Earlier this year, Sanlam was the lead sponsor of the prestigious 2020 Collect Open Award at the International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design. In the second of a series of interviews with exhibitors, we talk to Chris Cox. Together with his wife Nicola, they own Cox London – a hugely successful artisan furniture and lighting business in London.
Chris Cox knew he was going to be an artist from a very young age. He was born into a family of artists and antique dealers and grew up surrounded by amazing artefacts, which would ultimately become his inspiration. He spent his childhood helping to restore beautiful antiques, and by the time he was 8 years old, he had already decided he would go to art school.
And he did just that. After studying at the Lincoln College of Art, he went on to study Fine Art Sculpture at the Wimbledon School of Art, which is where he met his wife, Nicola – also a passionate artist and sculptor. Nicola’s love was for bronze casting, while Chris focused on constructing with different metals, and they were soon able to follow those passions into the world of work. Seeing other artists in a commercial environment was enlightening. Chris said: “I learned more metalworking techniques in my first week at work than in three years of study.”
Earning and learning
For several years Chris and Nicola worked for other galleries and workshops. Not only did they garner experience in designing and manufacturing bespoke pieces for clients, they also learned how to market and sell their craft, which doesn’t always come easily to artists.
Chris said: “Running a commercial business is everything a fine artist is not. To start with, we were quite embarrassed to market our own work, and putting a price on it wasn’t easy. But we soon realised that selling our craft earned money, which enabled us to do more of what we loved. So, we continued producing and selling our own pieces while also working.”
In 2003, Chris and Nicola were ready to go it alone, and Cox London was established. Focusing on the design and manufacture of bespoke pieces of lighting, furniture and other artworks, their many years of experience meant they could hit the ground running with an established network of customers. They built their first foundry (a place to produce lost wax bronze castings) in their back garden, and from there, their success began.
The building of a business
By 2007, they opened their first industrial unit, where they set up a workshop and recruited six employees. Chris said: “With hindsight, we were so lucky to be given a loan. Less than a year later, the credit crisis hit, and funding for projects like ours dried up.”
While receiving the loan may have been their lucky break, their success was down to good judgment and a lot of hard work. But by 2012, they were run ragged and something had to give. They sought to educate themselves on how to operate the business more efficiently and effectively. Chris said: “We’re always open to change and improvement, and this ethos runs throughout the company. We had to make changes if we wanted to take the business to the next level, and we needed help in doing that.”
It can take months to create just one Cox London masterpiece, so scaling up the business was crucial if they were going to be able to fuel the demand. They now employ 35 full-time staff – 10 of which are office based, while the others are passionate artists working from their purpose-built foundry on the site of their original workshop in Tottenham Hale, London.
“London is an amazing melting pot of talented and passionate artists, and there is inspiration everywhere”, said Chris. “Everyone in our business has a passion for their craft, and we make a point of reinvesting the money we make into providing our artists with a state-of-the art facility that enables them to be self-sufficient within their own fully equipped working space. To us, this was essential for the future of the business. More so than having a west end gallery in London.” They now have both, having opened their first showroom on the Pimlico road in 2018. A street celebrated as London’s top spot by the most discerning in the design trade.
Chris and Nicola remain very much at the creative head of the business. Despite the pressures of running a successful company, they still design most of the initial pieces themselves. Their passion for their craft remains at the centre of what they do. As Chris said: “We have to work hard to allow for our creative time but being a husband and wife partnership really helps. We understand what it takes to be successful in this business, and we work together towards a common goal.”
Partnering with The Crafts Council
Having a nine-year old daughter has given Chris and Nicola an insight into the lack of importance placed on art and craft in schools. Cox London is delighted to have been appointed by the Crafts Council as the first ‘Craft Education Supporters’. This partnership has helped them campaign for the need to ensure craft remains an essential part of the national curriculum.
Their partnership has also given them access to education programmes on how to run their business, as well as helping them recruit talented artists. Chris said: “The Crafts Council was the perfect charity to partner with. They are as passionate about craft as we are, and they do a huge amount to help artists in the UK.”
We asked Chris what advice he would give a budding artist who wants to turn their passion into a commercial reality. He said: “Don’t be precious or embarrassed about selling your work. It’s a means to doing more of what you love. Think ahead and have a goal. Imagine what your workshop will look like. Always think outside the box and be original. But most of all, I would follow my wife’s advice: don’t make it a dream – make it a plan.”
The worlds of art and wealth management are surprisingly similar. We set out to craft something meaningful and of real value that lasts for generations to come. The same spirit that guides and inspires artists to create cultural wealth is what drives our wealth managers to grow and preserve clients’ wealth. The traits and characteristics typically associated with artists, such as inspiration, innovation, hard-learned skills, comprehensive experience, care and patience – even the need to take calculated risk at times – rings true for portfolio managers and financial planners and reflects our brand proposition, Wealthsmiths.
For more information on Cox London, visit https://coxlondon.com/