Selected items created at the Beasley Brothers Repair shop, Somerset House, September 2022.

Beasley Brothers Repair Shop

In Conversation with Carl Clerkin

SCP's Editor Duncan Riches talks to designer Carl Clerkin about his latest project, The Beasley Brothers Repair Shop.

Carl Clerkin, the principle instigator of the Beasley Brothers Repair Shop, is an east end boy at heart. Hewn from the streets of Hackney, his work has always been representative of a kind of make do and mend culture, once so prevalent in the area he grew up in. The idea of making things, and then mending them when they needed repairing, was common practice on the Kingsland Road, and pretty much everywhere else in the UK, three decades ago.

So when Somerset House curator and long-time collaborator Claire Catterall approached Carl to talk about the possibility of being involved in a show about repair, he didn’t take long to come up with the idea of re-creating a repair shop, situated in the heart of the exhibition itself. He then garnered donations from a number of British furniture manufacturers, who essentially emptied the excess parts bins of their warehouses, and soon there was a range of raw materials to work with. Carl then invited a cohort of different designers, many of them good friends, to come along to work with him in the repair shop in the creation of new objects.

Carl Clerkin laughing as his photo is taken at the Beasley brothers Repair Shop within Somerset House
Carl Clerkin at the Beasley Brothers Repair Shop within Somerset House

What Carl is reimagining with the Beasley Brothers Repair shop, is not just a way to make furniture and objects, but a culture that used to exist in the not too distant memory. One where you could go to a local repair shop and fix your TV, electrical goods, vacuum cleaners, or other mechanical or household goods.

“Beasley Brothers was a repair shop where I would take my television, or my radio. Or even run your bike in there, and get your brakes tuned and your gears fixed, or a puncture done.” Explains Carl. “There were three brothers in there. Mostly they would do electrical, but they would do all sorts. They were local legends, the Beasley Brothers. They were there until around 2007, on Murray Grove, just off New North Road. I probably took Laura’s mum’s telly in there in 2003, but of course no-one fixes things now because everything is so cheap.”

“Beasley Brothers was a repair shop where I would take my television, or my radio. There were three brothers in there. Mostly they would do electrical, but they would do all sorts. They were local legends."

Carl Clerkin

One thing that is very heartening about the project is how it has influenced Carl’s idea of the future of his working practice. He is now wondering whether he should only be working like this from here on. That one should only be using items, components and materials that currently exist, that things that are required to be newly manufactured should be avoided.

“Before I was even into design, I think I was interested in people’s spontaneous ways of dealing with problems. Physical issues if you like. In some ways, my work has always been about that. With this thing here, it’s kind of interesting. I think I have fallen out of love with the idea of designing mass-manufactured things. I don’t think I want to make anything new unless it’s sustainable. Of course, Beasley is about doing a good exhibition, and about hopefully making some lovely things. But for me, it’s about what I might be doing next.”

The idea that the manufacturing process should be something that is already in the past, and that the future is one of fashioning things from things that are already there, is a powerful one. The idea itself is not new, various incarnations of similar thinking are littered across the history of European product design. This kind of approach has an esteemed and serious lineage. It will be familiar to anyone who experienced the influence of Droog in the 90s, or going back much further, the “ready-made” products of the Castiglioni brothers in the 50’s and 60’s. Which, incidentally, were very much a response to Government led industry advice in post-war Italy, aimed at encouraging manufacturers to use pre-existing components to create popular lightweight products that could be sold for export. Now, a confluence of different factors – around issues of the climate, sustainability and shrinking globalisation, to name a few – give these ideas a new gravitas. In 2022 they make perfect sense, rather than in the past, where they made an alternative kind of sense, and were in fact, alternative.

Another important factor is reach. “What is different now,” explains Carl, “to in 1998, when I set up in the OXO Tower making small batches of things, is that the support platform is there now. You don’t really have to do Milan, you could run a business off Instagram if you wanted.”

"I think I have fallen out of love with the idea of designing mass-manufactured things. I don't think I want to make anything new unless it’s sustainable."

Carl Clerkin
Lot 47 | Fog Horn Lamp | Jacob Marks | Beasley Brothers Repair Shop
Lot 3 | Three Legged Chair | Dean Edmonds | Beasley Brothers Repair Shop

The upcoming auction at SCP perhaps also foretells a new way in which consumers might access design objects. An auction can be a total mystery, and the vagaries of an auction might seem intimidating for a traditional retailer – one who likes to know the price of things before they sell them. However, in a time where there exists a whole new generation of consumers on digital platforms (like eBay, Depop, Etsy, etc,.), who are very much used to seeing a price, making an offer, and then negotiating with the seller, perhaps for them an auction is a comfortable place to be. Maybe design objects can be made and sold this way, and perhaps having a more consumer-driven marketplace might democratise what objects are deemed most valuable, with better outcomes for all parties involved. All of these ideas (and more) have been mulled over with the various designers who have joined Carl to work at Beasley Brothers.

“For the first time, I am asking myself what would I really like to do for the next 10 years. I think it might be a bit more like this.” Says Carl. “I did that All Lovely Stuff (a UK design brand making objects in small batches), and you end up trying to make everything as cheap as possible, so that people can buy it for cheap, and you need to be making loads of it to be able to sell it at that price – you just end up oiling someone else’s machine.”

“For the first time, I am asking myself what would I really like to do for the next 10 years. I think it might be a bit more like this.”

Carl Clerkin

Carl seems genuinely delighted by how Beasley Brothers has gone, with the items themselves, but also due to the collaborative nature of it. There is joy in working with people closely, in a less pressured, more playful way. In Carl’s view, the outcomes are better.

“I’ve been really happy here in the last couple of months, because I come in, potter about making things. It’s partly because I have had some brilliant people come in and work with me. That’s been fantastic. It’s also because I’ve been able to think about where this might be going beyond this show, and that has been a nice conversation to have with people.”

Yet the most positive thing has been the response from the public. As Carl notes, there will always be people who love “bling”, but on the whole people have responded to the objects in a really positive way.

“I think my work makes reference to the everyday, which is important, because it allows people to understand it immediately, it’s quite accessible. But at the end of the day, people weren’t willing to pay good money for these kinds of things, but perhaps now that is changing, there is more appetite for them now.”

This change is palpable, particularly in mainstream culture, and projects like the Beasley Brothers Repair shop will continue to shine a light on these subjects and promote other ideas of value.

Lot 15 | Candelabra | Jacob Marks | Beasley Brothers Repair Shop

“Well, it will be nice to show the collection with a bit of space around it.”

A big thank you to Carl for taking the time to talk to us.

The Beasley Brother Repair Shop Auction takes place at SCP on Wednesday the 12th of October, from 6pm. Sign up to attend here.