Bill Amberg Studio, a Lesson in Leather for Interiors

by Becky Hoh in Bespoke stories

Bill Amberg has been a London-based leather artisan for over 20 years and is well known for his high quality designs in leather furniture, floors and upholstery. 

Speaking to him makes it clear that he has the same passion for the material and its possibilities as when he was traveling Australia learning his craft as a saddler and cobbler in the 1980s.

‘I was very interested in working with leather as a schoolboy,’ says Amberg, ‘and used it as a skill to do comfortably alongside travelling but quite by chance my cousin was running the Leather Design course at Art College in Western Australia, so helped me develop the discipline. I was also introduced to her friend Gay Wilson, who took me on as an apprentice and became my mentor. She was fantastic at encouraging me to create and specialise in leather as well as the practical aspects.’

‘Our workload is always so interesting, the accessories side is 20%, 20% work with architects and 40% is the direct bespoke commissions with clients, so they are often quite specific briefs.’

With Wilson, Amberg learnt how to hand stitch leather which he soon began applying to products such as wallets, belts and Jockey boots and by the time he left Australia to return to the UK he was experimenting with leather sculpture and jewellery.

Amberg came home to his parents in Northampton which added more inspiration to his design resume. His mother being a half Finnish architect hugely influenced his aesthetic with her passion for the modernist movement as a result of her time spent training with Albert Alto. His father was also a ‘good maker’ running an engineering company in the city.

He established his studio in South East London is 1984, cutting his teeth with architect friends taking their commissions for leather floors, tables and other furniture objects. No one else was applying leather to interiors in this way at the time and the studio went from strength to strength. Amberg also runs an accessories line, including bags, wallets and belts but the interiors side, or the ‘studio’ as it is called has now developed into a 14 strong team which is making products for the biggest name architects and interior designers in the industry.

They have just finished working on the lift cars and handrails in The Shard with Renzo Piano as well as a large multi use project in the US with Foster and Partners. They have completed two private residential projects with David Chipperfield which included dressing room furniture in a English Country home and beds and walls for a house in London.

‘Our workload is always so interesting, the accessories side is 20%, 20% work with architects and 40% is the direct bespoke commissions with clients, so they are often quite specific briefs,’ says Amberg. ‘We just finished four staircases in a private home, which involves the handrails and treads, a complete library in a Central London home and a kitchen with ebroidered lamb skin walls.’

Each job and indeed each piece requires a different characteristic of leather, and Amberg works with six different tanneries all over the world, specialising in certain looks or feels. ‘Leather is a by-product of the food industry, so the variations in material is actually based on what that country eats,’ describes Amberg. ‘So, the UK consume a lot of beef so we get heavier leather from our tanneries here. The French have veal in their diet so calf skins come from there and goat skin comes from further afield in Europe.’

Once a bespoke commission takes place Amberg says it is vital for clients to receive a swatch, and ideally to see the whole hide of the leather they may want to use in their interiors, as no hide is ever the same. The team will often provide upholstered panels to give them an idea of the finished look, particularly for floors and walls. ‘It is a process we greatly enjoy, one of our most craziest commissions was a white pearlised leather ‘thunderbox’ we created for a home. And then there was an entire gym set a client required to be in bespoke leather, which involved dismantling all the equipment and rebuilding the upholstered version. But I always say, the most exciting commission is always the next one.’

Bill Amberg Studio – www.billambergstudio.com


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