In his workshop overflowing with rusted petrol pumps and enamel plaques, Carl Burge puts the finishing touches to an iconic red telephone box now being restored in the United Kingdom.
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For more than 20 years, this 54-year-old man has given a second lease to these “legendary” but aged rooms damaged by the wet English climate.
“If you send a postcard anywhere in the world with a photo of a red telephone box, 95% of people will tell you: it’s in England,” he told AFP.
Since their appearance in the 1920s, these red booths have become one of the main landmarks of London and the entire United Kingdom, but most have disappeared from the landscape since the advent of mobile phones.
Only 20,000 public telephones remain in working order (compared to 100,000 in the 1990s), including 3,000 traditional red booths, according to incumbent operator BT.
About 7,200 people without services were rescued by communities, associations or churches. Some were rescued by local authorities and converted into small libraries, tourist information kiosks or defibrillators.
Small businesses can rent out some of the unused cabins, such as the tiramisu shop “Walkmisu” in central London.
On the edge of Russell Square, Daniel Benedettini has set up two red phone booths to sell the famous Italian dessert.
“I think it was really cool to be able to mix the English heritage with the Italian heritage,” he explains to AFP.
Opening a shop in an old cabin, rented from a private owner, costs less than a traditional shop, explains the 29-year-old, who started with Wakmisu before opening a cafe nearby.
Its two telephone booths have been renovated and equipped with cupboards, a fridge and a coffee machine.
According to Carl Burge, restoring a phone case takes an average of six weeks and begins with the “careful” removal of bone.
“You never know what you’re going to find under the paint,” he describes, “like a dinosaur that’s worn down over the years, and you can easily spot a real gem.”
The Brit has seen many red rooms pass through his workshop in King’s Lynn in the east of England, often with broken windows or rotting wooden doors.
Once the cast iron frame is free of all its components, it is sandblasted to remove paint, rust and other impurities.
The next step is to apply resin and sand to eliminate imperfections, a laborious process that is done by hand and can take several days.
Finally, the phone box has been spray painted the famous “Post Office Red”, laminated glass has been installed in the windows and the door has a new wooden outer frame.
Carl Burge, who started automobiles, turned his passion for British collectibles into a full-time restoration business called ‘Remember When UK’.
Initially, he found a phone booth that was part of a property for sale. He bought it and restored it and displayed it in his garden.
He ended up selling it and regretted it when he realized he had “missed” his room.
Having become a professional restorer, Carl Burge now works on several rooms at once.
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 Burge has not lost his passion. “I’m getting a little older and everything is getting a little heavier. But I think my enthusiasm is the same,” he said. “In fact, it could be even bigger.”
“Certified food fanatic. Extreme internet guru. Gamer. Evil beeraholic. Zombie ninja. Problem solver. Unapologetic alcohol lover.”