In the saddle

Bill Amberg’s accessories are desirable and decadent, but his ability to go against the grain, using leather in unconventional ways as part of his interior designs, is what sets him apart, says Sara Manuelli

Amberg certainly knows how to treat leather – it is one of his hallmarks, along with a continuing close relationship with the few tanneries in existence that still produce high quality work. ‘As my business matured the relationship with the tanners has changed,’ he says. ‘The age group running tanneries today is closer to mine, while ten years ago it was perhaps their father [in charge]; this makes a huge difference, they are as keen as me to develop new materials.’

If there is one characteristic of Amberg that will enable him to make a successful move into interiors it is his approach to leather, which he sees as a malleable material for furnishing. In collaboration with a tannery in Amsterdam he has mastered a technique to lacquer vellum, which gives it an extraordinary marble-like quality – or as Amberg puts it, the feel ‘of a Gio Ponti cocktail cabinet’. For several interior jobs he used leather tanned in oak barks to achieve the colour of oak. ‘It’s one of the last true English leathers,’ he says. ‘Only two tanneries are still doing it, it’s classic shoe sole material and the finest material for bonding.’

A 6mm-thick water buffalo skin is deemed resistant enough to become the seat of a low slung chair, while the leather covering the seating at Garrards has been blocked with a plate that carries a repeat pattern of the company’s turn of the century logo.

Over the years Amberg has been allied with Pentagram, especially on the consultancy’s hotel clients such as the One and Only group and the Dorchester. Their current collaboration is on the Bulgari hotel in Milan, due to open this June. The Italian jeweller aims to increase the desirability of its brand via the hospitality sector, and will look to New York as its possible second hotel site. John Rushworth at Pentagram is in charge of the branding and the stationery and Amberg is developing all the leather desks.

More corporate work includes a line of ladies’ bags for a German manufacturer and consultancy work for two Japanese companies, designing a line of briefcases and handbags.

But Amberg’s greatest coup must be his appointment at illustrious British brand Dunhill, where he will head the development of its leather goods strategy, designing a couple of lines and developing existing ones. ‘I will also be guiding the company in term of games, gifts and accessories like lighters and cufflinks,’ he says.

Amberg’s company works out of a workshop near London’s Gospel Oak and employs about 14 people. He is keen to stress that he does not subcontract any of the architectural work and that all members of his team have architectural or product design training that allows them to discuss and undertake projects with clients.

‘We are not just craftsmen. There are many people who can lay a leather floor for you, but not as many who can design the proportions of the floor, measure up the room, provide working drawings, give the specifications to the contractor and physically lay it down,’ he says.

If they can also make it feel like a luxurious, tactile surface, then surely Amberg will be happy that he has hit the spot.

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