When Jill Stein, co-owner of The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, left an encouraging note for Scabetti Sculpture & Lighting at the prestigious 100% Design show back in 2007, Dominic and Frances Bromley knew their light sculpture, Shoal, had hit the mark. ‘We’d won extra space at the exhibition through a competition so we had to make a huge sculpture to fill it. Two metres tall and comprising 1,672 ceramic fish, we were still making Shoal in the hotel room the night before the show opened,’ remembers Frances.
In fact, Jill and Rick Stein became the first people to commission a Shoal sculpture from Scabetti afterwards – the bespoke, 1.5m-diameter, 1m-tall piece hangs in the entrance of The Seafood Restaurant. Now, the ethereal design, in various standard and tailored incarnations, graces homes, restaurants and public buildings around the UK, including seaside cottages in the West Country, Colman’s Seafood Temple in South Shields, The Pier House in Westward Ho!, and Fishmongers’ Hall in London.
Both Dominic and Frances are industrial designers, chiefly concerned with melding form and function as pleasingly as possible. Dominic, who set up Scabetti back in 1999, has always been influenced by Mid-Century style and likes the simple, modernist forms of the 1950s and ’60s. Using 3D software, he designed the sea fish that populate every Shoal sculpture, but it was his father, Royal Doulton modeller John Bromley,
who created the first ceramic model. ‘It measures 16cm long and has a mackerel pattern across its back, inspired by some mackerel we ate for dinner one evening, and a sunken pupil to create depth in the eye,’ says Dominic. Every Shoal fish is based on that beautifully rendered model, giving the sculptures a precise, consistent and professional edge.
The Scabetti design studio is in an old mill building in Dominic’s hometown of Leek in Staffordshire, 12 miles from the Stoke-on-Trent potteries, from where they order each batch of handmade fish. ‘We use the technique of slip casting – pouring liquid clay into a plaster mould, which leaves a solid cast weighing 40 grams each when dry. Each fish needs “fettling” or cleaning and sponging to soften the edges and has one or two holes added to suspend them on the multi-strand steel line,’ says Dominic. The fish can be glazed or matt, depending on the commission, and each one is quality-checked as it comes back into the studio to be formed into a luminaire.
Once connected, the white bone china fish – three layers in all – circle a light that illuminates both them and the space they ‘swim’ in; the translucency of the medium also works well in natural light. Several times a year, the pair are invited to install a Shoal in beachside properties in Cornwall or Devon, giving Dominic a chance to surf, which he loves. And every year they visit Padstow to clean and maintain the piece commissioned by Jill and Rick Stein 14 years ago – an event they look forward to. ‘They helped set us on the path, so that sculpture is very special,’ says Frances.
FIND SCABETTI DESIGNS
• Shoal sculptures cost from £3,500 upwards, depending on size (up to 800 fish for the domestic range). To discuss, contact the studio on 01538 371471 or go to scabetti.co.uk. You can also buy a Fish Deluxe lampshade, inspired by Shoal, for £65 via the studio’s online shopping site bromleyandbromley.com
• Follow Dominic and Frances on Instagram at @scabetti and on Twitter @ScabettiStudio