As a former managing director at The Fine Art Society London and curator at specialist art and furniture gallery 8 Holland Street, it comes as no surprise that Rowena Morgan-Cox, now owner of London-based design studio Palefire, is the custodian of a home full of fascinating objects.
The neat 1950s property, built as a fill-in for the bombing that occurred around Peckham in the second World War, is the perfect foil for her collection of unique pieces, including paintings, sculptures and textiles as well as her own decorative lighting designs. Manufactured from recycled moulded paper pulp by a small factory just outside Barcelona, the 14 different lamps are constructed from just five modular shapes, assembled in varying combinations before being hand-painted at her studio, not far from her southeast London home.
“We’ve lived here for six years and have added an extension to create a dining space, which was important for us, but the house is still not fully finished,” Rowena says. “Most of the furniture has been begged, borrowed or stolen from family and friends, but when we do buy something, it tends to be more thoughtful. And things are perpetually moving and changing; I’m always messing around with objects in terms of where they go.”
One of those objects is a freestanding sculpture by artist Alex Errington. “I’d not long started Palefire and was working from a studio in Brixton,” she says. “Alex was in the space opposite me and I loved popping over as it would be filled with all kinds of mad things she’d collected from the street. Polystyrene food boxes for example, which she’d stack together to make an incredible form, or old furniture foam that she’d cut to reveal a crazy pattern.” Crafted from repurposed bed springs, the piece that Rowena now treasures is one she’d coveted for a while. “The springs are like an amazing optical illusion, almost like tendrils of hair. I'd seen the sculpture in various iterations and originally it was wall mounted, but I liked the idea of it standing. So together we reimagined that aspect and Alex made the concrete base especially.”
Joining the sculpture in the living room is a shelf laden with paperbacks bound in minimal blue and white covers. “My husband, Jacques, runs his own publishing house called Fitzcarraldo Editions. I wouldn’t normally say such nice things, but I'm amazed by how successful it's been,” she laughs. “Since they launched in 2014, they’ve published three women authors – Svetlana Alexievich, Olga Tokarczuk and Annie Ernaux – who have all gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Olga also won the International Booker Prize and another author, Joshua Cohen, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.” Inspired by the style of 20th century French publishing houses, the pared-back covers with their custom typeface is the work of the couple’s friend, designer and art director Ray O’Meara. “Since Jacques started the company, I've always admired the fact that he just went for it,” she continues. “It really gave me the courage to do my own thing.”
That thing of course is Palefire, which since its launch in 2021 has gone from strength to strength, and as a result Rowena’s own space is often home to experimental pieces and samples. Currently these include a Diabolo uplighter and a pair of Parasol table lamps, which sit in the living room and bedroom respectively. “The green Serpent pattern was partly inspired by a French architect called Hector Guimard, who was famous for designing Art Nouveau Paris metro stations, and partly by an Art Deco textile designer called Marion Dorn,” says Rowena. “The yellow pattern, Axis, is inspired by the work of Sonia Delaunay. I just love her all-encompassing body of work.”
Female artists are certainly a theme, and one that continues with a wall hanging by textile designer Catarina Riccabona, commissioned specifically for the space above the bed. “I met Catarina when I was at 8 Holland Street as we sold her work, and I wanted one of her pieces for such a long time,” Rowena enthuses. “She's very careful about materials but also incredibly spontaneous and inventive with her weave, so although we spoke about the colours, she never really knows how it's going to come out.” Often crafted from yarns discarded by other designers or things found in charity shops, threads are knotted together ensuring a no waste, sustainable approach. “In this case, the materials are paper yarn and raffia as we wanted it to be quite stiff. This helps as the hanging is quite long and narrow, which is unusual for her work.”
A love for patchwork is also something Rowena holds dear, citing traditional Gee’s Bend quilts from America and Japanese boro textiles – where items are patched with scraps of cloth – as favourite objects and techniques. “Similarly I love these TOAST cushions because they're like artworks in themselves, but at the same time they're functional, which is something I also try to achieve with my lights,” she says. “The blues, yellows and ochre tones crop up all around the house, whether it's the blue on the doors and the ceiling of our bathroom, or the rusty coloured terracotta floor. They're such a pleasure to have and beautifully made, and I’m sure they’ll last a lifetime.”
Interview by Claudia Baillie.
Photographs by Lesley Lau.
Rowena wears our Cotton Linen Canvas Workwear Dress.
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