The Forge is a retouching and photographic studio tucked away in a tiny nook of London’s Stoke Newington. The company, founded by Jean-Michel Massey in 2011, was initially based in Camden, before re-locating to Hackney Downs. ‘Then an opportunity came up to move into this place on a long lease,’ explains Massey. ‘At the same time it made sense to gut it and do something nice.’ Which with the help of architect Michel Schranz Design + Architecture (MSDA for short), he has. The £100,000 scheme took nearly three months to complete but the owner is obviously proud of the results. ‘It was pretty squalid,’ he smiles. ‘The bathroom was like the worst toilet you’ve ever been to.’
And it’s impossible not to notice the amount of USM furniture The Forge has specified. There is a cluster of desks where re-touchers go about their business in semi-gloom; a pair of large red storage units in the office with an adjacent wardrobe; and in the main, light-filled, studio itself there’s a grey trolley which the company uses as a mobile kitchen.
Massey has been collecting the pieces for a while – and has more at home too, including several units and another wardrobe in white – though he wasn’t an immediate convert. ‘I looked at it online and I thought it was too shiny,’ he explains. ‘I’m not a shiny person.’ However, his architect persuaded him to visit the company’s Clerkenwell showroom and he experienced a conversion verging on the Damascene.
‘It was just the way the doors closed,’ he remembers. ‘It just feels quality. I’m also very much one for a product not having an end life. I love the fact the product has been about since the ’60s and has essentially been the same. You could pick up a piece from nearly 50 years ago and it would screw into a USM product you bought yesterday. That is what society should be aiming for really.’
And he’s evangelistic about the company’s service too. ‘I know if my tops get scratched I can pick up the phone and get new ones ordered or have them powder-coated. I don’t ever see it having to be completely replaced.’ At the moment he’s thinking about getting the two large storage units stacked up to make room for extra desks, while he’s also keen to add a bin to the kitchen trolley. The office, it seems, is constantly evolving and he has ordered more doors for the units with open faces. ‘It’s very easy to add to what we have,’ he says. ‘Originally we stripped it right back to save on costs but now – as I’m able to – I’m adding bits here and there.’
Ultimately though it’s the product’s chameleon-like quality he particularly appreciates. ‘Once you have it in an environment it absolutely blends in,’ he concludes. ‘It completely absorbs its surroundings.’