I have to come clean. I've known the founder of Palefire, Rowena Morgan-Cox since I was 20, so although looking at me, you might think that was only yesterday, you'd be wrong. We've been in and out of each other's lives for over a decade. She was instrumental in the Tat pop-up at 8 Holland Street (a huge moment in the Tat lifetime). She had left her job at the Fine Art Society to help Tobias Vernon start 8 Holland Street, 'U.K.'s Most Delightful New Design Shop.' Now curator turned designer Rowena has set up the new and extremely exciting brand Palefire. I was instantly taken when I saw these pieces; they were such an inspiring addition to the lighting market, so obviously, I wanted to know more.
What made you start Palefire?
For many years, I had a niggling feeling that I wanted to do something more creative and of my own making. I was endlessly coming up with new ideas for what that could be – some were more outlandish than others. During my previous career as a dealer at The Fine Art Society and 8 Holland Street, I was very inspired by the beautiful, poetic and eccentric things that surrounded me on a daily basis. Palefire is a distillation of everything I have seen and learnt in the last ten years and possibly before.
There is also a bit of frustration impetus in there too. Not just my own thwarted desire to be an artist but a frustration about the lighting market. When I was looking for lighting for my own home, I found it very hard to find pieces that were both unusual and relatively reasonably priced, never mind sustainable. In the end, I used a lot of vintage pieces, mainly Italian. I was motivated to do something at that intersection between aesthetics, sustainability, and affordability. I do not claim to be the only one operating in this space, but it is very small compared to everything else.
Was there a eureka moment for you starting out on your own?
Less a eureka moment and more like jumping off a cliff – it was a real leap of faith. I think the COVID-19 pandemic was probably partly responsible. Still, I had also been backed into a corner by health problems whilst in my previous role as Managing Director of The Fine Art Society London. I suddenly felt nothing was left to lose, and I was finally free of my fear.
At the same time, things had fallen into place in my mind design-wise. I knew I wanted to create richly coloured, decorative surfaces for the lights, so I was looking for a material that I could apply paint to. I was also very keen that the designs should have a recycled or sustainable element to them. The idea of using paper pulp presented itself to me through a few chance encounters. A painted papier mache vase I saw in Jermaine Gallacher’s London store. A gilded papier mache bowl made for me by a friend, the jewellery designer Kali Forbes. An exhibition of Pierre Alechinsky’s work at the Pompidou Centre in Malaga, where he had applied ink over old maps and pages taken from books.
Who would cite as a significant influence/ inspiration?
My career in the art world was unusual because I worked in places that dealt in both art and historical design. As a result, I am really influenced by periods and people that work at the cross-section of art and design. The richly decorated surfaces and painterly designs of Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Omega Workshops artists are a particular inspiration.
I am also very drawn to the careers of multi-disciplinary female artist-designers at the beginning of the twentieth century, including those like Charlotte Perriand and Sophie Tauber-Arp. In these cases, I think they had to work in the margins between craft and art because of their gender. However, the results are magnificent. My pattern finishes are partly inspired by the work of Sonia Delaunay and the lesser-known Marion Dorn. The Axis pattern takes its palette and diagonal lines a beach set, including parasol, bag and robe, that Delaunay designed in the late 1920s. The Serpent pattern borrows the mixture of geometric and serpentine lines that Dorn layered in her Art Deco rugs.
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about in the coming months? (Don’t worry if not just keeping afloat is impressive to me)
It has not been long since we launched four additional designs to our debut collection, and I am still very enthused by them. The U/V collection – whose title is a visual reference to the U and V shapes that make up each light – is an almost modular system using five moulded, recycled paper-pulp shapes. Using these five shapes, infinite design possibilities are available by pairing or stacking them. From this, we were able to produce our most ambitious design yet, the Totem floor lamp, which is made up of fourteen stacked parts and inspired by Constantin Brancusi's work. We also developed the very simple but jewel-like Rotor wall light, the cousin of our Diabolo lights.
We are currently working on an exciting collaboration with an award-winning interior designer with a young, playful, and vibrant style. The collaboration will include a small selection of our best-selling pieces in exclusive colourways and limited-edition patterns. Colour, pattern, and texture are really at the core of the designer’s work, so they are a dream partner for this project that will be announced later this year. It also satisfies my need to create new things and have fun experimenting with more complex designs. I am keen to explore the possibilities of limited edition runs to stay true to our principle of creating homewares with an artistic sensibility.