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Piecing a future together

In the first of a three-part profile, Gary Bricknell, owner of the Northamptonshire-based Mosaic Restoration Company, tells CFJ his story.

FOR some, business is about revenue generation. For others, it’s a calling to be creative. But for Gary Bricknell and the Mosaic Restoration Company it’s both.

Established in 1998, his company specialises in mosaic design, manufacturing and restoration in a multitude of locations from privately held Victorian or Edwardian properties that feature geometric hallways to the restoration of serious pieces of mosaic artwork in public buildings.

With more than 30 years’ experience of working with mosaics, a natural question to ask is how did Gary and the Mosaic Restoration Company start out?

An uncle teaches
Originally from London, he and the company are now based in Northamptonshire. But Gary’s interest and passion for mosaics began when as a child he visited an uncle, Trevor Caley, at his workshop.

As Gary tells, ‘my uncle was quite a well-known mosaic artist and designer in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m from South London and he lived in South London too. As a child I used to visit the workshop in Streatham. I’d go there and just mess around with mosaics’.

Gary says Trevor was like a typical uncle and would set up little projects for his sister and himself to complete. ‘I had an interest in it anyway and was always interested in the arts’ – it was fun and not in the least bit laborious.

To cut a very long story short, Gary says he moved with his family for work around the UK. Trevor then asked him if he’d like to work with him: ‘I was in my late teens, around 18, when he got a large job to work at various underground stations – Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Finsbury Park and so on. I joined him staying for three years or so.’

Gary says through plenty of hard work they built up the business to a relatively large workshop in South London where they fabricated many big mosaic commissions – ‘and that’s how it all started – as a child to actually doing the work which was predominantly new commissions and other works – in a workshop’.

It’s important to recognise Gary’s never had formal training in the art of mosaics – he’s learned everything from being hands-on and practical: ‘I never went to any university – I’ve just got a flair for it. I do have some ‘O’ Levels, but I just had a genuine interest for mosaics and it went from there.’

But business being business, the work dried up and so Gary left to join the building industry where he became involved with project management and allied work. However, the interest in mosaics never left him and so used to do smaller commissions himself.

By the start of the ‘90s he hooked up again with Trevor and progressed to eventually become a director, Trevor Caley Associates, and later his own business – the Mosaic Restoration Company – when Trevor retired in 1998.

In time, Gary moved his company from London to Northamptonshire in 1999 with his family. The reason being, as he says, ‘the central location for the business was better positioned to work on projects throughout the UK including Scotland and the north of England’.

In time, the company gradually expanded and has over more than the last 20 years or so has established itself with ‘an excellent reputation in all areas of mosaic design, restoration and conservation’.

The company now operates out of a purpose-built workshop in Daventry, in Northamptonshire, where staff are able to conserve and restore existing or fabricate new mosaics to order. ‘The large workshop and studio,’ says Gary, ‘enables clients to see work in progress and view a comprehensive range of salvaged mosaics kept in stock including very rare marble mosaics, glass mosaics, and venetian glass mosaics.’

Finding work
Some companies come and go. However, the Mosaic Restoration Company is, says Gary, 25 this year. But remember, in terms of mosaic restoration Gary’s been working in the sector for nearly 40 years.

Thirty-odd years ago Gary was carrying out repairs to Victorian geometric floors found in old Victorian houses as well as undertaking artistic works – this gave him continuity of work. He recalls that he too had an old house and used to enjoy doing it up – ‘I just couldn’t really get away from it’. Work then – before the move to the Midlands – was mainly in South London around Fulham and locations close by. Notably, as he says, ‘once you start working, I found that every house has got that type of floor; it was handy for me’.

Those Victorian geometric floors subsequently fuelled Gary’s interest in mosaics because, and this should be obvious, they’re both very close in nature – it’s just that one is in a larger format. Then from there, Gary found himself receiving larger and larger contracts from churches, cathedrals and town halls. Since then, he says he’s specialised not just in geometric floors, but also marble and ceramic and more decorative works.

Incoming work is the life blood of a business and on this Gary details how, in his view, times have changed when it comes to generating interest.

He says that when in South London he ‘put an advert into the Yellow Pages – it cost about £780 or so – to target a specific area in London. It was useless’. He soon found as many others have elsewhere that the best form of advertising was word of mouth – ‘you do one job well and others will hear about you; I built up a good reputation and so that’s how it went’.

Later, thanks to the Internet, Gary found that work really snowballed. ‘I didn’t have to directly market; we were given write ups and had a relatively good website. Word then got out because we’re so niche; if you’ve got a good reputation and people like you work just comes in. It was relatively easy.’

The mid-late ‘90s may have been world’s away from where media is now, but work was still buoyant. Back then Gary’s firm had, as he describes, a minimum of three months’ work booked in. Now, it’s grown to be almost two years.

Even now Gary says much of the work is generated by recommendation. However, the website has been very important in reaching potential new commercial and residential clients. It now features a new facility, ‘a quick and easy quote request system’ where enquirers can describe what they want and upload sample images to illustrate what they have in mind. And for large commercial projects the company can provide detailed mosaic reports following a comprehensive survey carried out on site.

The company now undertakes mosaic restoration and new mosaic works throughout the UK and Europe with ‘many prestigious projects in Central London.’

Of course, it also helps that Gary’s company sits in what he describes is a ‘very niche market.’ On top of that he says that he’s ‘got to meet a lot of people over the years’ and is ‘lucky to be able to have a good reputation; people would know of me or know of the company.’ To this he adds that he’s written reports and the like for both Historic England and Historic Scotland. He also gives talks and lectures at the London School of Mosaic – ‘I get quite involved as well as the hands-on things.’
Fundamentally, Gary says that ‘because we’re so unique you’ve only got to look for mosaic repairs and restoration on the internet and you’ll find us.’
Next month: Staff and business issues

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