Stop the press! Chelsom turns 75 this year. To celebrate more than seven decades leading the way in lighting manufacturing, Hotel Designs has launched an editorial series that looks at what the family-owned British company has achieved. In our first article, Editor Hamish Kilburn makes a nod to the milestone moments…
It was good taste, a keen eye for design and detail and a ‘seven days a week’ work ethic that made Reg and Kay Chelsom’s small antique lighting shop, The Golden Age, a huge success in post war Blackpool. Sourcing mostly from Paris flea markets, they restored and sold fabulous antique pieces with Kay’s mother contributing by making exquisite hand-sewn lampshades. The growing reputation for unique lighting pieces attracted clients from all over the North of England, as well as the stars of stage and screen of the day who were performing live at the UK’s famous holiday destination.
In the ’50s, one shop became two and then three, and at the same time the first tentative steps were taken into UK manufacturing. Using small local foundries, original antique pieces were purchased to make moulds for reproduction traditional lighting which was originally sold through the Golden Age shops and later distributed to other retailers throughout the United Kingdom. The fledgling manufacturing company was proud to count Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and John Lewis as three of its earliest customers. High demand required higher levels of production and some of the component manufacturing was moved to Europe where the company, now called RJ Chelsom and Company Limited, was one of the first to import high quality traditional lighting into the UK. Throughout the 1960’s a nationwide distribution network was set up with supply to retailers and interior designers working in the contract market.
Robert Chelsom joined the company in 1971 just as it moved to larger premises, and he became Managing Director in 1976. The following year the original antique shops were finally closed to allow full concentration on the burgeoning manufacturing distribution business. In the early 80s, Robert felt that there was a much greater appreciation of up-to date design and high quality in the contract and hospitality sector than there perhaps was on the high street and so began the transition from retail supply to providing lighting solutions to the contract market. “It was a fantastically exciting time” he told Hotel Designs. “With the growing realisation of just how important good lighting is to any interior design scheme, lighting moved from the bottom of the interior designer’s wish list right towards the top and there was a much greater appreciation of lighting design and function within the industry.”
1987 saw a move to the company’s current large premises, Heritage House, and the team was strengthened with senior management, particularly on the technical side, to oversee the demise of the incandescent lamp and the innovative moves to energy saving halogen and compact fluorescents. In 1989, the company opened a magnificent trade lighting showroom in London and welcomed many top interior designers to view the ever-changing collections.
By the early 1990s, Chelsom Limited as it was now called was winning hotel projects with many of the UK’s major hotel groups. It was then that the decision was taken to create the first of many industry leading substantial lighting catalogues covering the greatly expanded range. Plans were laid for the launch of the catalogue to be a biennial event and the latest catalogue was always greeted with great enthusiasm by the interior design industry. Landmark projects were won in the UK and for the first time, exports became a substantial part of the company’s turnover. New company Directors were appointed to manage and direct the ongoing company growth. Looking for market diversification, two new company divisions were created- the retail division whose main customers were Marks and Spencer and Laura Ashley and the architectural division, Light Engine, which worked with architects and lighting designers to illuminate the interiors and exteriors of prestigious public buildings.
By 2005, the hospitality side of the client base was becoming so all-consuming that a decision was made to sell the retail and architectural divisions and concentrate 100 per cent on hospitality. In 2006 the current Managing Director Will Chelsom joined the business and spent several years working closely with designers and procurement companies in London before moving North to manage the company from Head Office. The decade saw a successful move into the USA market and the creation of Chelsom Hong Kong Limited to facilitate shipments to Asian markets and to oversee the very stringent QC operation which Chelsom has in the Far East to ensure all componentry coming from that part of the word reaches the very highest Chelsom standards of quality and function. Will very much pioneered a move into the marine industry where the company’s design capabilities and high levels of quality have been much appreciated by the cruise sector. This has been particularly the case with custom lighting where Chelsom have worked hand in hand with specifiers to create some of the cruise market’s most spectacular lighting installations manufactured mostly in the UK.
Coming right up to date, Chelsom has recently won two Queens Awards for Export as a result of substantial and continuous overseas sales growth, and last year a prestigious Red Dot Award for product design. Will Chelsom said: “I am extremely proud that I am a fourth-generation family member involved in a business which has thrived on its original principles of design, quality and service. Today we have an extremely high global reputation, exporting to more than 70 countries and it gives me great personal pleasure that we have worked with many of the world’s leading designers and specifiers for so many years and continue to do so. We will maintain our search for creativity in product design; our drive for ever higher levels of quality; our journey towards total sustainability and our passion for product that we love.”
Chelsom is one of our Recommended Suppliers and regularly features in our Supplier News section of the website. If you are interested in becoming one of our Recommended Suppliers, please email Katy Phillips.
Main image credit: Chelsom