Matthew Hilton at his south London studio.

Matthew Hilton

Studio visit

For the new SCP Collection launching in Milan, Matthew Hilton has taken on a very difficult typology, the reclining armchair. SCP's editor Duncan Riches finds out about the challenges the design posed during a studio visit in early spring.

How did the recliner project take shape?

“The recliner brief was knocking about for a while and I had a few ideas, but none of them seemed quite right. Once some mechanisms were selected, we looked at those and started drawing stuff and making models. But actually we didn’t really resolve a design, and we didn’t really work the way that we usually work now. Which is to make a 3D model, and get a 3D print and make sure it is right before we make anything. We did it through prototyping, which is like we did with Balzac. We worked closely with the SCP factory, and we just kind of built it, and solved the problems as we went and worked out aesthetics to do with their covering techniques and the materials they have. There are material limitations now as SCP are doing everything with natural materials and very little oil-based materials (foam). There is very little foam in there now (5% to be accurate). Now it has a motorised mechanism, which is like being in Business Class, it’s really nice. It’s got two little buttons hidden down the side of the seat. You’ve got to plug it in, there are a load of things that I find really strange about it, but there you go.”

Ewelina reclining armchair, photography by Beth Evans, styling by Sania Pell.

"There are material limitations now as SCP are doing everything with natural materials and very little oil-based materials (foam)."

Matthew Hilton

What are your thoughts on the typology and the challenges it brings?

“It is hard to deal with aesthetically, that movement, that change. For me I think it just feels like a difficult thing to do. It’s got a whole load of things weighed against it. It’s that connection with old people and light grey and peach colours, all that stuff. But I think it’s great now. It was really challenging to get my head round, but now I think we have got something that I am really pleased with. The constrictions that the type creates, the mechanism – which dictates the proportions, the movement – and the aesthetics restrictions that creates, and the construction itself – which can only be done in a certain way, they all feed into it.”

Matthew Hilton's studio exterior.
A beautifully battered old Wait chair, a brilliant Hilton design from the mid-1990s.

It’s great how you have enjoyed the hands-on process again, because it feels like when new designers come to SCP, that hands-on process at the factory is something they really enjoy, and it is different to just designing on a computer.

“Well SCP have a very particular way of doing upholstery, it’s not the modern way to do it. Most upholstery in modern production, there are lots of bits of moulded foam, so the shape is perfect every time, the frames are CNCed, the covers are CNC cut and sewn, so you get it right, and it’s right. You pull the cover on, velcro it, and that is the end of that. Which is fantastic, but SCP is different. The frames are bits of beech that are hand cut, they use all this horsehair and rubber, wool, and mostly they don’t like to have to stitch the covers, they like to be able to put a piece of fabric on, stretch it, staple it, put another piece on, and so on. As a designer, if you don’t get that, and the kind of difficulties that gives you, to get a consistent shape, and to get some of the more complicated forms. I think you have just got to go and do it. I’ve said this before, and it might be a bit of a cliché, but it’s like making a tailor-made suit, and they have that feel. You know on a tailor-made suit you can see the stitches, and they are not perfect. They are perfect in a fitting way, you can tell it’s handmade. It’s not the kind of absolute perfection we have got used to with modern technology production, which can be a bit soulless. Some things are nice when you can see a bit of the human interaction in them.”

"SCP have a very particular way of doing upholstery, it's not the modern way to do it. I’ve said this before, and it might be a bit of a cliché, but it’s like making a tailor-made suit, and they have that feel. It’s not the kind of absolute perfection we have got used to with modern technology production, which can be a bit soulless. Some things are nice when you can see a bit of the human interaction in them."

The Ewelina reclining armchair.

How did you find this studio?

“I actually didn’t, my girlfriend did. I had to move from a studio in Brixton, where I was for ages. I moved around in a building there, as different nicer spaces came up, maybe for eight years or so. Anyway, they wanted to put the rent up by so much that I thought maybe I should think about buying somewhere. My girlfriend found this. She said there is this commercial space, which is exactly the right size for you, for the right money and ten minutes away from your house. So I got over here quickly, had a look and ended up buying it. It was a lengthy purchase process, because they weren’t actually ready, but it got done. It was originally the site office. We got it, fitted it out, which was nice as it was a bare space.”

 

Is there a regular rhythm now in the studio?

“Well things have changed since the pandemic. It made me think about things a lot. Where were we going? What were we working on? Dave and Harry (his assistants) ended up starting their own company, and now work with me two days a week, and on their company three days a week. So, we’ve really got two companies here now. Matthew Hilton Ltd., and Atelier Thirty Four. They are here Monday and Thursday and we are here as Matthew Hilton Ltd., for Tuesday and Wednesday. And of course we are flexible. It’s a good solution. I hope they can build their business relatively quickly.”

Studio ideas wall.
Matthew in conversation.

What are you doing on the other days?

“I am doing some projects by myself and also spending lots of time doing sculpture. I have about fifteen pieces in progress, and they are cast metal or carved stone, and hopefully if things go well I will have a show in September. I get a lot of pleasure out of it. It is a bit back to where I started in the 80s, although different. I have been thinking about doing something with sculpture for a long time, maybe Covid was the thing that really pushed me to do it properly.”

In conversation.

A big thank you to Matthew for welcoming us to his studio and taking the time to talk.

Matthew Hilton for SCP

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