From interiors and jewellery to ceramics and fine art, eight talented women are changing the face of British craft. THE RAKE is proud to present...
When the fine artist and designer Alexandra Llewellyn started making intricately embellished, exquisitely crafted keepsake board games in 2010 — inspired by a childhood love of backgammon — she hadn’t expected to become a part-time psychotherapist to her clients as well. “I’ve become very good at extricating information from a client and understanding what they want,” she says, laughing.“ I ask them to throw everything at me, and then I find ways to distil it all into a board game, games table, humidor or jewellery box, translated through lots of different materials and techniques. It can take a bit of hand-holding.”
It might be a commission to fit a specific room, like a games table to harmonise with a client’s collection of Asian art, where Llewellyn created a recurring motif of golden bamboo leaves to echo the client’s bamboo-filled garden. Or perhaps something to encapsulate a client’s biography in one box. “A client who loves backgammon had a child very late in life, so we made a board documenting his life story so that when they played together, the son could see his father’s life stretched out before him, inviting conversation while also being something that will be handed down to him to cherish.”
Llewellyn works with master cabinet makers, silversmiths, engravers, stone cutters and leather workers in the U.K. to create her board games, playing with woods such as sycamore, walnut,
eucalyptus and blue bird’s eye maple, as well as jewel-hued leathers and unexpected materials such as resin (injected with swirls of pigment or tiny nuggets of precious metals), mother-of-pearl, and semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli, agate and sodalite). Llewellyn once incorporated Martian meteorite rock into a board game commissioned by Richard Mille to accompany one of the brand’s watches inspired by outer space. She also transformed a client’s birthstones into a spectacular array of constellations, and inset parts of a beloved necklace belonging to a client’s late mother “so that she would always be with him when he’s playing,” she says. “There’s often so much emotion involved.”
There is humour, too: games lined with photographic-printed leather depicting sharks chasing swimmers, polar bears in pursuit of skiers, or plumes of cigar smoke. For one client’s 40th birthday, Llewellyn designed a mahjong table with secret drawers, each one spelling out consecutive parts of a love letter from his wife, with the final secret compartment (hidden within another secret compartment) spelling out the ‘naughty’ message. “I love creating designs where the client might not notice everything at first,” she says. “What’s so lovely is that it’s not only a game for people to play, they’re also creating memories at the same time. Games are all about spending time with people and having fun.” AlexandraLlewellyn.com
The Swedish-born, London-based interior designer Beata Heuman established her practice in 2013, after nine years working with the renowned British decorator Nicky Haslam. Her work resonates with a backdrop of clean lines and restored historic details, a ‘neutral’ colour palette of knocked-back Gustavian hues mixed with Vermeer richness, contrasted with imaginative details, from rugs as art on the walls to pitting chintzy florals or dancing circus horses against block-printed vintage botanical motifs and hand-painted murals. It is a style that “feels both relaxed and uplifting, but I always want there to be a little bit of mystery, so you can’t take in the whole room at once,” Heuman says.
Her interiors are often described as playfully eccentric, but for the designer “it’s actually quite a lot about what you don’t put in,” she explains. “You can’t just add all the colours and all the patterns, it’s so much about balance and restraint to get the harmony and slight tension that makes it interesting. You want it to sing, not shout,” she adds, alluding to Every Room Should Sing, the title of her book published by Rizzoli in 2021. “The joy of having the confidence to be who we are, of celebrating self-expression, in all its strangeness and randomness, is to me the zest of life.”
Heuman recently opened 188 Hammersmith Road in south- west London (opposite, bottom left), combining a new office
with a by-appointment showroom for her ‘Shoppa’ collection of homewares and furnishings (including lighting, furniture, rugs, fabrics and wallpapers). Boarded up and unoccupied for three years before they took up the lease two years ago, it has been a mammoth task bringing the 1820s villa back to life, but worth it for the “360-degree immersive experience” it has created. “It’s such a good opportunity to show clients how we mix our own designs with antiques and vintage pieces to make it feel layered,” she says.
Heuman’s work includes designing houses for private clients (from the U.K. and Scotland to L.A., including the model Adwoa Aboah), dreaming up interiors for the bijou Hôtel de La Boétie, near the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and soon overseeing the revamp of the Carl Eldh museum in Stockholm, the former studio of one of Sweden’s most prominent 20th century sculptors. “It’s basically an interior frozen in time from the 1920s — it has been really exciting to work with an institution where I’ve had to think about the space’s longevity for generations to come,” she says.
