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20 years of Scabetti

2019 is Scabetti’s 20-year anniversary; the Scabetti studio was established in 1999, by Dominic Bromley who has a passion to combine the artistry of sculpture with the industry of product design. Now Dominic and his partner Frances lead a small dedicated team close to their home in Leek, Staffordshire, and offer their creations to an international audience. “With origins in the field of industrial design and the traditions of the Potteries, Dominic and Frances pioneered the idea of suspended ceramic sculptures at a design show in 2004. Their concept became an instant sensation – and different versions of their signature fish-themed Shoal can now be found in prominent locations all over the world,” said Theo Pike for Flyfishers’ Journal.

Design-Nation recently caught up with Scabetti.

Design-Nation: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.

Dominic Bromley: Scabetti is a design and art studio headed by myself, Dominic Bromley and my wife, Frances Bromley.  Our work predominantly falls into the categories of sculpture and lighting, made on a scale ranging from residential to commercial, and although we’ve worked with many material types, we specialise in bone china. We generally have three ways in which we operate.  In the first instance, we have a collection of “standard” pieces that can be ordered directly from us.  These designs can be further customised to individual client’s needs.  Finally, we act as a design and art studio, where we are asked to create unique, one-off pieces.

I started the business in 1999, in the hope of selling ‘objects’ that I loved creating.  Having studied industrial design at Brunel University, I cut my teeth in this discipline at a young consultancy in Berkshire. However, I found that I was getting less interested in mass-produced product design and more into batch produced interior things – in particular, sculptural objects masquerading as functional pieces. As I’d grown up near Stoke-on-Trent, I knew there were still small factories open to making other designers’ ceramics, and once I found one that was happy to work with me (!), Scabetti was ready to start taking orders!

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

D.B: Sadly, I can’t think of any one particular teacher, lecturer or mentor that has had a massive influence on me, no Robin Williams Dead Poets Society experience!  However, my fellow students in the little village of design students that made up the separate design campus at Brunel University, and the facilities there, probably had the most lasting effect on me in life.  Everyone left that place with a confidence to do whatever you put your mind to.

Becoming part of both Design Nation and The Prince’s Trust brought me into contact with like-minded young businesses and many of these people were also very influential in the early days of Scabetti.

D-N: What inspires you?

D.B: My initial earthenware table-top designs were very much inspired by mid-century sculpture and furniture.  So, artists like Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi and designers such as Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto and Charles and Ray Eames… These days, although I still love mid-century art and design, we take inspiration from wherever we find it – nature, manufacturing, graphic design, contemporary art, accidental detail in our previous designs….

D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.

D.B: The design process is much more collaborative these days – Frances (who also trained as an industrial designer), and I come up with ideas on a regular basis that get scribbled into a notebook.  Ideas that we feel strongly about then get developed either by one of us or one of the Scabetti team (or often all of us!). We still like to sketch on paper, but many of the things we work on couldn’t really be done without the aid of 3D CAD, and in fact, I‘ve always enjoyed using a package called Rhino to work up ideas.

D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?

D.B: In 2007, we entered a proposal for a large-scale version of our Shoal design into competition as part of an organisation called Hidden Art….and won.  The prize was 40 square metres of space in Earl’s Court within a show called 100% Futures (part of 100% Design at that time). I have to admit, we came very close to pulling out of doing this as we’d already committed to a smaller stand in 100% Design and the combination of cost and pressure was getting too much, but thankfully we didn’t. It led to us selling that large scale Shoal to Jill and Rick Stein’s flagship restaurant down in Cornwall, and the commission of a 5 metre tall unique sculpture in the IMO headquarters on the side of the Thames.  This really was the start of a different chapter for Scabetti and was the beginnings of what Scabetti is today.

D-N: What is your workspace like?

D.B: We’re very lucky to work in a large, bright open plan space. It’s an old factory that we gutted, repaired and whitewashed.  It has quite an industrial feel with painted concrete floors and big windows at the front that flood the place with light.  We have storage and workshop space downstairs, and we generally all work upstairs where we have desks and computers, and plenty of space to accommodate different sizes of projects.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?

D.B: We used to do a lot of international exhibitions in the past which really helped with our PR, but these days we tend to use advertising and social media, along with our website.  We know we should really do more, but as a small team, it’s not easy. Of course, being part of larger network such as Design-Nation helps.

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

D.B: Finding the time to develop new work!

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

D.B: We really like the work balance we have had over the last 10 years of large and small-scale projects, and creating our own collection, and we really hope that we can continue with more of the same over the next 10 years.  We’re also really interested in developing work in different areas too, so let’s see where that takes us.

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?

D.B: Tricky one, as we’re not very good at letting go, so I’m not sure we could collaborate with another designer.  I think we’d be more interested in working with specialist manufacturers in traditional or new materials or techniques…. Frances would love to work with someone like the shoe designer Tracey Neuls and I’d love to work with a bronze foundry, perhaps revisit my earlier work in this beautiful material.

D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?

D.B: Maybe a purer off-shoot of what we do now, such as artist/painter/sculptor working more with my hands. Ideally on the coast, with a side business building surfboards…!

D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?

D.B: I joined Design-Nation as I wanted to be part of a group of high-quality designer makers.  By being accepted into the group, it helped validate my work, which is important in the early years, and it gave me access to interesting (and discounted!) exhibition opportunities.  Plus, it was great to meet up with other designers and share experiences and knowledge.

D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?

D.B: Although we haven’t planned anything in particular so far, we’re quietly celebrating and reflecting on being in business for 20 years.

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Clare Edwards


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