The New Craftsmen is delighted to present an iconic addition to our collection of unique pieces rooted in craftsmanship and narrative; The Armitage Lamp.
The Armitage Lamp is well and truly a family affair. Produced by London-based architect, Joe Armitage, with a patterned shade designed exclusively for The New Craftsmen by iconic wallpaper designer (and Joe’s grandmother), Marthe Armitage.
This exquisite piece is a modern recreation of a floor lamp originally designed by Joe’s late grandfather, the architect Edward Armitage, in 1952, while working on a project in Ludhiana, India. Edward and his wife, Marthe, commissioned craftsmen in the local bazaar to create bespoke items to furnish their home – this included the lamp, which was then made from Indian rosewood and steel.
The Armitage Lamp is as much a token of cross-generational creativity and family heritage, as it is modern craftsmanship. Over half a century since its original conception, Joe Armitage has revived the old design by fusing his grandfather’s creation with his grandmother’s pattern-rich textile print on the lamp’s conical shade.
The lamp retains most of its originality but is today made from solid walnut and brass, using modern tools in a London workshop. Adding a contemporary twist, the pattern was created exclusively for The New Craftsmen in three beautiful colours; Brick, Sand & Ink Blue. This is the first time that a printed shade has been applied to the lamp, and it feels like a natural addition to the design. During her time in India, Marthe was inspired by the block printers making patterned bedspreads at the bazaar. Drawn to the imperfections and unique handmade quality of their designs, she began creating her own hand-printed wallpapers when she later returned to London.
With over 100 years of creative heritage behind them, we asked Joe and Marthe about their motivations, inspirations, and what it’s like working in the craft industry as a member of the Armitage design dynasty.
What motivates you to make?
Joe: The opportunity to spend time together and create something unique, which is the product of a cross generational collaboration. Working with my grandmother is as much about spending quality time together – the creative output is almost bi-product. I grew up next door to my grandmother's studio in a house with a workshop in the garden. It's a cluster of buildings that my family have lived in for four generations. Most of the family were (and still are) architects or designers – in fact, they even designed some of the houses. As a result, these homes are filled with all of the wallpaper, furniture, lamps, artwork and carvings that you can imagine builds up over 100-plus years of a creative family's existence!
What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
Marthe: I borrow from other artists and craftsmen, and I get ideas from plants, stories in books, and just looking around.
Joe: I take a lot of inspiration from nature and I like to understand materials and the physical limits of how they can be used in designs. I'm also very collaborative and I love the ideas that come from conversations between people.
What is your unique approach to your craft and how have you honed your skills?
Joe: I have a degree in architecture and began making furniture whilst completing my Masters. It feels very normal working in design because it's what the majority of my family do. Together we use a combination of lino cutting, printing and wood carving to produce our designs. There is a uniqueness to handcrafted objects, they are all slightly different which gives them inherent value. The original Armitage lamp was designed during Marthe’s time living in India with my grandfather, Edward. He would observe people making and selling furniture in the local bazaar and pretty soon, a whole range of personal items had been designed to furnish their home. The contemporary version of this lamp is as true to the original as possible, and furnished with a unique, hand-printed lampshade of Marthe’s design.
Marthe: Hand designs are infinitely superior to computer drawn designs because nothing comes between your eye, your hand and your pencil. If you make a mistake while drawing by hand you can rub it out, and while you are re-drawing, you get fresh ideas. It's a more organic process of design than having to use a computer. Hand-printed paper will never get the precision and exactness that a digitally-printed paper will, therefore it is much closer to reality.
What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
Joe: Creating the Armitage Lamp despite a global pandemic has been quite an achievement! I have a studio in my flat in East London, the lamps are made in south London, and I go back west to work in Marthe's studio from time to time.
Marthe: It's always good to realise that you don't have to get a machine to make something and it's encouraging for people to know that they can make something themselves. When I first tried to sell my print designs 50 years ago, no one wanted handmade things, and interiors shops that I tried to sell to weren't interested. With success, the hand printing became hard work, so I ended up trying to persuade people to get digitally printed paper!
What is your dream project?
Marthe: It’s been an enormous privilege working with Joe to reinvent the Armitage Lamp. You get inspiration all around and when you give other people inspiration it is thrilling.
Joe: I always remember one of the members at the Art Workers Guild (of which we are both 'Brothers') saying that it's good working with a grandparent/grandchild because it's like having a 'common adversary'. Working with my grandmother has always been encouraging.