Leah Forsyth-Steel & Victoria Spicer Leave No Stone Unturned

The creative duo behind East London design destination Monument Store specialise in things you won’t find just anywhere. We quiz them on the selection criteria for their monumental offering.

Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer. Photo / Agnes Lloyd-Platt

One of the first pieces Leah Forsyth-Steel and Victoria Spicer acquired for their vintage furniture and artful object venture Monument Store was a collection of seven slate and Portland stone sculptures by the late Geoffrey Harris.

These architectural limestone sculptures, with their pleasing corners and carved grooves, embody the monumental style of pieces the duo set out to collect and sell when they launched their store in November 2020.

The fact that they couldn’t bear to part with them formed the idea for another prong to their business — a growing catalogue of unique and special pieces to hire.

Those Geoffrey Harris sculptures have joined a roster of covetable design items like a Terrazza sofa by Ubald Klug for De Sede, Jess Murphy ceramics, Willy Guhl loop chairs and Oaxacan stone ornaments, available for hire to add interest and cachet to commercial shoots, films, fashion editorials and lookbooks for the likes of Burberry, Valentino, Gucci and more.

Monument Store’s pieces are exquisitely curated (a word fast becoming overused in design circles, but appropriate as ever here); the impressive inventory benefiting from the sharp collector’s nous of both Victoria, an Elam School of Fine Arts graduate and former set designer, and Leah, with a background in museum exhibition curation and creative brand agency management.

It’s a great combination, say the pair, with Leah’s brand building and storytelling experience complementing Victoria’s meticulous attention to detail and craft, and experience in visual storytelling.

Both hailing from Auckland, they now call East London home, and connected early on over their mutual love of collecting. “Leah and I have always been collectors in our own right,” says Victoria. “We noticed and had admired that about each other for a long time before the Monument concept was born.”

A glass waterfall table with a wooden sphere. Photo / Agnes Lloyd-Platt

“We used to joke about when we’d start a business,” says Leah. “Then in 2020 I decided to take the leap. Naturally, when I started planning and thinking about the brand I wanted to create, I knew I had to get Victoria involved.”

Launching initially as an online store, the pair recently set up a showroom in Leyton, East London, converting a large industrial space into a multi-purpose showroom, storage area and photography studio.

It took six months to find a studio that ticked the logistical and aesthetic boxes they were looking for, and happily, is part of a growing creative community in the area.

Having a physical space also allows the pair to flex their skills in curation and set design. “The great thing about having this showroom is that it’s changing everyday. It’s one of the most pleasurable aspects of our business, and helps renew enthusiasm for pieces by seeing them in different configurations and relationships with each other. We have items being shipped out and new pieces arriving daily, so every day the space is evolving.”

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The criteria for pieces entering the showroom, say the pair, include their form, material and permanence. They’re pieces designed to last a lifetime, and a testament to the idea of buying once and buying well.

Leah and Victoria say we’re living in an age of climate crisis, excessive manufacturing and waste, and businesses deliberately making things that are designed to be replaced every two to three years. With homewares almost becoming akin to fast fashion, their mission is to seek out pieces that have more gravitas, better quality of make and design credentials.

It’s the story behind these pieces that often make them the most captivating — where they’re made and by whom, from what materials and when.

The Monument Store showroom in Leyton, East London, houses an ever-evolving rotation of vintage pieces and sculptural objects. Photo / Agnes Lloyd-Platt

“Any information about a piece really helps enrich its overall appeal, but for us a good story isn’t defined by its history or maker, it’s also about the mood of the story and what it makes you feel. Sometimes it’s about the imagined story. For example, looking at a large 1970s quartz sculpture, seeing the signs of age, the sculptor’s deliberate workings, and wondering, ‘What kind of life has it had? Who had this on display in their gallery? Or in their home?’ It’s intriguing!”

One of their most recent acquisitions is a Capitello chair by Studio 56 for Gufrum, a huge fibreglass Roman column recliner from the late 1970s, which they found in Holland. “We love finding pieces that are both iconic and a little left field. It’s nice to also make sure we’re not too serious.”

Unsurprisingly, some of these items make their way into Leah and Victoria’s own homes, like a pair of Kazuki chairs by Kazuhide Takahama from Italy, two red, two black. “We’d both been pining for a black one each, so it was one each for us and two for Monument!”

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With their inventory made up of monumental pieces rendered in marble and stone — travertine plinths and pedestals, and delicate glass-topped tables with spherical bases carved from black marble — they’ve become experts at logistics.

It’s a constant joke between them, say the pair, that they mostly deal in the heaviest of all materials, while their competitors (the majority of whom are male) sell “much more manageable pieces”.

They have a “black book” of reliable drivers, each covering a different part of the country or continent. With each item sold, they ask themselves “Does it need a one- or two-person team? Does it need wrapping? Does it need a tail lift? Luton truck? Strapping? What languages do the drivers speak?”

A sandstone sculpture. Photo / Agnes Lloyd-Platt

Dealing in museum-worthy pieces has been a learning curve, say the pair, who have roped in their partners to lift more than their fair share of marble.

One of those pieces, a 160kg Carrara marble tabletop, landed on Leah’s husband’s toes during one of their early product photoshoots.

“He’s been a good sport though and despite the accident still comes to help when it’s needed,” she says.

With pieces sourced from across Europe, America, Japan and beyond, naturally, one would image the pair have been on many fantastic sourcing trips.

“To date we’ve not had a single sourcing trip outside of the UK! With Covid restrictions for the entire duration of the business so far, it’s meant we’ve had to be creative with our sourcing. We’ve made it work, but that said, we’ll be heading out more this year to the fairs in Europe and we’re excited that we can only get even better access.”

Also in the works is plans for their own product line, with a range of prototypes underway. This is something they’ll take their time on.

“We’re not in any hurry and want to make sure it feels right for the Monument brand,” says Leah.

Slow and steady sounds about right for this talented duo, who are adept at manoeuvring monumental pieces in the right direction.

This story was originally published in volume eight of Viva Magazine.

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