An Interview with SCP Founder Sheridan Coakley

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By Marianne Colahan / Published by Dwell
Sheridan Coakley founded British furniture company SCP in 1985. Coakley was inspired by modern furniture and sought to sell classic and difficult-to-find pieces alongside new designs that maintained the tenets of the modern design movement. As a companion to our September Dwellings feature on Coakley’s home—and this behind-the-scenes look—we’ve asked Sheridan Coakley more about his career and work with SCP. Be sure to view the full Retroactive Collection at the Dwell Store.

What led you to found SCP?

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This look into Coakley’s home showcases several SCP designs including the Balzac Lounge Chair and Ottoman and Jasper Morrison Side Table.

I started out dealing in what is now called vintage furniture, mainly following my interest in modernist designs. At the time people were more interested in these designs as well-priced alternatives and a reaction to the kind of contemporary furniture at the time, which was pretty awful. They tended to be young creatives with or without much income. They were not buying it as an investment but as functional furniture. So it was logical to re-chrome a dirty rusty Mies Van der Rohe chair. Sounds daft now, but they were simpler times. This got me to learn how to repair, restore, and eventually make tubular steel items. So it was a simple and logical step after meeting Jasper Morrison and Matthew Hilton, who had both just graduated to making their designs.

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A closer look at the iconic Balzac Lounge Chair and Ottoman, SCP’s best-selling product.

When did you first realize that you could make a career out of modern design?

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These iron side tables from designer Jasper Morrison are available with one or two tiers of glass.

Once I had started making new designs this was all I wanted to do, and initially to support it, I sold classic tubular steel designs made in Italy.

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The Parallel Shelving System is a wall-mounted component storage solution made of pressed steel.

Thirty years ago, you founded SCP. In what ways has the company stayed the same, and what ways has it evolved?

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Donna Wilson’s colorful Field Day Throws celebrate traditional Welsh weaving.

I think I still retain my interest and integrity in producing honest, well-made and well-thought-out products. I still enjoy working with designers that I have known for thirty years and finding new and emerging designers. Bearing in mind I have never had a real plan, let alone exit strategy, I have learned how to run a business that is a means to an end.

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Launched in 2013, each Woodgate Sofa is made with an FSC-approved beech wood frame, jute, and elasticated webbing that is covered with a mix of renewable materials including natural fibers, animal hair, and wool.

At your 30th anniversary presentation in Milan, you showed a thorough mix of prototypes, some of which weren’t put into production. How do you decide what to go forward with, and what to leave out of your assortment?

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The Cedric Desk is crafted from European walnut wood and features a leather top and leather-lined drawers.

It’s difficult; there was much discussion and debate, many hours pulling things out of the barn. In the end they all kind of chose themselves, whether it was a piece that had stood the test of time and we were still making it—sometimes it was a design that was way before its time, or we couldn't make it because it was too expensive with the techniques we had available, or it represented a moment in time. 

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This Slatted Barstool from SCP was designed in by Jasper Morrison in 1986 and is now a part of the SCP Classics collection.

 What is your favorite SCP product? What has been the best-selling product for SCP (the customers’ favorite)?

I have many favorites of course for many reasons. Here's a few. Japser Morrison's side table—the first piece I ever made, and still a great design. The Balzac Arm Chair by Matthew Hilton, our first and most successful piece of upholstery, which led me to open our upholstery workshop. Donna Wilson's pouf was a big change in direction for SCP at the time and heralded a whole new collection. She is a great designer to work with and although she was already an established textile designer, this was one of her first pieces of furniture she had designed...I could go on. The Balzac Chair is our best-selling product.

What do you see in the future of SCP as a manufacturer, a retailer, and as a design firm?

I see it pretty much the same as it is today. Luckily I’m not funded and therefore don’t have an exit strategy, however it’s become much easier, partly through experience but mainly because our world has changed—modern design has become the norm. There is much more interest in good design, the quality of manufacture, materials, and its source, so hopefully there is a space for us to grow in a modest way.