For the designer-in-demand, she is right where she wants to be: “I really only want to do things where I feel inspired. It’s about doing things where I feel it is something new, something where we’ll learn something, and where the client really gets what we’re about.” BeataHeuman.com
The artist Martha Freud has a brilliantly irreverent and witty way with words. Working fine porcelain and clay into satisfying organic, handmade vessels, Freud mocks age-old expressions (and the occasional swear word) by giving them a cheeky spin, such as stamping bon mots like ‘Everything in moderation including moderation’ and ‘I run a tight shipwreck’ on to bowls and plates that she finishes with vintage-style glazes by hand. Or she’ll emblazon song lyrics, such as ‘The time to hesitate is through’ (The Doors) and ‘Hello darkness, my old friend’ (Simon & Garfunkel), onto vessels for her ‘Lit’ collection of beautifully scented candles. Freud’s work, she says, treads “the line between tongue-in-cheek wordplay and philosophical reflection — from naughty quips to earnest protest”.
She likes to keep people on their toes. “We get so set in our ideas and in our own stories that when we see a coupling of an expression that we know really well but in a place where we’ve never seen it before, it opens our minds to other things,” says Freud, whose namesake studio was founded in 2008. Yet she’d never want to be too prescriptive, either. “When I make something, I know what it means or symbolises to me, but I don’t share that very
often because I’d rather people interpret things as they need to or as is relevant for their own experience,” says Freud, the great-granddaughter of Sigmund and granddaughter of Clement.
In her studio at home in east London, she has a wall full of Post-it notes reminding her of the funny things she hears people say while out and about, from eavesdropping on the bus to the voluntary reading practice she does with local four-year-olds. In between collaborations with the jewellery house Repossi, creating bespoke illuminated ‘Mixed Messages’ installations (we hear Sir Paul McCartney has one made in homage to the Beatles), and holding ‘A Night on the Tiles’ ceramics classes at the Bull, her uncle Matthew’s new Cotswolds hotel, Freud is preparing for an exhibition some time next year. “I try to make sure I factor in at least one play day a week, because I like to slowly develop new things while I’m making other things,” Freud says. “I could never be a conceptual maker because my work is about getting my hands dirty and collaborating with the material. I’m constantly asking it what it can do and inviting it to behave in a certain way, but whether it will or whether it won’t, isn’t always up to me. That’s what I love about it.” MarthaFreud.com
The contemporary jeweller Francesca Grima has taken great delight in following in her late famous father’s footsteps. Andrew Grima’s highly prized midcentury creations, much beloved by the late Queen, Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the actress Ursula Andress — and avidly collected by Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs, among others — were celebrated for their cutting-edge daring in structure and materials as well as a bold use of gemstones. So, too, does the younger Grima create pieces that carry gravitas and bravado. Having relocated to London from the family’s Swiss base a few years after her father’s passing in 2007, she works alongside her mother, Jojo, at their Mayfair atelier. “We both design — my mother’s designs are more in my father’s style, whereas I’m trying to take it in different directions,” Francesca says. “When I joined the business at 18, I added a feminine touch to it, but now I would say it’s almost going more masculine and minimal.”
In her design process, she always starts with the stone: “I take inspiration from its form and the way it catches the light, and then I design around it.” Inspired by “what I see around me, even if it’s just a detail on a building or a wall with some graphics on it” — her camera
is never far from her hand — Grima draws on her love of Brutalist architecture, Scandinavian midcentury design, the sculptural forms of nature, and a sense of simplicity and understated elegance in her pieces. A branch of coral wrapped in a golden vine and slices of an ammonite fossil subtly teamed with gold and diamonds and turned into earrings are among her repertoire. “I don’t think a design needs to be complicated for it to be beautiful,” she says.
Her father’s DNA seeps through. “The way something is made, that it has to look as beautiful from the back as it does from the front, that it needs to be tactile and have a natural movement to it,” she cites of Andrew’s legacy. He was dubbed the ‘father of modern jewellery’, and awarded the Duke of Edinburgh prize for elegant design in 1996, the first time it was given for individual handmade pieces rather than industrial products. In effect, Francesca says, “it needs to look as though it was almost designed with one brushstroke”.
