In celebration of buying British, there’s one brand that has its roots in traditional furniture making techniques but feels future-forward. That’s SCP, a real pioneer in the UK furniture design industry.
The first non-Italian company to show at Milan’s Salone di Mobile, home to classic pieces of British modern design such as the Balzac Chair and the Oscar Sofa and with an iconic showroom in Shoreditch’s Curtain Road, SCP has an ethos that fits with ours, to make products that are beautiful, functional and made to last. As well as making their own brand furniture they collaborate with a wide range of designers we admire like Matthew Hilton, Jasper Morrison and many more.
We met its founder Sheridan Coakley, at his Hampshire home (virtually), to talk about how sustainability has always been woven into the brand, London in its 80s and 90s heyday, where the future lies for the British furniture industry and what Sheridan buys for his own home.
An enduring link with sustainability
I ask Sheridan about the enduring link between SCP and sustainability.
“Well, you know, I’m not trying to say I could predict the future, but I’ve always been interested in making things that are made to last,” he beams from his home office over Google Meets.
“I started out selling second hand furniture - of course that’s now known as vintage - and I really believe that if the furniture is good enough, you should reuse it.”
Today, things have come full circle, because as well as manufacturing new designs, SCP reupholsters pieces that customers who have bought from us over the last thirty years, to give them a new life.
With a Norfolk furniture making-factory the heart of the brand today, there’s a commitment to being as low-carbon as possible. Partly, the manufacturing approach SCP takes is traditional and has a low footprint naturally. Plus, as Sheridan tells me,, the factory was already solar powered when they took it over. But the biggest journey by far towards sustainability for SCP has been a long experiment to make foam-free upholstery (common in the USA today).
“It started, I think, when I visited California about twenty years ago. I met a woman who was talking about VOCs. Something clicked in my mind. We’ve got an upholstery factory where we have control over what we do. To have as few petro-chemical based products as possible feels right, because it ties in with our traditional way of making furniture by hand.”
“All we are doing is going back to how it was done before. It might take a while for fire-retardant material to be banned (especially in light of tragic events such as Grenfell), but in the USA now, they give people the option to have it upholstered with fire-retardant foam or not.”
A short history of SCP
For those that don’t know, the history of SCP (Sheridan Coakley Products) goes back to 1985 when Sheridan was a furniture dealer in Westbourne Grove. After visiting a re-chroming factory and fabricator, where he was bringing old pieces to be refurbished, he saw an old factory building on Curtain Road.
It was here he launched SCP with a show of furniture by Philippe Starck. Around the same time, Sheridan serendipitously met (in his words “bumped into”), the emerging designers Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton and agreed to produce their designs, becoming the first non-Italian company to show at Milan’s Salone di Mobile.
“I actually thought I was restoring vintage pieces to look like new, then I used to bump into Jasper Morrison when he was at Royal College - he used to come into my shop in Notting Hill - and we got talking. He was into the kind of tubular steel furniture that I was selling, so it was kind of a natural step to say “well why don’t we make something new?” It felt like an exciting thing to do.
The Balzac - a 90s classic
In 1991, SCP manufactured the Balzac armchair by Matthew Hilton. Back then, Hilton was an emerging designer, who wanted to create something along the lines of a comfortable chair you’d find in a Gentleman’s Lounge Club.
Balzac was, “The poster piece for 90s ‘Cool Britannia,’ it embodied the zeitgeist,” according to Elle Magazine in a 2021 article celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the iconic chair. The design took over two years to develop, and another two years to sell (thanks to it being stocked in The Conran Shop). The commercial success of Balzac paved the way for the factory in Norfolk to become part of the business as well as for many other partnerships with emerging and established designers that continues today and set the tone for the future of SCP.
Today's classic designs
I asked Sheridan what products he thought were known synonymously with SCP today.
“Well of course, the Balzac armchair which we’ve been making since the ‘90s. It still continues to be made. People still continue to buy it. And we still restore and recover old ones.”
“I suppose, more recently the upholstery by Philippe Malouin, it’s become a kind of classic and has been copied quite a bit. It will continue as a kind of reference piece.And the SCP Agnes Shelves, by Sarah Kay and Andrea Stemmer. It’s proving to be a piece that is classic. I think the definition of classic is when it doesn’t go out of fashion and people still want it.
Our designs are timeless. You can express yourself more than anything in your own environment through your upholstery, which is the beauty of it.”
The future of British furniture designBack then, London was a leading light in the global design world. “I think in the 80s and 90s, Britain was a massively important cultural centre for design. It was the design capital of the world, pre-Brexit. The Royal College was one of the best schools in the world. But now, thanks to Brexit and the current political landscape, it’s very hard for emerging designers. The successful ones either become industrial designers and open a studio, or the designers and makers are making small batch pieces of furniture and selling them through their own channels.”
I ask Sheridan what he thinks about where the future lies.
Now, you know, America is producing lots of interesting work. I don’t think we’ve had our day, we’re just going through a phase where manufacturers are now looking all over the world for inspiration and designers.”
As for Sheridan, I ask him what he buys for his own home. From what I can see, it looks like quite the collection of old pieces, new and feels very much like him.
He laughs when I ask him about his home.
“Well I don’t live in an SCP showroom, I’ve got a collection of old and new stuff. I have an Oscar Sofa and a Balzac too that I rescued from a warehouse fire twenty years ago. The smell of the smoke did go away eventually! And I’ve got some vintage pieces. I’m lucky enough to be able to choose what I want, but I tend to stick with things. I’m sitting at an old Aalto table that I’ve had for thirty years. And I have an old Bibendum Chair by Eileen Gray.
To see more of Sheridan's incredible home, see this feature on The Modern House: A masterclass in mid-century style
Coming up this year for SCP
"We have a few new SCP designs in the pipeline, and although I can’t reveal too much, the 2023 collection will include a re-issue of a Matthew Hilton furniture piece, new upholstery designs by Philippe Malouin and a potential new collaboration with a local design studio.
After a successful programme of events last year, we’re also planning a couple of exhibitions at the showroom….watch this space."