With two lockdowns behind us and Christmas holidays in less than a week, there is no better time to improve our living spaces by sprucing them up with pieces that really speak to our values. With that said, if you’re looking for inimitable textures providing a sought-after narrative element, as well as natural materials which last a lifetime, then you’ve come to the right place.
“Nothing talks like patina,” says Adam Hills, co-owner of the London-based salvage company and acclaimed design studio, Retrouvius.
Founded in 1993 by Adam and his wife Maria Speake, the company is driven by the belief that good materials and well-made pieces are worth being rescued.
“Starting Retrouvius didn’t feel like a decision, it felt like a duty,” explains Adam. “If no one else was saving stuff, we just had to.”
Retrouvius was originally intended as a vehicle for working with the Glasgow conservation world and local demolition firms; while the activity has grown tremendously over the past 26 years, the couple’s philosophy hasn’t changed.
Adam and Maria rescue natural materials and architectural elements – such as Mahogany display cabinets from famous museums in London, rare fossil limestone from Heathrow Terminal 2 and beautiful marble columns – and skilfully reuse them through their design practice run by Maria, who was awarded House & Garden’s Designer of the Year in 2019.
The couple’s impressive portfolio ranges from a pair of reclaimed toilets supplied to the Trainspotting film set all the way to Bella Freud’s first shop and flagship store, a bespoke space for Lyn Harris & Perfumer H in Marylebone as well as the refurbishment of PR guru Matthew Freud’s Feadship Yacht.
Alex informs us that when it comes to creating interiors, “the design language is led by the salvage.”
“We start with the rescued pieces and ‘offer it up’ to the project.”
“Obviously there’s a huge curation of what we salvage,” he adds. “We love natural materials and always ask ourselves if it is saleable. We can tweak or present items in different ways, and I also don’t mind if it sells for little, as long as it sells.”
The design industry’s attitude toward recycling and reusing has drastically changed since Adam and Maria started their company. “At the beginning, we were perceived as tinkers; hopefully now we are a bit cooler.”
People now recognise vintage furniture as an opportunity to add depth to their interiors. Pieces telling their own stories transform a space and strengthen the narrative about its homeowners. But Adam highlights the importance of editing and warns us not to overdo it: “You don’t need everything shouting.”
When shopping for second hand and reconditioned pieces Adam advises: “Instagram is a great source but it’s always better to go to yards, fairs and shops if you can, so you touch the materials.”
Adam’s sentimentality towards the objects he reclaims is passionate and compelling: “ I remember where most pieces come from and each of them sparks a memory. I’m proud of saving things and I love them all, from the modest handle to the flashy marble floor.”
His deep-seated commitment to sustainability is rooted in his childhood. “I was brought up not to waste anything (food, soap, fabric) by parents who were very ecologically aware but also not rich. I genuinely don’t understand why people throw things away.”
He has passed this way of living on to his own children: “I’m happy that our kids are really into vintage clothes now and don’t shop on the high street. We try to buy local food and mainly vegetarian. But we aren’t strict.”
Adam concludes the interview by reflecting on his company’s mission: “Very early on, we realised that we needed to show people what salvage can do. Initially, people only saw it as a source for period property restoration but we knew that was too niche and we needed to show it was relevant to now. While we might still be too small to make much difference, we hope to inspire others to follow.”
If you want to take a peek at all the treasures Adam and Maria collected, head over to their website and Instagram page. You can also learn more about integrating heritage pieces into your home or commercial space in the couple’s book ‘Reclaiming Style: Using Salvaged Materials to Create an Elegant Home’.