When Massimo Minale arrived at work to find customers queueing around the block to buy one of his light switches, he knew he was onto something.
Just as well as he’d already ditched a job as an architect at a large and faceless city firm to pursue his dream of making the everyday exceptional.
Light fittings and kitchen drawer pulls might seem a world away from custom bikes, but not according to the founder of Buster+Punch, who is on a mission to challenge dull.
“I got bored with my day job and started making bikes in my spare time in a little garage in Hackney. Quite quickly I had some interesting people lining up to buy them,” he said.
For Massimo – Buster is his middle name and Punch his brother’s – working with solid metal, rubber and brass were pivotal to creating a strong rock and roll feel in his work.
It worked. George Clooney and some of the world’s greatest music icons clamoured to snap up one of his bobbers.
“We created bikes with a strong musical heritage based around the look of the Gibson guitar so that may have been why we attracted the people we did,” he said.
“Our real area of expertise is in solid metal which we used to make the handlebars. We developed a knurled signature pattern, where the metal’s smooth surface is given a rougher surface to make gripping easier. Once we put them on the bike the same customers started asking if we could design other things for the home.”
That was three years ago, since when Buster+Punch have moved across London from the East End, opened a bureau in Stockholm, Sweden and grown their team of artisan engineers… and reputation.
They have also forged a relationship with customisers, Boneshaker Choppers, based in Birmingham, a short ride out from the Triumph factory in Hinckley.
“There are definite parallels between what we’re doing and the craftsmanship of Triumph in terms of retaining the essence of a heritage product while giving it a contemporary feel,” said Massimo, who now lives in Stockholm with his Swedish wife and their young son.
His team have created intriguingly named blade lamps, teardrop light bulbs, solid metal knurled grip dimmer switches – the kind of things you never knew you needed until you see them.
There’s a dark, gritty London feel to the studio’s output, both in terms of their lifestyle items and their bikes.
Massimo said: “We try to reinvent dull things to enthuse normal people to think differently about everyday objects, so when we put details of the world’s first designer LED lightbulb we’d designed on the website we had people queuing round the block to buy one the next day.”
The 36-year-old family man is keen to stress the importance of his products’ usability and their accessibility to ‘normal’ people.
“We’re not pretentious. We want people to enjoy what we do at a reasonable price,” he insists: “That’s why we’re working with Boneshaker Choppers to build a limited edition of personalised 125cc custom bikes packed with character but at a low-end price.”
If their last collaboration on the Boneshaker 79 – low and dirty bobber – is anything to go by, the end result will be interesting.
“This year we’re working on a Triumph. It’s the real heritage bike of today and complements perfectly the work we’re doing on our home stuff. Triumph has such a strong reputation for attention to detail, craftsmanship and individuality, and we like to think we do too.”
The Boneshaker Bonneville could, like its predecessor Boneshaker Black, could include nods to the brass and rubber prominent in some of the firm’s ranges. But Massimo is giving nothing away.
“It’s still on the drawing board right now, but we hope to make it something people will talk about as a style icon,” said the father-of-one, who now lives in Stockholm.
“Sweden is a bike-mad country and anyone who hasn’t ridden here should treat themselves. Los Angeles to Yosemite is my favourite ride ever but here the B roads are full of twisties and breathtaking scenery.”