On a latest fall afternoon in her sunny studio in London’s Belgravia neighborhood, the posh board sport artist and designer Alexandra Llewellyn lifted the polished eucalyptus wooden tray that serves as a lid to considered one of her newest backgammon units. Printed on the calf leather-based enjoying board inside was a tongue-in-cheek winter scene: a polar bear chasing a skier throughout the snow.
The set was launched final month, together with its summer time twin: a shark pursuing a swimmer by an azure sea.
“I love injecting humor when we can,” stated Ms. Llewellyn, 41. “Games are about fun.”
As a toddler, she usually performed backgammon along with her two sisters. And he or she vividly remembers a visit, at 9 years outdated, to see her step-grandfather in Cairo, and enjoying a sport on the road with an aged man sporting a conventional djellaba. “We didn’t share the same language, we didn’t share anything culturally, anything to do with our age, nothing,” she stated. “But I just remember so well, we sat and we played backgammon, and we laughed.
“That was the beginning of this, really, for me.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s diploma in positive artwork from the College of Leeds, Ms. Llewellyn labored at a craft faculty for adults with studying disabilities in Madrid — the place she commissioned some college students to make backgammon boards that she painted and offered — after which on the Prince’s Basis Faculty of Conventional Arts in London.
When she established her namesake firm in 2010, she began, in fact, with backgammon boards.
“I saw it as this wonderful vehicle to start working with all these different materials and makers,” she stated, noting that she now works with a roster of about 20 British grasp artisans together with cupboard makers, silversmiths, engravers, stone cutters and leather-based staff. “And I also loved the idea of games just bringing people together.”
Chris Bray, the Occasions of London backgammon correspondent and creator of 9 backgammon books, stated he had coached Ms. Llewellyn and her 5 workers members on backgammon frequently over the previous 4 years to make sure they “understand what they’re actually making.”
“Everything has to be perfect, and her boards are,” he stated.
It could appear odd that somebody who has been enjoying the sport for years would nonetheless want a coach, however, Ms. Llewellyn stated, “It’s a very easy game to learn, but a very hard game to conquer.”
Through the years, she has integrated different sport units, reminiscent of poker and chess, into her collections, in addition to enjoying playing cards and card bins. They’re obtainable on her website; different websites, together with Mr Porter; and at Harrods, with costs starting from $70 for a pack of gilt-edged playing cards to an inlaid video games tables beginning at $39,000. Subsequent yr, she stated, she plans to introduce mahjong.
Ms. Llewellyn declined to reveal the enterprise’s annual gross sales, however she stated its 20 to 30 bespoke commissions a yr may characterize as a lot as 60 p.c of its output.
Of those, “60 percent of the time it’s a gift,” she stated, citing the video games desk lately made for a shopper’s companion that had strains from considered one of their love letters inlaid in a sequence of secret drawers. (She won’t title prospects both, however she counts Richard Branson and royalty amongst her clientele.)
For Ms. Llewellyn, every bespoke board is sort of a window into one other world. “It could be that the client loves orchids, or it could be the story of the cows,” she stated, gesturing towards a bit of a backgammon board on show in her studio that featured two marquetry cows. An Egyptian shopper commissioned it as a present for his mom who owned a dairy farm and, together with his permission, she had it copied.
All her initiatives are designed and the art work finished in what she and her workers calls “the dungeon,” a small, cluttered room of about 65 sq. ft that comprises a desk, a cupboard that holds paints and is piled excessive with bits of wooden veneer, and a windowsill lined with pots of sharpened graphite and coloured pencils.
The studio itself is used as a showroom and an area to fulfill purchasers, and typically doubles as a video games room for purchasers and workers.
Ms. Llewellyn stated the design course of on customized jobs took three to 4 weeks and was finished with the supplies and makers in thoughts. She favors pure, sustainable supplies, often with an uncommon twist: Backgammon doubling cubes containing gold crystal (round $1,250) or Martian meteorite (round $530), and a cranium poker set (round $18,810) with 4,000-year-old lavatory oak.
Although strategies differ in accordance with the venture, lots of Ms. Llewellyn’s designs contain marquetry, a centuries-old methodology of creating intricate patterns with wooden or different supplies. The picture “is painted with wood, using the grain,” she stated, pointing to the lid of a customized hippopotamus backgammon board that used woods to create the ripples and reflections of a pool of water.
For such work, Ms. Llewellyn turns to Joe Geoghegan, director of Heritage Inlay Design in Brighton. Utilizing a laser or working by hand, Mr. Geoghegan cuts shapes into slender strips of pure or pressure-dyed wooden which may be dipped in sizzling sand (the warmth creates a shading impact) or brushed with solvent to create a gradation of coloration. Mr. Geoghegan then assembles the wooden to create an image that he presses, utilizing weight and warmth, onto a hardwood panel.
To create a sport board, the marquetry panels are set right into a field created by a cupboard maker, usually Phil Rose. And a specialist, often Stuart Lee, then applies lacquer to seal the wooden. They, like Mr. Geoghegan, are within the Brighton space. (“We call them the trio because they work on projects together,” Ms. Llewellyn wrote in a later e-mail.)
Late final yr, Ms. Llewellyn used palm bushes, flamingos and different regional motifs for a backgammon board and 5 cigar humidors to be offered on the Surf Membership store in Miami. (Although the corporate’s focus is video games, purchasers usually request objects reminiscent of humidors, mirrors or furnishings, she stated.)
Gabriela Navarro, head of inventive at Fort Companions, the Surf Membership’s proprietor, stated the outcomes had been artworks.
“She’s able to tell a story, whether it’s a personal story or a story of the place, which is our case, and it’s conveyed beautifully and with a lot of imagination,” Ms. Navarro stated. “Few people are doing that level of craftsmanship.”
And the truth that she is doing it with board video games, Ms. Navarro added, “is just magic.”