Jeff Fuller and his business partner Gwyn from Gwyn Carless At The Light Yard opened their lighting business in 2013 and have been selling their lights on Made to Last for the past 5 years.
We have now just launched their latest collections of lights – The Calex collection which combines the well renowned decorative light bulbs with high quality light fittings and also the Cafe Racer collection that repurposes retro motor cycle helmets into stunning and playful pendant lights.
We decided that it would be a great opportunity to take Made to Last customers and friends under the hood of a British manufacturer to understand how they go from simply having an idea to releasing a collection of great pendant and wall lights to the world.
Over the past few years you have worked on some new collections – The Calex Range and also the Cafe Racer range.
In this interview we are keen to find out the process that you went through to put these new ranges together to understand more about the manufacturing process. Can you briefly outline the steps in the process from idea to finished product?
Our background is predominantly in exterior landscape lighting and we have always pushed ourselves to create new and innovative fittings as technologies evolve and new sustainable materials become available.
Increasingly we started to see a gap in the market for high quality, unique and decorative bathroom lighting so we started to look at ways to apply our experience of making our exterior waterproof fittings to making IP rated fittings for bathrooms.
After a period of research and development we designed a pendant cord set and wall bracket that could accommodate any standard ES E27 LED light bulb and achieve an IP44 rating that is approved and certified by the LIA (Lighting Industry Association).
This development coincided with the launch of the new Calex Titanium metallic light bulb range and we saw the perfect opportunity to combine the beautiful and unusual light bulbs in all their shapes and sizes from Calex with our unique IP44 rated fittings.
The collection has grown to now also include the new coloured glass series from Calex. We now have a collection that offers a really distinctive and rather unique alternative to traditional lighting for bathrooms and wetrooms.
Gwyn and myself are both kids of the early 70’s but we often felt we had missed out on the “swinging 60s”.
1960s British rock scene was unique in the truest sense of the word and we wanted to pay tribute to the irreverent and rebellious café racer motorbike subculture while creating some seriously cool lighting in the process.
Style was a massive part of the café racer motorbike culture, while icons like Steve McQueen set the trends throughout the 60s and 70s. It was the absolute epitome of cool.
Café Racer culture encapsulates a brilliant period of British culture, and the motorbikes represented youth and an intolerance of the status quo. The bikes themselves were minimalist, built for high speeds and responsive handling, and there are many enthusiasts around the world who love the bikes and the culture today.
What was the initial inspiration for each of the Calex and Cafe Racer ranges?
The inspiration really came from our clients and interior designers. Time and time again we were told that bathroom lighting was boring or limited in it’s choice of styles so we took this on board and challenged ourselves to see if we could apply our expertise to develop a new, exciting and unique bathroom lighting rage.
The collection was so successful that we started to receive demand from our clients for the lights to be installed throughout the rest of the house too.
We adapted the range to be a standard IP20 (non waterproof specification) and now many clients have a continuous lighting theme throughout their homes. This is something that was previously hard to achieve given the limitations of available bathroom lights.
One thing about our Calex collection that we are particularly proud of is the design aesthetic and appearance are exactly the same for both our IP44 bathroom rated fittings and our standard fittings for all other rooms in the house.
This allows identical fittings to be installed in both the en-suite and bedroom for example and our clients will often mix a couple of pendants along with some wall lights using the exact same design.
Café Racer Collection:
We really aimed to push the boat out with something different. In this collection we wanted something fun which didn’t take itself too seriously – they are definitely not austere! We’re confident that with their wide-ranging designs they’re going to be attracting a lot of attention.
Once you have an idea of what you want to do with a collection – such as motor bike helmets or decorative light bulbs what is the next step?
Always the design side first, the business side is secondary.
The creative designer side to Gwyn is always flowing and we discuss new ideas on a regular basis.
The process from concept to drawing and prototype is pretty seamless and usually only takes a few hours.
It has been known for me to have a conversation with Gwyn about a custom design idea from a client in the morning and by lunchtime he has built a full scale working model that is ready to go into production.
Inspiration for new designs comes from everywhere, from natural forms in nature, architecture, travelling, the sources of inspiration are endless. We are pretty strict on only making and designing lights that we really love ourselves and don’t really give too much consideration for what might be seen as being popular or mainstream.
I think if you start to go down that route, you can quickly lose brand identity and blend in with hundreds of other lights that are available on the market.
We are really focused on carving out a niche market and leading the way in producing distinctive and contemporary designer lighting. This is where our passion and motivation are focused and it’s a philosophy that sits at the core of our business.
Excellent point! What has been the toughest part of the product development process for you?
Getting the IP44 rating on a standard pendant cord set and wall base was challenging.
