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Mounted lever taps. Photography by Emma Lee.
23rd August 2017

Tapping the Trend: Studio Ore’s Imperfect Craft

When you walk into a bathroom, unless you have an unusually keen interest in plumbing, you probably don’t notice the taps. Why would you? Once you’ve seen one gleaming chrome faucet, you’ve seen them all, right?

Not Studio Ore taps. These are the kind of taps that make you double-take, step a little closer, feel the texture, try the mechanism. They combine the weathered, aged beauty you find in a Victorian bathroom with modern industrial forms and shapes; a contemporary look with a traditional tone and texture. They are – and this is a technical plumbing term – utterly gorgeous. Plus, and here’s the thing, when you next set foot in that bathroom, those taps won’t look the same. The brass from which they’re made has been left unlacquered, which means that time and use will each leave their mark on the metal. The colours will shift, the natural pattern will evolve, a patina will develop. As the years pass, Studio Ore taps acquire more character, becoming more beautiful with every turn of the handle. No two sets are the same, because no two bathroom environments are the same.

Hand finishing Cross tap handles. Photography by Emma Lee.
For founder Daniel Lee – a software entrepreneur who (handily enough) happens to have a PhD in computational fluid mechanics –  the birth of Studio Ore was a means of solving a problem. As he puts it: 

‘The problem with taps is that, because we think of bathrooms as sort of a sterile environment, we’ve got used to chroming everything. We have these immaculate shiny taps, which are pretty much characterless, and impossible to define one brand from another.  My thought was, “I want a tap that looks old, in the sense of the material and the way it ages, but actually has a modern industrial look to it,” and there was nothing on the market. Literally, I scoured the world.  I remember even going around California to every single tap shop I could find, and I couldn’t find what I wanted so, it really was a case of, “Well, I’m actually an engineer really, even though I haven’t been for a few years.” So I decided to design some myself. I downloaded some CAD software off the internet and that was how it started.’

Founder Daniel Lee. Photography by Andy Dunn.
Shower Rose, Wheel handle and Cross handle. Photography by Emma Lee.
Daniel’s first set was for his own home – known by the design blogs that featured it as 'the Daniel Lee Fulham House' – where the taps’ natural, patinated looks complemented and enhanced the materially honest Scandinavian minimalism of the surrounding interiors. The design press lapped it up, commissions followed, and before long Daniel found himself setting up the company just to accommodate the rising interest in his unique product. We asked him why he thought Studio Ore’s taps attracted so much attention. 

‘I think it’s just a general mood in interior design. It’s not only about the fact that people want something aged; it’s also that people don’t necessarily want anything that’s perfect anymore. Everyone’s seen the big chrome bathroom, the laminate floor – this pristine dental studio-type look. I think now we’re just seeing the death of the chrome era. People don’t want that sort of immaculate, brilliant, theatre; they actually want something that feels a bit more homely, and a bit more characterful. It’s like vinyl versus digital; a beautiful, authentic tile that’s been made by hand in Morocco versus one that has come from a production line somewhere in China. I think our taps may be one expression of that. 

People see something that’s slightly imperfect as something that’s more genuine and more real, and in our sense it is, because somebody’s actually hand-polished that tap. Then the owner of that tap has hand-polished that tap, and generated its character as well. There isn’t anything artificial in it. Anything that’s artificial never quite has the same depth of character. You can artificially age a pair of jeans, but they’ll never be as authentic as the pair you’ve worn for a year without washing. If you walk up to an old Georgian house, you see the old brass door knocker, the old railings that have been touched by many hands over the years. They generate something that’s almost impossible to replicate artificially. Taps are the same.’

Wheel, Lever and Cross tap handles. Photography by Emma Lee.
Packaging designed by Charlotte Heal. Photography by Emma Lee.
In this sense, Studio Ore is a cultivator of imperfection – not in terms of quality, of course; the taps, showers and fixtures it now produces from its base in Sussex’s Ashdown Forest are – as you’d expect from a trained fluid mechanic – precision-engineered to perform perfectly. To meet the demand of international growth, Daniel enticed one of his former London colleagues, Louise Hutt, to give up the city and help him run the business, lending her laser-focused eye for detail to maintaining, if you’ll pardon the pun, watertight standards of quality control. Every tap or fitting that comes out of the workshop has to be rigorously checked when it comes out of the finishing room by the Studio Ore team. ‘It is really a perfect balance of design and function,’ Daniel says, ‘Because, ultimately, a tap or a shower isn’t just something you look at, like a painting; it is something you use, so it has to actually work.’  

Despite its rapid expansion, Studio Ore is determined to maintain its focus on honest, hand-finished products; and are quite content to remain a bastion of British design and manufacturing know-how in the heart of the Sussex countryside – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have big plans. As well as tapping into the expanding global interest in its products, Studio Ore is exploring new finishes (look out for matt black and oil-rubbed aged brass), designs and styles – all of them united by the ‘authentic imperfection’ that the studio has made its signature style. Watch this space…

Studio Ore thermostat. Photography by Emma Lee.
Deck mounted mono mixer. Photography by Emma Lee.
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N1 4EN

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