Mark Holmes has swapped the large scale of Established & Sons for a small-scale new venture of luxury giftware. Anna Richardson talks simplicity, style and the joy of being in control with the designer
A year ago Mark Holmes, best known as co-founder of Established & Sons and for his stripped-down and functional design aesthetic, left the successful furniture manufacturing company and took himself off to a quiet, isolated part of Greece, where his next venture germinated. A year later, Holmes is launching Minimalux at the Milan furniture fair.
An amalgam of the minimalist and the luxurious, the collection consists of 18 objects of solid brass with 24-carat gold or silver finish, loosely divided into dining, desk and universal use. But where the minimalist element makes perfect sense, given Holmes’ design background, the ‘luxury’ half of the range is not as clear-cut. As Holmes himself says, ‘I’ve never been a fan of the luxury, or the word “bling”.’
It was the entrepreneur in Holmes that helped the new project take shape. ‘There seems to be room for a certain aesthetic within the luxury giftware market,’ he says. ‘There was nowhere where I could get the simplicity of Muji with the luxury of Georg Jensen, for example. [Minimalux] embraces a formal aesthetic, proven to be popular, and merges that with a material and a finish traditionally perceived as luxurious.’
It’s not the first time that Holmes has spotted a niche in the market. During five years of fine arts education, Holmes’ three-dimensional work evolved towards the more functional area of design. After university, he made a living designing gift products for export and high street stores, having noticed an emerging demand in the market for minimalist and utilitarian pieces.
Holmes quickly acquired an appreciation for the entrepreneurial. ‘I was unashamedly trying to woo the consumer on a wider scale, which was refreshing for me having been involved in the art world,’ he says. ‘It was nice to be responsible for making a product that had the potential to reach a much wider audience.’
‘I’ve always loved every element of the business, not just the design element,’ he adds. ‘The process of marketing can be as fulfilling as designing a product. When putting pen to paper and being challenged by formal and functional considerations, it’s essential to have an eye on final costings, but also the story behind the design and how it can be marketed.’
Despite the project’s relative success, he moved on. He won a bursary and studio space at the Oxo Tower, where he developed his own work and curated group shows. In 2003 he co-founded The Lane, followed by the co-creation of Established & Sons in 2005. ‘Established & Sons was an opportunity to do something slightly out of character, to work alongside other capable professionals who could offer elements that I perhaps couldn’t,’ he says. ‘We weren’t afraid to be ambitious, because we knew we had a great team and framework to take it to any level.’
Even though that level continues to rise, Holmes decided to move on once more. ‘I felt creatively the need to do something else,’ he says. ‘I’m quite proud that I’ve always moved on at the right time. I’ve always trusted my instincts.’
He also appreciates that he has come full circle. ‘It’s going back to how I used to work, but with the benefit of experience. I’m going back to the stage where I have complete control over the marketing, the design and the whole identity of the project,’ he says.
During his Greek retreat, Holmes realised an identifiable thirst for working on something smaller, having come from working on large-scale furniture projects at Established & Sons. ‘That idea of a small object also translated into the idea of a small business,’ he adds. ‘In many ways it’s the opposite of what I did before. Creatively, that’s what I needed to do and I thought that’s what I can contribute of value. It’s a good representation of me in this point of time.’
Although the scale is different, Holmes’ design language endures. ‘You get this contrast,’ says Holmes. ‘The luxury finish, which on paper would seem quite loud, and a formal language, which is silent. [The design language] is somewhere in-between – neither silent nor loud.’
Holmes has already conceived the next collection, which will follow the same design principles, but will be ‘visually very different’. But for now, it’s the 18 Minimalux launch pieces that Holmes hopes will plug that luxury market hole. In his soft-spoken, humble style, he says, ‘I might be wrong, there may not be a market for this, but all I can do is offer something which I like myself, and hope others like it too.’