Out of office: coffee and creative small talk with Bill Amberg

Bodil Blain, Wallpaper* columnist and founder of Cru Kafé, shares coffee and creative small talk with leading figures from the worlds of art, architecture, design, and fashion. This week, it’s British leather craftsman Bill Amberg, who is set to launch his second range of digitally printed hides at London Design Festival

craftsman wearing blue sweater
London-based leather craftsman Bill Amberg.
(Image credit: Amy Shore)

Bodil Blain: How do you take your coffee?
Bill Amberg: A French press mid-morning.

BB: When did you decide you wanted to work with leather?
BA: I grew up in Northampton, the centre of the English shoe trade. I played with leather scraps that my [half- Finnish architect] mother brought back from the market. Later I worked in Australia and New Zealand, doing shoe repair jobs for cobblers. Then I did an apprenticeship with Gay Wilson, who was teaching leatherwork at Canberra University. It’s a very benign material to work with, extraordinarily malleable, a mixture of firm and sensitive. I like it as it is used in so many areas of life, from bookbinding to saddlery, and there are so many techniques. I like to learn about all the techniques and play with them to different scales.

silver coloured crumpled fabric

Tom Dixon’s design for the digitally-printed Print hide collection.  Stylist: Viola Lanari

(Image credit: David Cleveland)

BB: How did you start in accessories?
BA: I started making jewellery in Australia. Hideous jewellery at the beginning. Back in England, I turned to bags, to make money, and then I did my first leather floor in 1986.

BB: What are you doing now?
BA: I have just been in the US launching Print, my new collection of digitally printed hides. It has taken two years to develop. Tom Dixon and Faye Toogood are among those that have designed hides for me. The idea is that anyone can buy a hide, which can then be upholstered into something else.

design on fabric

Faye Toogood’s design for the Print collection. Stylist: Viola Lanari

(Image credit: David Cleveland)

BB: Do you have a favourite project?
BA: The next one! But I love what we’ve just done with the interior of London’s Royal Academy lecture theatre. Working with David Chipperfield, being able to push what’s possible, has been fantastic.

BB: What is your perfect day?
BA: Being in my workshop in Somerset. I like cooking and gardening and things that involve making.

BB: Who is your idol?
BA: No one really. Designer Sori Yanagi really influenced me when I met him in Japan in my mid-twenties. But I didn’t want to ask him to work with me. I wanted to treasure the meeting in itself rather than making it about business. 

A version of this article originally featured in the April 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*241)

black and white picture of man in sweater

(Image credit: Amy Shore)