Existing decorative bathroom lights, both pendants and wall lights tend to either use a standard E27 light bulb which is then enclosed within a glass cover to protect from water or a G9 LED light bulb and specialist lamp holder.
Whilst these produce a good level of illumination, the choice of size and style are very limited. Our design goal was to create a standard lamp holder that could accommodate pretty much any standard ES (screw in) E27 LED light bulb and make it IP44 rated.
It took a while, but after many late nights and some hair pulling we finally came up with a design that meant we could offer our clients an almost limitless choice of decorative light fittings for their bathrooms and wetrooms.
You have made a decision to keep your manufacturing in the UK, why is this? Has it been a conscious decision or more organic? What are the pros and cons of manufacturing here?
This has very much been a conscious decision.
Our foundations are built upon being a British design and manufacturing lighting company and it is very much part of our USP, in particular for our exterior collection.
All our Alchemist Collection of glass shades are hand cut and bonded in Gwyn’s Derbyshire workshop and all the gold , silver and copper leaf comes from Wrights of Lymm over in Cheshire.
While the LED light bulbs that make up our Calex collection are produced in Asia we use local metal spinners and UK based companies for the supply of the flex and components and even key elements that are custom made specifically for us for the IP44 light fittings are made in the UK.
The pros are that we can support other British business and manufacturing and by keeping everything in-house, from the design process to manufacture and packing, this ensures we can maintain our high quality and standards.
The cons are the process is potentially more costly than outsourcing to abroad and we are limited to the volumes we can produce on a weekly basis.
For us the pros far outweigh the cons and this all goes back to our core values of being a small British company with a strong emphasis on quality not quantity and putting the customer experience first.
The beautiful thing about the lighting industry is there is no one size fits all, what works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for another and for us keeping small and keeping British fits perfectly with both Gwyn and mine’s philosophy.
What environmental considerations have you enacted into your sourcing, manufacturing and packaging?
With environmental impact and sustainability being the hot topic (and rightly so) around manufacturing, packaging and transport we are always looking at ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.
We have been lucky and managed to find really great metal ateliers and fabricators less than 20 miles away from our workshop and a majority of the components come from the midlands.
For some time now we have LED strip lights installed in the workshop and both Gwyn and myself cycle to work (even in the rain) unless we need to use the van.
We have looked into ways to change our packaging over recent years and with glass shades finding a suitable replacement for bubble wrap was a challenge but we now use recycled crushed Kraft paper in place of bubble wrap and all our boxes are made from recycled cardboard.
We were looking at ways to further reduce our carbon footprint for 2020 so we have altered our production schedule and our courier UPS now collects all our orders on a single day rather than being spread out over the course of a week.
Are the finished products very different to the original concepts you started with? Can you share any original designs with us so that we can show our customers?
Not really, the original concepts are usually pretty similar to the finished fitting.
Being a small team we are lucky enough to be able to sketch an idea in the morning and by lunchtime Gwyn has usually consumed enough coffee to produce a sample / prototype as well as carrying on with the day to day production of our orders.
We might make a few small tweaks here and there, but generally what you see in our collections is what started off on the drawing board.
What has been the most enjoyable part of the process of product development for you?
I always get a great buzz when we start throwing ideas around.
It’s fascinating to see how Gwyn approaches a design problem and his 25 years of experience in design and manufacturing really shines through.
I’m usually the one that discusses a brief with the client directly so I have a clear idea of what they like or the effect they are trying to create.
At the start of our partnership the challenge was getting the design ideas across to Gwyn in a way he understood as my background is in hospitality so my approach is a little less conventional and not practical design orientated.
Over the years, as our business and relationship has grown and developed, this process has become much smoother although we still have moments where we are most definitely singing off separate hymn sheets!
When you design your lights do you take much inspiration from other lighting manufacturers / designers?
I think all of us in the lighting design industry look at each other’s lights.
I doubt you will find a lighting designer or manufacturer that isn’t walking around with their head pointing upwards most of the time.
It becomes an obsession and second nature that the 1st thing we spot in a restaurant, shop, cinema, friends house, in fact anywhere, is the lighting.
Sometimes you think it could be done better, other times it’s just pure appreciation of beautiful lighting and the effect it has.
If I spot something that really catches my eye or a building that has been beautifully lit I will take a photo and share it on our social media, as beautiful lighting is art.
In fact the obsession with lighting is so infectious and I’ve had friends send me photos of lighting installations in a bar, restaurant or hotel they have seen whilst on holiday telling me how cool the lighting was and not even mentioning how great their holiday was!
Wow – Thank you so much for that Jeff, It has been most enlightening 😉 Seriously though that was a great interview that has really given us an insight into who you guys are and what your lights are all about. It is easy to forget that there is so much passion behind the products that we have in our homes.
For everyone interested please take a look at Gwyn Carless at The Light Yard collections here.