Bill Amberg is a designer and craftsman, and founder of leatherwork practice Bill Amberg Studio. His eponymous studio has existed for over 30 years, and is regarded as a leading force in British craft, from bespoke leather accessories, through to timeless furniture and interiors for private residences, commercial projects and cultural institutions around the globe. Bringing together artisans from the worlds of saddlery, case-making, bookbinding and other forms of fine leathercraft, the studio has a mission to explore the aesthetic and material possibilities of leather. The Studio is now a global authority on architectural leatherwork, offering a full cycle of services relating to the integration of leather into interior spaces.
Bill Amberg is a designer and craftsman, and founder of leatherwork practice Bill Amberg Studio. His eponymous studio has existed for over 30 years, and is regarded as a leading force in British craft, from bespoke leather accessories, through to timeless furniture and interiors for private residences, commercial projects and cultural institutions around the globe. Bringing together artisans from the worlds of saddlery, case-making, bookbinding and other forms of fine leathercraft, the studio has a mission to explore the aesthetic and material possibilities of leather. The Studio is now a global authority on architectural leatherwork, offering a full cycle of services relating to the integration of leather into interior spaces. Recent projects include a 60-seat lecture theatre for The Royal Academy of Arts, over 500 sqm of stitched and hand embossed leather wall panels, desks, columns, and handrails for the fine watch department at Harrods, and leatherwork for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey. Bill’s iconic Rocket Bag is included in the permanent collections of the V&A and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA).
Raised in Northampton – the centre of the British shoemaking industry – Bill’s creativity found a natural partner in leather. His mother, a talented architect whose unerring eye for design recognised his early ability, encouraged Bill in his craft by bringing shoe factory offcuts home to practice on, enabling him to become adept at handling knives, awls and needles from a young age.
This relationship with leather grew into a fascination with the versatility, endurance, and beauty of the material. As a by-product of the food industry that would be discarded if not repurposed for use, Bill became interested in leather’s qualities of sustainability and reparability, considering it a highly desirable medium to specialise in. Today, the Bill Amberg name stands for a badge of quality and craftsmanship around the world. The studio proudly holds its practices and those of its partner tanneries and suppliers to the industry’s highest ethical and sustainability standards.
1. What motivates you to make?
I like the intensity of focus that making provides. When you get in the zone, all your other worries and considerations fall away and you’re left with the material, and your hands doing the best they can.
Any crafted object that you’ve been designing doesn’t truly take shape until you start making it. So, the making as a function of the design is crucial, and it’s these moments of evolution or re-evaluation that give me enormous pleasure.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
My parents were a great influence on my career both as a craftsman and a designer. My father and grandfather both had workshops at home. And my mother, having worked as an architect for Alvar Aalto in Finland, was always at the drawing board designing elements of our home. Consequently, I grew up with a strong Nordic influence on my aesthetic and a deep love of making.
Early on in my career, regular trips to Japan introduced me to the work of industrial designer Sori Yanagi and his father, the founder of the mingei (folk craft) movement, Soetsu Yanagi. I was influenced by the father’s work in celebrating the beauty of everyday objects and materials, and by the importance Sori Yanagi placed on fastidious and iterative prototyping by hand when developing his modern designs.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
I completed my apprenticeship with a craftswoman in Australia called Gay Wilson. She was a mentor to me and had a great influence on my approach to leatherworking. Gay had a rigour for technical skills in handwork across many disciplines of the material. She taught me that once these techniques were mastered, it afforded a wonderful creative freedom to explore new directions, or to follow oblique strategies to overcome challenges in making.
From shoemaking, casemaking and saddlery through to upholstery, bookbinding and gloving, leatherwork has such a variety of both materials and technique. My approach is to celebrate these skills and traditions, often layering them with modern technology, but always questioning how they might interact with one another to create something functional, beautiful and unique.
4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
We have been fortunate to work on some remarkable and diverse projects, from a lecture theatre for the Royal Academy of Arts, product development for Swedish electronics brand Teenage Engineering, through to development of a furniture range and wild leather collection with the pioneering Knepp Wildland Project.
It’s great to get recognition and accolades when they come. But after many years of making beautiful things in leather, you realise that perfection is impossible to achieve. There is always some element you would choose to revisit or tweak if given the chance. As with many things in life, the journey is more important than the destination.
5. What is your dream project?
The next one.
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