Words and photos by Greg Lomas
The company was originally established as Louis Dernier & Co by Louis Dernier in 1888. Sidney Hamlyn was a director of Kerswell, Faulkner & Hamlyn, a company with which Louis Dernier & Co had a long and successful partnership. They formally merged the two companies in 1919. Jeremy Quantrill, commercial director, explains that Dernier’s real name was ‘Last’ but that he had felt ‘Last & Co’ didn’t possess the gravitas or sophistication he wanted, so translated his name into the French equivalent.
Their fascinating backstory includes their part in the war effort when, during the Second World War, Dernier & Hamlyn’s factory offered a range of useful facilities for design, tool and pattern making. More than 40 men and 30 women were employed, working three shifts, manufacturing high precision parts for Spitfires, Churchill tanks, Bren Gun carriers and many other pieces of equipment. Meanwhile, parachutes were stitched in the lampshade making workshops.
Jeremy has spent his entire career in lighting, the vast majority of which has been with Dernier & Hamlyn. During his time with the company he has been involved in a wide range of prestigious lighting projects including a ten-year programme for the Palace of Westminster and significant programmes at the Bank of England as well as properties with Royal and Government connections.
These days he increasingly collaborates with lighting professionals and designers on commissions for luxury hotels, residences and super yachts to help turn their lighting ideas into reality.
His fellow director, Brian Spiking, joined as an apprentice in 1973. Over the years he has been involved in a wide range of projects in public, commercial and residential buildings. Notable assignments include a 1.6m high lantern for the South Portico at St Paul’s Cathedral and a 1.3 tonne chandelier, incorporating 100 glass shades, at Belfast City Hall as well as award winning lighting for the redevelopment of the former Regent Palace Hotel into art deco bars and restaurants for The Crown Estate.
Alongside Jeremy and Brian are the two Marks who are uniquely skilled and experienced members of the team. Designer Mark Harper started at Dernier & Hamlyn then in Kimber Road, Wandsworth, in 1983 working in the factory and left for a short period to travel, returning in 1995. His favourite part of his job is pulling together solutions to the challenges of clients’ proposals including incorporating ever changing lighting gear, seemingly impossible designs, accommodating energy saving lighting and working with the diverse range of materials that some clients now want to use such as woods, animal skins and natural stone.
Factory Manager Mark Pye joined Dernier & Hamlyn in 2006 and started his career as an apprentice with an engineering company in Romford before becoming a toolmaker. He then joined Arnold Montrose (which later became a sister company to Dernier & Hamlyn) as a lighting engineer and installer and then fulfilled various roles for Reid Lighting including overseas Installer for Waterford crystal.
So what drives Dernier and Hamlyn? ‘Architects and designers give us challenges; challenges to produce high-quality bespoke lighting incorporating their aesthetic, or challenges regarding technical and energy usage requirements or budgetary constraints as well as the uniqueness of every project.’ responds Jeremy.
How D&H develop ideas varies depending on the client and the brief. ‘Sometimes people come to us with fully worked up design drawings and specifications. Quite often they have a ‘back of an envelope’ sketch or an idea in their heads fuelled by a place they have visited. So we work with them to understand what is important to them and make it happen. Most often it’s somewhere between the two. They know what they want the lighting to look like, but it takes our team’s experience and skill to devise solutions that work in their intended environments. This often encompasses materials, finishes and decorative flourishes, but equally importantly the engineering expertise that means the fitting can be manufactured, installed and delivers appropriate light quality.’
‘We’ll develop sketches into renders that really give that almost photographic feel of how the chandelier is going to look. From that stage, when we then engage, we’ll create foreworking drawings which will be every nut, bolt, every piece of material that will be used. Those are the same drawings that would be used in a factory.’
They make everything in-house except glass but have long established relationships with British glassmakers. Having been around for more than 130 years there is a very long list of crafts and skills in the company with several members of the team working there for more than 40 years. Metalworking, welding and specialist finishing, technical drawing, CAD, electrical skills and engineering are just a few of them.
Despite some things hardly changing since the company started, they certainly embrace technology where it’s beneficial. For example, sometimes prototypes are 3D printed making them more cost-effective and quicker to produce than producing moulds and casting. Frequently CAD is used to produce rendered images to enable clients to be able to see what their lighting will look like before they commit to production.
Another area of technological development is lighting control. As Jeremy explains ‘it’s critical to get the compatibility right. You’ve got a lighting designer specifying a certain type of LED and a certain type of driver. It’s all about communication because ultimately the gear and the drivers and the interfaces that we then supply with the light fittings need to be able to talk to the dimming system. LED lighting is constantly developing so we always have a discussion with designers about trying to future-proof light fittings because they are obviously very keen to use the latest technology.’
He explains that they collaborate with others in a variety of ways, essentially whatever is required to deliver what the client wants. They do this by inviting people into the factory so that they can see fittings in production, or involving other artisans or experimenting with materials and finishes. ‘The most important aspects are open communication and honesty so that we can quickly appreciate what the critical elements of a commission are and respond accordingly’ he says.
Usually it’s the architect or the interior designer who commission D&H. Very occasionally it’s a client direct for their luxury residence or a hotel operator where they have seen their work and want that degree of quality and attention to detail for their property.
This attention to detail has gained the company a Royal Warrant enabling them to work in buildings such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. It is a guarantee of quality.
Their most unusual commission? There have been several but, for Jeremy, the most unusual and challenging commission was for the Walbrook dining and meeting room in Bloomberg’s European headquarters, which won the Stirling Prize in 2018. It required multiple statement LED light fittings that would not only provide illumination and an aesthetic contribution but would also, inconspicuously, house the microphones needed for sharing ideas globally.
He explains that the benefits of bespoke lighting are the uniqueness and that they can be created exactly as required. In commercial environments this may help to tell the company story or communicate a sense of place with relevant references and, for residential settings, it enables owners to incorporate their personalities and experiences.
‘We always say to clients, “Come down to the factory. Come have a look at it,” throughout the making process. We like people to really appreciate that when they see a huge 7-metre chandelier or a wall light in their home, in their restaurant, in their hotel, on their super yacht, whatever, the fact is that when it’s there, they’ve got that memory and they appreciate how that’s made. I think it’s part of the privilege of having a bespoke fitting. Clients say, “We really didn’t appreciate what you had to do to actually get to that level.”
So, I ask, what does the future hold for Dernier and Hamlyn?
‘I suspect that the company will continue to evolve and to change, it won’t stay still in what it does. I think it will probably end up becoming a little more specialist than it is now and getting involved in projects other than lighting, still utilising the metalwork skills. For instance, recently we were involved in making a huge roof light above a swimming pool, it wasn’t a light fitting at all. The engineering behind it was quite tricky. We were asked to look at it by somebody that we had considerable history of making things with and he just said, “I’m not confident with the guys we’re talking to. I know this is not your normal run of the mill, but what do you think?” And, we looked at it and thought, “This is actually quite tricky to make. Yeah, we’d love to!” It gave us a challenge. And we did it. It was a fantastic job. We get a buzz out of finding things that are quite difficult to do. We get those jobs as a result of people that know us, that have got experience with us and that trust us.’