Peter and Paul and the inspiration behind Hare & Humphreys past, present and future.
In the 1970’s the meeting of two of England’s youngest and finest talents in the field of decoration led to the creation of probably the nations greatest decoration, conservation and arts teams of the late 20th and early 21st century.
Peter Hare and Paul Humphreys came from quite different backgrounds but they both shared a passion for historic buildings, architecture and the decorative arts that enriched and transformed the interiors of so many beautiful buildings. More importantly they also both shared a dream of bringing together a creative design and conservation studio with the most skilled decorative craftsman in Britain and creating the finest company since the mid 19th century arts and crafts movement.
Paul, born the eldest of 3 in Perthshire Scotland to a middle class family lost his father an RAF fighter pilot at a very young age in a tragic flying accident. His mother a widow at 24 took the young family to Norfolk where they were raised in the idyllic countryside. Wymondham College was where Paul found art and at 19 he left for the city lights and nightclubs of London.
Peter was raised in the suburbs of east London. A social worker mother and a father who had owned a small plumbing and building company but left to teach mentally handicapped adults, Peter’s life was not socially typical of his surroundings. His father’s passion for model engineering with its precise attention to the finest of design drawing and detailing was Peter’s first inspiration into the art world.
Paul began working for London’s leading church decoration company of the time and he travelled the length and breath of the British Isles in a small team cleaning, restoring and decorating some of the land’s finest country churches. His development overshadowed many of his contemporaries and following a successful project at the British Ambassadors residence in Tunis, his skills, dexterity and ability under pressure was soon recognised by his employers and he was promoted to take control of several of the companies leading contracts before leaving in 1979 to start-up his own business.
Meanwhile Peter having completed academic courses spent 18 months in accounts, found himself inspired by an interior decorations journal during a visit to an exhibition. He soon managed to convince the authors of the book that he should join them and started his training that would take him around the UK, to Europe and the Middle East, where he soon controlled sizeable palatial projects working alongside international artisans.
In 1978 the two first met when Peter was recruited to assist Paul with reinstatement of the William Morris room at the V&A in London. It served to be an inspirational period for them both as their joint passion for the detailed mid Victorian arts and crafts movement became ignited. They spent lunch breaks looking at rooms, wandering the galleries of the V&A and discussing the applied skills of Ruskin, Voysey, Owen-Jones, Charles Rennie Macintosh, Burn-Jones and of course Morris. But it was Pugin who they both agreed was their joint favourite.
The study of the faux wood grained panels of the late Thomas Kershaw, which had been both applauded and mocked at the 1860’s great exhibition further whetted their appetites to achieve perfection. The influential late Victorian, Crace family design and decoration workshop became the role model on which Hare & Humphreys was to be based. During this short and electrifying period Peter and Paul had not only become great friends, they both had the most extraordinary desire and drive to revive the seemingly lost respect for decorators, conservators and artists alike, by creating a modern 20th century company with the spirit, ideals and commitment shown a century earlier. Whether plain painted, faux finished, gloss lacquered or ornamentally decorated the attention to detail would always be treated with the same un-compromising manner. Anything below best would not be acceptable and re-worked. Decoration, craft, art and conservation experts would be linked and the craftsman’s exacting skills would once again be respected at the highest of levels of society.
Peter set up his own company in 1981 and the following years saw them working together frequently. Their early to mid 80’s work included highly respected Interior designers such as Tessa Kennedy, Rosemary Hamilton, David Laws, Nicky Haslam and David Hicks. Several high profile building companies also enlisted Peter and Paul as their “internal teams” and during this period many projects around West London in particular gained rooms completed by them.
Their skills also took them overseas to the USA and back to the Middle East where royal yacht’s, mosques, Kings and Sultan’s palaces were re-defined and adorned with gold and marble. As their reputations and individual teams grew, so did their client base, several of whom utilised their services in more than 1 home and in more than 1 country. The Barry rooms at the National gallery and the ornamental decoration and graining schemes of the current House of Lords chamber and Peers Lobby ceiling in the houses of Parliament were initiated and mostly executed by Peter and Paul. They followed this with the almost complete re-gilding of the external elements of the Palace of Westminster. Rock star interiors added to their growing portfolio and champagne receptions with the late Freddie Mercury and his friends meant those early entrepreneurial times would never be forgotten.
Hare & Humphreys born 1987
The critical and defining moment for them came in 1986 when David Mlinaric took the incredibly brave decision to award the young teams the complete internal redecoration of Spencer House in St James’s London. During the early stages of Spencer House their individual teams linked to create a 27 strong crew and the creation of Hare & Humphreys Ltd was complete.
Working alongside David Mlinaric and Hugh Henry, with regular meetings with Princess Diana, Lord Rothschild and an array of professionals, Peter and Paul’s reputation for performing consistently at the highest of levels was recognised nationwide.
From a small office and yard in Mount Pleasant they set about building and structuring the company. The scale of bringing their dreams to reality was enormous and often quite daunting, requiring total commitment and dedication and the candles invariably burnt late into the night. In 1989 they moved to a converted old tram engine yard in London’s Grays Inn road, WC1, which remains their base today.
On the 20th November 1992 the nation watched in horror as Windsor Castle burned live on the TV screens and firemen and Royal family together rushed to save the works of art within. Days later the press and camera crews arrived unanounced in Grays Inn Road and broke the news to the directors that Hare & Humphreys were to be asked to assess the damage and consider elements of the castle restoration. The nation waited and 3 years later, having worked alongside many of the countries leading craftsman in stone timber and plaster, Peter, Paul and their team were invited back to meet the Royal family and celebrate a magnificent contribution to the reinstatement of the castle. Hare & Humphreys had returned the Crimson Drawing room, the Green Dining room, St Georges Hall and the State Dining room back to the splendour the world had anticipated. Two years later the company was recognised for its contribution with the Her Majesty the Queen’s Royal Warrant as a seal of approval.
Developing the team
Apprentice training schemes were introduced during the early 90’s to ensure skills were passed on to the next generation and many of the current H&H team served their time in the company’s junior ranks. In more recent years a carefully selected management team have been appointed and only those who share the same enthusiasm, commitment and drive as Peter and Paul are appointed. In 2010 David Doherty was rewarded for his outstanding efforts with a directorship and a shareholding.
The dreams and ambition of two young men over 30 years ago has never faded. Their achievements have been admired by so many, whether during worship, whilst visiting museums and galleries, through publications and TV or when simply standing and admiring from the towers and clock faces from the street.
Their clients have had their interiors transformed and whether they live in gilded palaces, or painted town houses or country homes, on each project Hare & Humphreys have left their trademark attention to detail and quality of finish.
The company now has three directors and a gifted management team with extensive experience within their own sectors, restoring, creating and executing decorative schemes in some of the finest properties, cathedrals and churches, national monuments and public buildings in the world.
Although modest of their achievements, Peter and Paul are extremely proud of their projects and their team. They still remain passionate about their work, both guiding the company through complex and technical challenges expected from today’s organisations whilst still attending to clients old and new.
I’m sure somehow they put a smile on the faces of those Victorian craftsman and they have certainly achieved their dream of creating the finest of companies, producing breathtaking works and reminding the nation that such skills still exist.
Don’t tell them though… we don’t want them to put their feet up yet!!