Christopher and Nicola Cox met while studying for a sculpture degree, and set up their furniture and lighting business, Cox London, in 2005. Their complementary skills – his in welding metals, hers in casting both metal and glass – make for some of the most individual and highly crafted objects on the market. Bespoke sculptural pieces are their speciality; their Tottenham workshop employs specialists in welding, forging and casting, supplemented by external talents such as wood-carvers and Murano glassmakers. Christopher Cox explains how the artistic and technical come together in perfect harmony.
Both you and Nicola have an art-school background – does that make you think in a different way about creating functional objects?
We’re often led by completely hands-on sculptural processes. I would say we go with the artistic flow rather than looking purely for a commercial piece of furniture to make. The birth of every piece is probably a case of form over function, and then it gets honed into something practical later.
It’s always been my keynote that the more energy you put into creating something, the more creative those pieces are. If you just draw an idea, it can stagnate in the sketchbook unless you physically act on it. Only by acting on it can you understand the true nature of your thought.
What sort of thing inspires you?
We never stop buying books. At the moment we love looking at the textures used in 20th century and postwar sculpture, be it bronze, steel, forged iron or cast iron. I bought a fantastic book last year on American sculptor David Smith, and his work inspired me to go back to the welding table. The idea of welding pieces of steel together, almost stitching them together, was the starting point for our Bronze Fragment table.
Our Ferro Vitro light was inspired by Giacometti’s drawings in space. I’ve always loved the energy of his drawing style and I’m fascinated by how sculptors draw, it’s always completely different to how painters draw, thinking in three dimensions. So I started doing my own drawings and maquettes, and eventually made something solid with them. And then we decided to punctuate the spaces by blowing glass in to them and light them, turning it from something purely sculptural into something functional.
How do you and Nicola work together?
Without each other we’d be one-track minds. We definitely edit each other, pull each other in different directions and make each other think about our next move. I’m fascinated by her side of things, the mouldmaking and casting – the way a pot full of molten metal can become something else. That’s allowed me to think ‘OK, let’s cast it’ when we’re developing something new, which I wouldn’t dare do if I was on my own. She takes that part of it away and makes it her own.
What skills do you employ?
In the workshop there’s everyone from people who have a fine art background, like we do, to career metalworkers who might have previously made I-beams for ships and buildings. The metalworkers are the life force on the shop floor, and we all feed off them. They take our creative ideas and translate where we’re coming from. They’re amazing problem solvers and can rise to any challenge we give to them, so we feel massively lucky to have them.
It’s a rarity to find such a blend of skills in one place, but we enjoy not being pigeonholed. That combination of the technical and the artistic is probably what makes us unique.
What about external skills?
Outside the workshop we use an awful lot of glass workers – anything from one-person studios to glassblowing factories. We have an agent in Italy who is our man on the ground in Venice to find the right foundry for the right job.
We also use a terrific woodcarver – he learned his trade in London on some fantastic historic buildings, so what he doesn’t know about period carving isn’t worth knowing. He’s amazing – anything I can draw, he can carve, and then we take his carving, make a rubber mould, and see how it translates into iron, bronze or brass.
Can you sum up the appeal of working with metal?
I’ve been working with metal since I was 14, when my dad bought me a welding kit. Before that I used to go hunting for scrap metal and just positioned or wired things together, but once I discovered I could weld them together there was no going back. I think it’s about creating something permanent, with your own hands: there’s a pleasure in that. Once two things are welded, someone’s going to have to work really hard to grind or smash them apart.
Metal is hugely versatile when it comes to finish. There are so many variants: it’s like the palette of a painter. Something that can look flat and dry in plaster is so different when it’s been cast in bronze, and that’s even before you’ve decided whether to polish it or patinate it. The variety of finishes we offer sets us apart: we’ve made our Magma chandelier in a polished bronze, a silver plate, and we’re about to make one in a patinated chestnut bronze.