Founded in 1993 by Adam Hills and Maria Speake, Retrouvius is a destination salvage company and acclaimed design studio driven by the belief that good materials and well-made things are precious. Based across two buildings in Kensal Green, London the ever-changing selection of stock ranges from tropical hardwoods, architectural elements, eye-catching one-offs to rugs and lighting.

You may also recognise it as the backdrop to many of our YMC lookbook shoots. We sat down with Adam and Maria to discuss the importance of salvage, their most exciting collaborations to date as well as that all-important ‘white whale’ project.

What inspired the name Retrouvius?
It’s a portmanteau of Vitruvius (A Roman architect) and retrouver (French for ‘to rediscover’). 

How did you first become interested in salvaging old buildings?
We met in Glasgow in 1988 and were both struck by the scale and quality of the local building stock, much of which was crumbling and unloved. Both of us come from families with a deep respect for historical objects, from archaeology to art history, so we just couldn’t help ourselves. 

Who are your primary architectural influences?
Our late great tutor at Glasgow School of Art, the author Gavin Stamp. He was a driving, or rather, goading force behind our salvage work. Our design aesthetic, which could be described as a soft, tactile Modernism, was partly inspired by Carlo Scarpa. 

Do you have any tips for working salvaged elements into a building?
Appreciate what you have. Work with the building rather than against it. Spend time in it before rushing to strip bits out. Make an inventory of elements and materials before you start making changes. Be adaptable. 

You’ve undertaken many collaborations. How do you decide to work with someone new and how do you approach the collaboration itself?
Over lots of tea and lots of chat. A shared sensitivity and tactility is vital. 

You were early adopters of eco-friendly, sustainable design. What informed those choices?
We still can’t understand why people thoughtlessly destroy old buildings without considering the alternatives. If you look beyond the vagaries of fashion and consider the hard-won provenance of many old buildings’ materials, salvage becomes the obvious choice. 

How did you end up contributing to the set of Trainspotting?
At the time, our friend, director Saul Metzstein, was working as a runner on the film. He asked us to supply the toilet that Ewan McGregor dives down into. We sourced one from an old tax office in East Kilbride, then ended up having to source another so that they could cut one in half. 

What past project would you say best defines Retrouvius?
Sam Roddick’s house, featured on the front cover of World of Interiors in 2009, was probably our breakthrough project. She was the first big client to really trust us and get behind our philosophy and style. 

What would you say are your design trademarks?
We are very drawn to solid natural materials like hardwoods (iroko or teak), raw pine and strongly veined marbles. All salvaged of course!

How did the move to London impact Retrouvius?
The broader spectrum of building stock that was available, compared to Glasgow, and greater wealth really opened our eyes. The move forced us to transition from a purely conservation-oriented company into a more expansive, contemporary design brand. 

How do you balance your professional partnership with your personal relationship?
We don’t! We often talk about work in bed. It’s not healthy but we both find it hard to switch off. 

Looking ahead, do you have any ‘white whales’ in terms of buildings you’d like to work on or people you’d like to work with?
We hope to see the day when every demolition site achieves maximum reclamation and every town has a salvage yard. 

Finally, to celebrate 25 years of You Must Create, this year we are asking all of our Journal interviewees to respond to our name. It can be a phrase or just a word. For us, You Must Create is both a mission statement and a call to action.
You Must Create…calm. It’s Maria’s most common ambition.