Rowena Morgan-Cox is a multi-disciplinary creative artist, born and raised in South London. She has been lovingly acquiring weird and wonderful objects since her childhood and after years of working in galleries and design stores, she started Palefire Studio. Rowena’s ambition is to blur some of the historically distinct lines between domestic design and ‘fine art’, bringing a sense of artfulness and flamboyance to objects for the home. Read on to discover Rowena’s extensive sourcebook of inspiration and the winding and fruitful paths travelled before Palefire came into existence.
Tell us about yourself. What’s your story, your background?
Born and raised in deepest, darkest South London – I still live and have a studio south of the river. As a child, I was always messing around making stuff but was also extremely covetous and wanted lots of stuff. I couldn’t afford anything good but I curated bits of lovingly acquired tat in my room. I took my love of beautiful things to what I thought was the natural conclusion and have spent most of my working life in galleries and design stores selling unique works of art and design. But I always missed the making and creating. The dissatisfaction niggled at me until I decided to start Palefire.
Tell us something about yourself that other people might not know?
I’ve always wanted to have my own business and over the years have come up with hundreds of ideas that have never come to fruition. These range from teenage fancies like an all-women electricians’ company, to the more outlandish post-university pornography for women, to the mid-20s sober leather accessories designer. My New Year’s resolution for 2021 was to stick to my guns and see through my idea for Palefire. I almost got derailed by an idea for a travel app and a recycling centre aimed at artists and designers but Palefire is finally here.
What do you love most about what you do?
Imagining endless possibilities and making those thoughts a reality.
Talk us through your creative process.
I am constantly collecting mood and inspiration imagery, whether that be from books, magazines, exhibitions, museums, Instagram, Pinterest or things I capture on my phone. My greed for imagery is insatiable and my ‘Sourcebook’, as I have named it, has hundreds of images, from Carlo Scarpa lighting to a texture on the wall of a building site I spotted on holiday. To boil all these ideas down to something usable I manufacture parameters for myself and that is key to my process. In the case of the U/V Collection, the constraints I set were the materials – paper pulp – and the limited number of moulds and finishes – only five of each. The rules are not strictly necessary but giving myself restrictions pushes me to be more inventive.
What materials do you use?
I try to really consider my materials. The body of the lights are manufactured in small batches in a family-run workshop in Barcelona, where they process recycled paper onsite and air-dry their products to limit carbon footprint. The paint is manufactured in Iceland and Sweden using 100% geothermal energy and has one of the lowest VOC (volatile organic compound) ratings in the UK. The metal and electric components are made in a small family-run factory in Birmingham, where waste filings are collected and put back into the system.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your designs?
I worked as a dealer of historical design and art for almost a decade, so most of my references are old. My sourcebook of inspiration varies wildly from richly decorated surfaces and painterly designs of Art Nouveau and Omega Workshops artists to the crisp geometric shapes of Italian mid-century designers like Carlo Scarpa. My pattern finishes are partly inspired by two twentieth-century female artist-designers – Sonia Delaunay and Marion Dorn. The Axis pattern takes its palette and diagonal lines from a beach set, including parasol, bag and robe, that Delaunay designed in the late 1920s. The Serpent pattern borrows the mixture of geometric and serpentine lines that Dorn layered in her Art Deco rugs.
What do you look for when buying objects for your own home?
Aside from the obvious quality and craftsmanship, I look for unusual objects. I am quite contrary. As best I can, I avoid fads and fashions. For this reason, I have a tendency to lean into the weird and even the ugly. And if I can’t find something that speaks to me then I think maybe I should make it.
What makes a house a home for you?
Home could really be anywhere, in any space. But I like to fashion my own space through a meaningful assortment of objects and pictures. These don’t have to be expensive. At university I decorated the walls with evocative images ripped out of magazines and beloved postcards from museums. Since then I have begged and borrowed furniture. Our dining table is from the 1970s and was my mother’s family kitchen table – it even has saw-marks from when my uncle misused it as a workbench. Over the table is a painting by British artist and designer Alistair Morton, which my mother-in-law and her late husband bought from my old gallery The Fine Art Society and has fortuitously ended up in our care. The surfaces are scattered with ceramics by my favourite potter Nicola Tassie and unusual finds from vintage dealer Molde. I feel a home should be full of stories and memories.
Follow Rowena: @palefire_studio