting pot. Open to all kinds of commissions, large or small, multiples, or unique pieces their mantra is the more challenging the better!
Q How would you describe what you and Lizzie do?
A At The Rag and Bone Man we rework ‘scrap with heritage’ such as end of life planes and rare car or motorbike parts into bespoke lighting, furniture and interior accessories. Whether we’re transforming a 1940’s Lycoming R680 radial engine into a chandelier for the owner of hotel, or re-purposing a collection of racing car components owned by a race driver into a bespoke bankers light, the same principles apply. It’s our passion for channeling the character and quirks of every component and the quality and finish for which The Rag and Bone Man brand has become renowned.
Q Do you think there’s a younger generation that doesn’t know what a rag-and-bone man was or did?
A The Rag and Bone Man reworks British traditions for a generation of customers who are passionate about heritage, provenance and sustainability. Our clients are intrigued by the story of The Rag and Bone Man and find joy learning about this history that is part of British culture. We currently work with clients across the globe including America, Australia, Europe and Asia.
“It’s our talent for channeling the character and quirks of every component and the quality and finish for which The Rag and Bone Man brand has become renowned.”
Q Why did you recently relocate from London to Margate?
A Margate is a diamond in the rough; its transformation and regeneration have recently been accelerated by the growth of creative industries in the area. Nicknamed ‘Hackney on Sea’ it’s an exciting place to be, with plenty of opportunities to collaborate and still keep a good connection with London. We moved to Margate in 2014 and have now set up a 1,800sqft workshop in the heart of Cliftonville.
Q What has been your most enjoyable project to date?
A Highlights include working as a lead designer on repurposing an end of life aircraft as part of a commission for Channel 4 called Supersized Salvage. We also really enjoyed the recent commission by BBC Arts which covered the final assembly of a pair of occasional tables made using industrial diamond encrusted stonemason saw blades, large heavily modified c.1920’s cart jacks with Aston Martin brake disc bases. (see website)
Q What are you currently working on?
A At the moment, a chandelier for a clients’ home using a Pratt and Whitney JT8 Mixer Nozzle from a 737 Jet. I’m also working on a pair of lazy chairs adapting the original seating from an old Daimler. She wanted to give the seats to her two sons before they flew the nest in memory of her late father who had owned the car. I’m also about to embark on a chandelier commission for a restaurant in London, and we’re working on a beautiful 1942 DeHavliland Goblin Engine for it. It’s a beautiful item and a privilege to have it in the workshop. The transformation will be documented with a short film. We also have a project with the RHS and London Design Festival next year.
“Masculine and elegant, industrial luxe, our pieces have been described by clients as future heirlooms so we like to think they are timeless.”
Q You undertake private commissions. Do you prefer a free license to be creative?
A We do private commissions, and also create our own designs that we sell to private individuals, collectors, dealers, interior designers, architects and hotels.
Q How would you describe the company’s style?
A Masculine and elegant, industrial luxe, our pieces have been described by clients as future heirlooms so we like to think they are timeless.
Q Do you work with other materials or is it solely metal?
A We mainly work with metal. However we do collaborate with other artisans such as the Bill Amberg Studio on the leatherwork details we produce for several of products.
Q What do you do in your spare time?
A Riding my 1950’s BSA B31 or our 1930’s F Neate racing tandem, going to galleries and shows and travelling when possible. We have just bought a house and look forward to making some new The Rag and Bone Man pieces for that too.
The Rag and Bone Man LtdEmail: firstname.lastname@example.orgTelephone:
07733 365774Website: www.theragandboneman.co.uk