On a latest fall afternoon in her sunny studio in London’s Belgravia neighborhood, the luxurious board recreation artist and designer Alexandra Llewellyn lifted the polished eucalyptus wooden tray that serves as a lid to certainly 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,” mentioned Ms. Llewellyn, 41. “Games are about fun.”
As a baby, she typically performed backgammon together with her two sisters. And she or he vividly remembers a visit, at 9 years outdated, to see her step-grandfather in Cairo, and enjoying a recreation on the road with an aged man carrying a standard djellaba. “We didn’t share the same language, we didn’t share anything culturally, anything to do with our age, nothing,” she mentioned. “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 high quality 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, after all, with backgammon boards.
“I saw it as this wonderful vehicle to start working with all these different materials and makers,” she mentioned, 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 employees. “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, mentioned he had coached Ms. Llewellyn and her 5 workers members on backgammon often 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 mentioned.
It might appear odd that somebody who has been enjoying the sport for years would nonetheless want a coach, however, Ms. Llewellyn mentioned, “It’s a very easy game to learn, but a very hard game to conquer.”
Through the years, she has integrated different recreation units, equivalent to poker and chess, into her collections, in addition to enjoying playing cards and card packing containers. They’re out there on her web site; 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 mentioned, she plans to introduce mahjong.
Ms. Llewellyn declined to reveal the enterprise’s annual gross sales, however she mentioned its 20 to 30 bespoke commissions a yr may signify as a lot as 60 % of its output.
Of those, “60 percent of the time it’s a gift,” she mentioned, citing the video games desk not too long ago made for a shopper’s companion that had traces from certainly one of their love letters inlaid in a collection of secret drawers. (She is not going to 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 mentioned, 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, along with his permission, she had it copied.
All her initiatives are designed and the art work achieved in what she and her workers calls “the dungeon,” a small, cluttered room of about 65 sq. ft that accommodates 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 satisfy shoppers, and generally doubles as a video games room for shoppers and workers.
Ms. Llewellyn mentioned the design course of on customized jobs took three to 4 weeks and was achieved with the supplies and makers in thoughts. She favors pure, sustainable supplies, sometimes 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 bathroom oak.
Although methods differ in keeping with the challenge, a lot of Ms. Llewellyn’s designs contain marquetry, a centuries-old technique of constructing intricate patterns with wooden or different supplies. The picture “is painted with wood, using the grain,” she mentioned, 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 shade. Mr. Geoghegan then assembles the wooden to create an image that he presses, utilizing weight and warmth, onto a hardwood panel.
To create a recreation board, the marquetry panels are set right into a field created by a cupboard maker, typically Phil Rose. And a specialist, normally 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, shoppers typically request objects equivalent to humidors, mirrors or furnishings, she mentioned.)
Gabriela Navarro, head of inventive at Fort Companions, the Surf Membership’s proprietor, mentioned 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 mentioned. “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.”