Meet the Maker: Steve and Jenny Hughes, ARCFORM
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat to some of the people behind our favourite independent British brands.
Meet ARCFORM's Steve and Jenny Hughes
ARCFORM was launched amid UK Lockdown by husband and wife team Steve and Jenny Hughes. They create stunning modern British lighting and sculptures designed and handcrafted by Steve in Warwickshire.
Steve and Jen joined us for a chat to talk about why they took the leap into launching their own business, their philosophy, making process, and future plans.
The Flux Table Lamp in gold
For anyone not lucky enough to have come across ARCFORM before can you explain what it is that you do?
Jen: 'We make beautiful statement lighting. All our lighting is handcrafted by Steve and made in Britain. Our lighting is designed to be art as well as functional, so they are beautiful pieces to make a statement in your home.'
They really are beautiful. Very simple, clean lines. Steve, you have a background in engineering, right?
Steve: 'Yes, probably more than design. I'm a mechanical engineer by training and have never worked in lighting before. It's been cars, tractors, anything with wheels! I've always been immensely passionate about design and was very close to becoming an architect. That passion for design is what prompted us to set ARCFORM up and start on this journey.'
And you're fresh out of the blocks. When did the business launch?
Jen: 'We launched at the end of July last year (2020). It was an idea we had been thinking about for a while, we are both passionate about design and architecture and had Steve had started designing before COVID hit. Then when COVID hit I lost my job and Steve had his hours reduced and we were kind of like, well now is a really great time in a really strange way.'
Steve: 'When you're confined to your own house, what else are you going to do! In some respects, what a fantastic opportunity.'
It's amazing how you have turned adversity into something so positive. So many people have an idea for a business and think 'one day I'll do that'. Well for you guys, the 'one day' was a global pandemic....
Steve: 'Well the 'one day' was forced upon us and in some respects it was enormously liberating. To have the opportunity and the distractions and reasons not to do it taken away from us.
Jen:'And also I think we are not the type of people to loose our jobs and just sit on the sofa and whinge about it. We were like, let's get on and do something, do something we are really passionate about, and that's what happened.... as well as home schooling two children...'
Wow, a busy 12 months then! You don't come across as a new business. Everything you do is very polished...
Jen: 'Well it's something we'd been thinking about for a long time. Although we launched at the end of July we had some very intense work before that prototyping, thinking about the proposition and what we wanted to do.'
Steve: 'And I think we were very clear about how we wanted the designs to be. Very clean, contemporary. My background is engineering and everything is straight lines and angles. I've always wanted to do something a bit more organic and curved. They [lights] are all made out of a single sheet of metal and then curved into a variety of different forms.
Let's talk manufacture. Are all of your products sourced in the UK?
Steve: 'Absolutely everything comes from the UK which is something we are enormously passionate about. A lot of the products we all buy come from overseas; you're paying a lot of shipping, customs and duty and that's detracting from the craftsmanship that can go into a product that's produced much closer to home.
'Everything that we buy, all the parts comes from the UK. The majority is within a 25 mile radius of where we are based in the Midlands'
Jen: 'We are lucky where we are to have a lot of fantastic businesses that we work with local to us. We are passionate about supporting local'
That's the gold standard of 'Made in Britain'. Everything sourced and manufactured within a 25 mile radius to you, which is also massively sustainable. Hats off to you both, I'm sure it would have been easier and certainly cheaper in some instances to have looked overseas...
Steve: 'In some instances cheaper. My background is manufacturing, manufacturing in the UK has had a pretty hard run for a long time. You know, it's been one way traffic of importing everything from the Far East. But we are actually quite good at it! It's a real shame we always look elsewhere. In the UK we have fantastic design and manufacture. Not just the big boys like Rolls Royce, there's an awful lot of smaller businesses with a lot of workmanship and skill still around - we want to work with them and support them and be a part of that mini industry.'
Let's talk a little bit about the two of you. You're a husband and wife team, who brings what skills to the party...
Steve: 'Yep, 18 years strong.'
Jen: 'We are a fairly even split. Steve does all the designing and making and the more technical side of things with the suppliers. I do all the sales and marketing, ordering, customer service.
Steve: 'Jen does all the outward facing bits, I do all of the inward facing bits...'
Jen: 'That probably suits our personalities!'
Do you find it hard to switch off from 'work mode' at the end of the day?
Steve: 'That is the problem! We finished at half past eleven last night. But you know, we have a passion for it and we've seen the business grow from nothing. To look back to even November last year  we've grown so much and are super proud to have got to where we are now. And we've managed to do that whilst sticking true to our values.'
Do you think your story is important to your customers?
Jen: 'Yeah, I think that really kind of shocked us. It was something we were passionate about of course but it surprised us how important that really is to our customers. It's commented on a lot by the people I speak to, which is lovely to know that there's a passion out there for that [supporting UK business].'
That's wonderful to hear. So often we slip into the ease of convenience shopping online because it is easy and cheap, when in actual fact what we want is curated high quality products made locally...
Steve: 'Increasingly so. Some of the events of recent times; COVID, the Suez Canal blockage, ports closing in China... it suddenly makes you realise how much of what we buy comes from a very long way away. I think that's made people think about where things come from and the environmental impact of that product. You can buy a product from twenty miles down the road or you can buy it from four thousand miles away. It makes sense to buy local and in turn support local business.'
Have you found that people have been investing more in their homes as a result of lockdown in the UK?
Jen: 'It's difficult for us to have a comparison because obviously we started during COVID. But anecdotally a lot of our customers are investing in their homes and saying things like "well, we aren't going on holiday this year so let's put that money into an extension or decorating project instead." People have spent a lot of time in their homes and a lot of time on social media gaining inspiration so I definitely think we have benefitted from that'
Guilty as charged! In terms of what's in store over the next twelve months, it's obviously still very early days for your business but you have plans to diversify away from lighting or will we see more lighting products from you?
Steve: 'It's definitely lighting. I've got years of designs sitting in my head which need to see the light of day. One of the things we really need to focus on over the next six months is expanding the range so it will be lighting only for some time.'
I noticed on your Instagram page a stunning twenty-five piece pendant. Have you got a favourite piece that you are particularly proud of?
Jen: 'That one! I love it, I want one in our house but Steve doesn't have time for it! We did it in collaboration with April Hamilton design. For me it's a real statement piece but also a really beautiful design. All hats off to Steve because it was a very complex design.
Steve: 'Probably our table lamp actually. It's the most complex finished shape, very ribbon like but it starts life as a simple rectangle. That embodies what we are all about...
We love your ethos 'simplicity is the ultimate luxury'...
Steve: I've always been a fan of minimalism. That simplicity forces you to focus on the material and the quality of the finish. There's no frivolous details to distract you away from the fact that the product you've bought is actually plastic! Everything we make is brass and carefully hand brushed and hand polished. Unless it's done that way it is very difficult to achieve that finish. There's no hiding.'
Steve, Jen, thank you both so much for your time. We are very excited to be working with ARCFORM at Hope and Story. If you'd like to check out their products you can do so here. ARCFORM products
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