In his workshop filled with vintage memorabilia, overflowing with rusty petrol pumps and enamelled plates, Carl Berg is putting the finishing touches on a distinctive red UK telephone box currently being restored.
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For more than 20 years, the 54-year-old has given a second lease of life to these “legendary” but ancient cabins, damaged by the humid English climate.
“If you sent a postcard anywhere in the world with just a picture of a red telephone box, 95% of people would say: ‘It’s in England,'” he told AFP.
Since their appearance in the 1920s, these red kiosks have become one of the main symbols of London and the entire United Kingdom, but most of them have disappeared from the scene since the advent of mobile phones.
Only 20,000 public telephones remain in working condition (compared with about 100,000 in the 1990s), including 3,000 traditional red kiosks, according to historic operator BT.
About 7,200 others, who were out of service, were recovered by sects, associations or churches. Some of them have been restored by local authorities and turned into small libraries, information kiosks for tourists or even defibrillators.
Some of the abandoned cabins can also be rented by small businesses, such as tiramisu shop Walkmisu in central London.
On the edge of Russell Square, Daniele Benedettini has set up inside two red phone booths selling the famous Italian dessert.
“I think it was really cool to be able to mix English traditions with Italian ones,” he explains to AFP.
Opening a shop in an old shack, rented from a private landlord, also costs less than a traditional shop, explains the 29-year-old, who started with Walkmisu before opening a café nearby.
The two telephone booths have been refurbished and equipped with shelves, a refrigerator and a coffee maker, while maintaining their distinctive exterior appearance.
According to Carl Berg, restoration of a phone box takes an average of six weeks, and begins with a “meticulous” disassembly to the bone.
“You never know what you’ll find under the paint. You can easily discover a real gem like a dinosaur that has worn away over the years,” he describes.
This Briton has seen many red cabins pass through his workshop in King’s Lynn, eastern England, often broken, with missing glass in the windows or rotten wooden doors.
Once the cast iron frame is free of all its components, it is sanded to remove paint, rust, and any other impurities.
The next step is to apply resin and sand to remove defects, a tedious process done by hand that can take several days.
Finally, the telephone box was painted the famous “Post Office Red”, laminated glass was installed in the windows and the door was fitted with a new wooden outer frame.
Carl Berg, who started out in the automotive business, has turned his passion for British collectibles into a full-time restoration business, known as Remember When It’s the UK.
First, he found a phone booth that was part of a property for sale. So he bought it and restored it before displaying it in his garden.
He ended up selling it himself, which he regretted when he realized he “missed” his cabin.
Having become a professional restorer, Carl Berg now works on several cabins at the same time.
Among them is a copy of the famous K2, the first model of a red telephone box introduced in 1926 and designed by British architect Giles Gilbert Scott, known for his work on other public buildings in London.
Twenty years later, Carl Berg has lost none of his passion. “I’ve gotten a little older, and everything seems a little heavier. But I think my enthusiasm is the same.” “In fact, it might be bigger.”