One of the first designers to capture the appeal of industrial styling, Original BTC founder Peter Bowles’ relaxed, familiar lighting is driven by a family heritage of design steeped in manufacturing and business. A carpenter by trade, Peter’s grandfather was chairman of Minty Furniture of Oxford, later bought out by Parker Knoll. After learning the ropes at Minty, Peter’s father launched iconic 1960s lighting retailer Cosmo Designs, employing 13-year-old Peter on his stand at the Harrogate Lighting Fair.
Childhood visits to his father’s manufacturing facilities opened Peter’s eyes to the clean lines of traditional factory fittings and the versatility of mid-century style, while a stint working the machines at a French cutlery manufacturer ignited his passion in the “crash, bang, wallop of production.” Returning to England, Peter opened a Sheffield factory producing a million pieces of own-designed cutlery a year. Challenged by the design limitations of cutlery, in 1990 Peter went back to his roots with an Oxford-based lighting factory. “My goal was to design and produce lights that you are instantly at home with, that will fit easily and comfortably for many years to come”, he explains.
While inspiration is drawn from all quarters - an antique lamp used to keep chicks warm or the searchlight on the back of a toy lorry - authenticity and attention to detail remain at the heart of the collection. Peter has a passion for using raw materials to their best capabilities and creates a harmony of form and material. When a visit to the Stoke-on-Trent shade manufacturer revealed the factory was under threat of closure, Peter promptly took on the business, including all staff. Later, unsatisfied with the finish of commonly-used plastic lighting flex, he replaced it with woven cotton braid snipped off the family iron, soon becoming one of Original BTC’s best-loved design features.
A unique figure in British manufacturing, Peter’s repertoire includes launching new brands, rescuing struggling British heritage brands and factories as well as designing the group’s products, all in conjunction with son Charlie who became Director in 2012.
In 2002, Peter Bowles saved a Stoke-on-Trent tableware manufacturer from closure, creating a new revenue stream for the factory as a producer of bone china light fittings. In 2010, the father-and-son team purchased Davey Lighting, a marine lighting manufacturer founded in East India Docks in the 1880s, preventing its sale to a Belgian company planning to outsource production to the Far East. Determined to produce all components for their two lighting brands on British soil, Peter and Charlie rescued a metalwork factory in Birmingham, also resulting in the launch of a new furniture brand, Bowles & Bowles. They then secured the future of English Antique Glass, the country’s only remaining manufacturer of flat glass, used in stained glass windows at York Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. In early 2013, Oxford-based LED lighting manufacturer Beadlight joined their portfolio. Founded in the 1980s, Beadlight designed, engineered and manufactured the first ever low-heat, low-power, LED reading light for commercial aircraft. Only months later, the group’s portfolio grew to six brands with the acquisition of 1945 pottery brand Branksome China which had recently ceased production.