Special Focus: Retrouvius

An essential resource for salvaged materials for over twenty years, Retrouvius are based in West London, and have also quietly built up their reputation as an innovative design studio. Projects such as the George in Rye hotel in Sussex and Sam Roddick’s family home in London (owner of Coco de Mer) in London, completed over the past ten years, have helped to establish Retrouvius at the forefront of contemporary design.

When was Retrouvius established?

Adam Hills and Maria Speake met at Glasgow School of Art and set up Retrouvius over twenty years ago before moving to their current location in a Kensal Rise warehouse in 1997. Their constantly evolving warehouse – which Maria likes to refer to as, “a secretive warren of spaces,” offers the space for Retrouvius to store, sell and design from. There are two distinct sides to the business. Adam drives the salvage side and Maria heads the architectural design studio. Retrouvius stock changes every week and ranges from 1950s Italian furniture, to gilded Georgian mirrors and vintage glass shades, alongside a good selection of industrial lighting, pieces of salvaged stones, such as marble and slate, and always a good stock of hardwood timber. The design side of the business grew out of a need to demonstrate how to use all of the reclaimed materials and to give people confidence to use salvaged materials in their own homes.

Emery and Cie wall tiles make a great contrast to the reclaimed shelving and kitchen lighting.

Victorian free standing adjustable shelving – Retrouvius salvaged many from the Patent Office on Chancery Lane – and bespoke kitchen made from oak drawer bottoms from the National Scottish Museum.

How many people are on the team?

Retrouvius initially occupied an old stable building off the Harrow Road, fronted by an enormous pair of teak doors salvaged from an army barracks. Adam Hills now runs the salvage business and does all the sourcing, with six full-time staff and a few more who are part-time, such as the photographer, art director and off-site storage staff. Head of the design studio, Maria Speake, occupies the first floor of the warehouse with her team of five architects, while the salvage team works from the ground floor of the warehouse, with its own frontage designed from 1930s copper panelled windows, with their offices above the Harrow Road shop-front.

Vivid yellow Emery and Cie tiles bring a contemporary note to this reclaimed kitchen.

Vivid yellow Emery and Cie tiles bring a contemporary note to this reclaimed kitchen. Open, well connected space for family gatherings and packs of children: reclaimed timbers offer a robustness new materials lack.

What is the Retrouvius Style?

Excellent quality and craftsmanship. Patina and provenance is celebrated. Familiar and traditional materials combined with modern techniques used in unexpected and often unusual ways. Designs are led by material with the warehouse playing a key role in clients’ choice. Retrouvius offers a complete bespoke architectural design and interiors service with meticulous sourcing from its years of building up a broad range of suppliers and contacts.

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Retrouvius specialise in the contrast between old and new, such as this rain shower installed in a Victorian bathroom. Concealed drainage. The whole floor was custom designed to accommodate this contemporary feature.

How many projects do you take on each year?

The design studio currently has about 15 projects on the go with each architect looking after three or four projects. The look and philosophy of using reclaimed and recycled materials has become increasingly popular and almost 90% of their recommendations are by word-of-mouth.

What is the range?

The range is up to 2 1/2 million, for projects that can continue over two or three years. Their smallest project was a reclaimed wooden cabin offering guest accommodation for television presenter George Lamb.

Do you specialise in residential or commercial?

Maria tends to choose people that she feels she can work well with, whether this is residential or commercial. Over the past ten years, Maria has worked on design projects at the George, a boutique hotel in Rye, designing the bedrooms, bathrooms, public spaces and restaurant. She also designed shoe designer Rupert Sanderson’s flagship store on Bruton Place.

Do you have a favourite project? best project?

The most enjoyable projects for Maria, are the ones where the client really understands the process of working with reclaimed materials and seeing how they can be transformed. Some of her most enjoyable projects were also the most challenging: a Grade I listed Priory in Suffolk and the renovation of a family home in Parliament Hill for Sam Roddick (owner of Coco de Mer).

Would you take on a project outside the UK?

Occasionally Retrouvius take on projects outside the UK. While working on a chalet high in the Swiss Alps, the team ended up shipping certain pieces of salvage from the UK as it was cheaper than sourcing locally. The Swiss builders struggled with the salvage aesthetic, when we re-used beautiful timber boards from the existing exterior. Retrouvius have also recently completed a house in Paris.

Where is the best place to look for reclaimed and salvaged materials?

Best to use the Retrouvius website as a starting point and salvo

Retrouvius' warehouse shots.

Retrouvius’ warehouse

Which designers do you regularly collaborate with?

Lucy Bathurst (Nest Design) makes all of the curtains and lace blinds, Kirsten Hecktermann works on cushions, throws and bedspreads, Emery and Cie provide handmade tiles for kitchens and bathrooms. Daniel Heath and Timorous Beastie are bespoke textile designer.

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