Our Human Kind series continues with Sally Light, the former clothing designer who embraced her love of furniture to found McIntosh & Light - the Hackney-based interiors business that sources and restores unique vintage furniture in a caring fashion.
Sally’s journey from fashion designer to furniture seller follows a path that many people have walked over the past two years. After seven years working for big brands in the fashion industry, Sally found herself being made redundant at the end of the first UK lockdown. This enforced change prompted a moment of self-reflection. What do I enjoy? What am I good at? How do I want to spend my career?
Rather than working for someone, Sally decided it was time to work for herself. Antiques had been a hobby for some time and now there was nothing stopping her from turning her passion into her profession.
McIntosh & Light was born in 2020, taking its name from Sally’s middle and surnames. “I love the thrill of the find, the care of restoration, and the joy of my clients”, Sally outlines on her website. “Sustainability is important to me and giving items a new lease of life and a new home has given me a new purpose.”
We visited Sally in her home, which has become a base of operations for McIntosh & Light, serving simultaneously as an office, studio, workshop and photo studio. Hallways are flanked by chairs and artworks rest carefully against walls - as we talked a delivery of armchairs, sourced from eBay, arrived on a delivery van.
You are now entering the world of McIntosh & Light.
Hi Sally, thanks for inviting us into your home and workspace. Lockdown sparked your career change but what made you choose furniture?
I’ve always loved vintage furniture and, at the start, I think I underestimated how much I knew. Then I realised I had liked antiques for quite a while, my whole flat was basically antiques. Talking to my friend Jessica, who runs the Instagram account @since_1859, helped. She’s basically done up her house herself, even plastered it all. We met up for dinner and she encouraged me to start my own furniture account. I started fixing chairs and doing a few bits for friends and it really took off in the second lockdown.
Why do you put that increase in interest down to?
We were all trapped in our houses, of course, and I think people had forgotten how to look after their homes and the things they own because of the influence of fast fashion - they could just buy new. I also think people appreciate things that look a bit older. There’s nothing worse than a brand spanking new coffee table or chair to me now. If it looks a bit weathered it adds texture to your home. You can have those newer bits, but adding an antique really adds depth to interiors. Another thing I’ve learnt is that older things are built to last. The 1970s coffee tables I look at, the glass is so thick. I think demand for pieces with a past has gone up.
The process of finding the objects must be fun. Where do you look?
Everywhere! The most reliable source is from auction. I’ve been going to France and want to do a Belgium trip soon, hopefully. When I first started I used eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. There are some absolute bargains to be had on there, but it’s about having the time to sift through and there’s not a reliable quality.
With so much out there, how do you filter out the noise to find a McIntosh & Light piece?
Another dealer gave me the best pieces of advice. They said, “if you love it just go for it”. Buying stuff I love makes me feel nervous because I’m worried no one else will like it, but those usually end up being the bits that people really want. You don’t want to keep selling the same stuff.
What about repair and restoration? How did you learn those skills?
My dad is really handy so I’ve always learnt from him. Being a designer I think I’m very ‘make do and mend’ in my approach - you just try and give it a go. If I’m honest, a lot of the work is cleaning. With touch up stuff and colour matching, I have a good eye for colour from my fashion background, which I think helps. Early on, I taught myself how to repair cane seats and gradually got better and better at that. I started working on lower price pieces because I was a bit scared of breaking something expensive and people went nuts for it.
A big career change can be daunting. How did you find it moving industries?
I didn’t know if going from fashion to interiors would be like going from the frying pan into the fire, but everyone’s really nice. I’ve found it really supportive and I’ve slowly started meeting more people. I’ve got a little Instagram friendship group, which shows you how good social media can be. I’d never have imagined that people I’m in competition with would be so supportive. You share information. There’s a guy who’s similar to me, @fourquartershome, we chat about all the good antiques fairs in France. Then there’s @mouse_interiors, who does inspiration imagery. She’s been great. I’ve made loads of friends.
How did you find it working from home during the pandemic and what was it like becoming your own boss?
I’ve loved it. I was thrown into it with the redundancy, but now I tell people: ‘just do it and you’ll always be alright’. What I did before at massive brands, I was such a small part in a big machine that I couldn’t step outside of it. Now I can stand for more of my own ethos. I like the freedom and the slower pace of the interiors scene. Finding out the history behind the things you sell is lovely. You can’t stop learning.
You’re into your second year as McIntosh & Light, what do you think is the next evolution?
I’m doing an interior design course because I’d like to keep the antiques side small and then go more into interior design. I think a lot of interior designers do that, sell antiques as well as do interior design, it goes hand in hand. We’re looking at buying a house this year, so hopefully I can have a workshop in my garden. If not, definitely renting somewhere would be really good because people ask to come and see the items. But it’s also being clever with your money. Would I rather buy more items and get more customers or have a showroom and buy less?
Special thanks to Sally. If you’re looking to add some antique texture to your interiors, visit www.mcintoshlight.co.uk to see the latest furniture, artworks and objects that Sally has artfully curated.
Photography by Léa Campbell
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