For years it was the neglected Cinderella of the multi-million pound interiors sector but lighting is now centre stage giving a 200-watt performance.
Everyone from top designers to supermarkets are getting in on the act, although few have the depth of knowledge that is required to excel. It’s why a new Yorkshire-based brand, Glow, is creating a huge amount of excitement in the industry. The woman behind it is a designer and an expert in manufacturing thanks to a lifetime in lighting, and an inspirational father.
Emily Butterill worked at TRAC, the family’s commercial and industrial lighting firm in Thirsk. The business, founded by her father, Philip Appleyard, was a big success until cheap imports began to flood the market. Then, Philip was diagnosed with an incurable cancer.
“It was a horrendous time. Dad was so poorly and then TRAC went into administration in September 2013. He was heartbroken, we all were because we were a true family business staffed by lovely people who had worked for us for 20 years. Dad died in December that year,” says Emily.
The loss of her father and her job sent her into further education and she was all set to train as a midwife until an epiphany at an interiors fair and a big shove from a fellow member of the Yorkshire Decibelles Choir.
“I didn’t know what to do with my life but then I went to the Spring Fair at the NEC. As usual, I was drawn to the lighting, which was pretty uninspiring. I rang my husband and said, ‘Everything here looks the same, everything’s imported. I’d love to design lighting.’
“At that point I’d been accepted on a midwifery course so I had this big dilemma. What really made me follow my heart was a trip with the Decibelles. I discussed it with them and they told me to go back to what I knew best and that was it. I decided to give it a go.”
Emily’s designs draw on her love of interiors and her contacts in the trade. She also bounces ideas off her husband, Mike, who has his own commercial lighting business.
The result is a range that takes inspiration from the past and from current trends. There are pendant shades made from glass, metals and even wood. Many of them feature fabric cables in a multitude of colours and patterns. And there are matching ceiling roses.
“I discovered that I really love designing and it helps having a husband who is also in the trade. All we talk about is lighting,” says Emily who has three young sons.
Determined to stay true to her father’s ethos, everything is made in Britain and, if at all possible, in Yorkshire. Many of the lights are put together in her workshop in Ripon and are sold online at Notonthehighstreet, and in local outlets, including the Olive Branch in Easingwold and the Devoted To section of Redbrick Mill in Batley. Prices start from £68 for a metal light with cable and ceiling rose up to £300 for the wooden lights.
“A wood turner in Knaresborough makes my wooden shades and, after a long search, I finally found someone in Britain who can make ribbed glass shades,” she says.
The metal spun lights are made at AD Metal, one of her dad’s old suppliers. The benefits of keeping manufacturing close to home far outweigh the cost savings that come with overseas production.
“It’s not just about money. Manufacturing here means I can keep a close eye on quality. I have a brilliant metal finisher who works on some of my Glow lights and he says that half of his working week is re-painting stuff that has been brought in from China,” says Emily.
“Another big advantage is that I can do small runs and bespoke orders. So if someone wants a particular colour or finish, I can do it, plus I can experiment. At the moment we are oiling and blow-torching some metal lights to create an amazing iridescent finish that looks like spilt petrol. There is no way you can do that if you manufacture abroad.”
Philip Appleyard was also passionate about British manufacturing. “A lot of people were pushing TRAC to manufacture in China and it made sense financially because then customers weren’t bothered where our lights were made. That’s changed. People are a lot more interested in supporting British makers,” says Emily.
They are also much more interested in lighting, realising that it can make or break an interior, although they are yet to be educated about lumens and watts. “I know all about light levels and the effect they have because lighting is always for a purpose in the commercial and industrial sector. I still find it strange that no-one in the residential sector asks about light output,” says Emily, who loves old-style filament bulbs.
Add the lust for lighting and desire to buy British together and it appears that Glow has emerged at the right time, although Emily doubts she would’ve got the business past first base without her previous experience. “I started at the bottom making time controls in the school holidays and I worked in every area of my dad’s business, from the sales office to accounts. In the end I was buying manager and all that has been invaluable.
“But it’s my dad who drives me on. He grew up in Barnsley in a mining community and he didn’t want to go down the pit.
“He was a self-made man and a real family man who worked incredibly hard. He was one in a million.
“My husband keeps saying dad would be proud of what I’m doing, which makes me cry. I hope he is.”
• Glow Lighting, www.glowlighting.co.uk