Galapagos designer Lucy Mortimer creates stunning chairs from vintage classics

Comfort and style

Comfort and style - Credit: Various

Giving new life to old furniture, Galapagos designer Lucy Mortimer creates stunning chairs from vintage classics. Janet Donin met up with her at home in Woking

Lucy Mortimer

Lucy Mortimer - Credit: Various

Tell us about your work...

My aim is to provide high-design products with minimum environmental impact. Essentially, we give new life to great pieces of post-war furniture such as our range of cocktail chairs that reflect a golden age of design. The chairs were initially used in cocktail bars and then in homes because their smaller size and comfort made them very desirable. By reviving them with modern fabrics, they evolve into something new and fitting to our contemporary lives.

So how did you get into working with vintage furniture?

I trained as an architect but, until recently, my career has been grounded in finance and sustainable development, mostly in Africa and Asia. When I started Galapagos in July 2013, I wanted to provide beautiful design products without the use of new natural resources, thus reducing the impact on the environment. Just as Darwin believed in the survival of the fittest, our aim is to bring classic designs back to their full glory and make buying vintage furniture as easy as buying new. Where do your source your furniture from? We source most of our furniture from suppliers in Europe, which has been one of the hardest aspects of the business because we want to get lots of the same style of chair. Of course, it would have been easier to have reproduction chairs made in China but by sourcing vintage chairs in Europe we reduce their environmental footprint and the use of new timber. The chairs also have a provenance that many people appreciate. Tell us more about the ranges…

Our first range is a collection of 1950’s cocktail chairs, which are quite low with neat, tapered wooden legs and curved backs you can relax into. There’s also a range of Danish inspired armchairs, and German dining chairs that are narrower and with higher backs. In the future, we hope to include small sofas to the range as well.

How do you set about transforming the chairs?

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When the chairs arrive in our Chertsey workshop, they are a little tired and often covered with two or three layers of fabric, so we strip off the upholstery right back to the frame. The timber and springs are usually sound so can be retained. Then we reupholster using rubberised hog’s hair rather than foam and finish with a variety of different textiles, both plain and patterned.

Do you have any particular favourites among your fabrics?

Part of the joy of bringing the furniture back to life is working with new British fabric designers. I love the bold, evocative prints by Korla, used for our first range, that are produced on high quality, natural textiles. Our second collaboration is with Parris Wakefield Additions who have the most exciting chevron and geometric digitally printed designs. I like to choose fabrics that will spark the imagination so that each chair becomes a statement piece rather than just something that’s safe. Recently, we have been working with the fantastic textile designer Ella Doran and have used her geometric black and white print with neon orange piping. It’s stunning and has an element of exclusivity that reinvents 21st century design.

How do you market your chairs?

Unlike most vintage stores, we keep a warehouse of our products already finished in a huge range of fabrics and colours that change with each season. Until recently, the chairs were only available online – a sort of vintage shopping for the modern world. However, we now have a stockist in Reigate, at Taylor Jayne in Church Street, and a couple in London as well. We also create bespoke pieces in our workshop.

What is the best thing about your job?

I used to work in very masculine environments so now it’s such a joy to work with lots of female designers and retailers who are always so collaborative and helpful in promoting each other. I’m constantly surprised at how kind these people are and the positive response I’ve had to Galapagos has been more than I anticipated.

What do you like most about living in Surrey?

I love the sense of space and beauty in the woodlands here, and when I walk my springer spaniel, Darwin, I feel so much more refreshed than in the city. On Sundays, we walk the dog up to Newlands Corner then head to the White Hart in Pirbright for our favourite pub lunch – the best for miles around.

Finally, tell us about your future plans…

I want to continue curating the idea that people can buy second-hand furniture easily, in a fabric and colour of their choice, and have it delivered in three weeks – and still meet my environmental goals. I’d also like people to perceive my chairs as works of art and perhaps get artists to create designs around them as well.

For more information about Galapagos, visit their website at Galapagos chairs are also available at Taylor Jayne in Church Street, Reigate RH2 0AA (tel 07930 5151999)

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