These are pieces to make someone feel strong and confident, she says: “I’d also like them to be able to feel they can wear it casually with jeans or dressed up for an evening out. It should just be something they can put on and forget about.” GrimaJewellery.com
Despite decamping from east London to Dorset during the pandemic, illustrator Fee Greening’s intricately detailed, whimsical drawings are no less in demand now she’s living in “the middle of nowhere”, as she puts it. Greening is regularly sought by Gucci, Hermès and Florence and the Machine, stylistas such as Alex Eagle and Alexa Chung, and brands such as Saved NY and Common Room, which have turned her captivating dip-pen creations into homewares and wallpaper. Working out of a restored shepherd’s hut in the back garden, her days are a heady mix of designing party invitations and dinner menus with crazy overnight turnarounds and more leisurely private commissions that might take two weeks to finish. “My drawings are very small, delicate and fiddly, so it’s quite hard to rush my work,” she says. “I have to be really calm to do it, because otherwise the ink will drip or I’ll get a shaky hand, so I work on a lot of different things at the same time.”
Greening fell into illustration after starting a course in fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. “I was really confused when I was a teenager — I didn’t know whether I wanted to be an actress or a fashion designer,” she recalls. “I never thought I’d be an artist or illustrator.” A tutor noticed that she was excited about drawing and research; when it came to making something, “I completely lost interest,” she jokes. At their suggestion, Greening went on to graduate in graphic design before completing a visual communication master’s at the Royal College of Art in 2014.
Inspired by medieval, gothic and Flemish art, “I have always been interested in anything fantastical,” says Greening, whose creative peer group includes her long-time partner, Dan White, the guitarist with indie band Tribes (Greening designed the cover for their latest album, Rabbit Head); designers Luke Edward Hall and Duncan Campbell; playwright and film-director sisters Polly and Daisy Stenham; and actors Douglas Booth and Bel Powley. College gave her “the luxurious opportunity of time to go to the library to read endless books about illuminated manuscripts,” she says. This helped forge her romantic and otherworldly aesthetic, where her illustrations abound with a fairytale cornucopia of dragons, unicorns, insects and butterflies, as well as wildflowers, astrological and maritime motifs, and all-seeing eyes.
Greening’s use of hand-drawn techniques, from ink and pencil to watercolour, lends “something soulful to my work because it is a part of me”. Recently, the “wild danger and lifecycle” of living in the countryside has been lending a darker, moodier feel to her work. “I’m a very sensitive, emotional being,” she says. “So I always try to create things that make me happy and give others an uplifting sense of curiosity and freedom. I try not to think too much about whether it will sell or whether someone’s going to want to collaborate with me because I’ve learnt there’ll always be someone who likes what I do somewhere in the world.” FeeGreening.co.uk
"Creating an exciting interior is all about telling a story that sparks the imagination,” says Minnie Kemp, the Design Director of Firmdale Hotels and a rising design star in her own right. “There needs to be layers and the occasional plot twist, otherwise it’s just boring,” she adds with a laugh.
Kemp is anything but boring. Always garbed in a riot of neon, pattern and insouciant daring, she is the youngest of award-winning interior designer Kit Kemp’s three daughters, and she is bringing her own fresh take to the family firm’s roster of hotels in London and New York. Her latest task has been collaborating with her mother and the Kit Kemp Design Studio team on the 69-room Warren Street Hotel in Tribeca — Firmdale’s third Manhattan outpost — which opens in February. “While our styles are quite different, and we often argue about finishes and colour combinations, I’m fearless and more adventurous because Kit has given me the confidence to be so,” Minnie says of working with her mother.
“Consideration and research are as essential as playfulness and daydreaming. I’m inspired by light and space and how that affects colour — I’m fascinated by artist Sonia Delaunay’s theory of how, by combining primary and secondary colours, you can create entirely new ones that each viewer will see differently.”
With a love of “mixing clean, fresh lines and rough-hewn textures with electric bolts of technicolour,” Kemp’s approach draws on an unexpected mix of materials: it’s not unusual for one of her schemes to incorporate a mélange of textures, combining organic hessian, vibrant hand-block-printed linens with upcycled beads made from discarded papers stitched together with chunky threads and “warm alabaster lights that remind me of fresh fudge”. “Authentic design stands the test of time,” she says. “I’ve never been one for fads.”
Art plays a pivotal role in Kemp’s creative thinking, whether she is hand-embroidering a cushion with naive motifs or designing a hotel bedroom. “Studying art and design taught me to experiment and make mistakes. Otherwise, things get stale,” says the vivacious designer, who joined Kit Kemp Design Studio in 2012 after studying graphic design at Leeds University. Late last year she debuted her first wallpaper collection of bold abstract prints, block-printed botanicals, batiks and ikats, and vivid ticking stripes with the Transylvania-based outfit Mind The Gap. “I hope my aesthetic makes you sit up straight and look twice,” Kemp says. “It’s tailored yet lived in, and gives you a cheeky wink back.” FirmdaleHotels.com; MindTheG.com