Turquoise Mountain: A new commission for Leighton House
A unique suite of furniture for the new wing, hand-crafted by master artisans.
As part of the transformative Hidden Gem to National Treasure redevelopment, Leighton House partnered with the Turquoise Mountain Foundation on the design and production of a unique suite of furniture for the new wing, including the visitor reception desk, display units for the shop and counter for the new café.
Crafted by highly skilled artisans from Syria and now based in Amman (Jordan) Turquoise Mountain has been working with these makers since 2006 to help re-establish supply chains and markets for their work.
The commission grows out of Leighton’s own deep appreciation of the art, architecture and craft he found as he travelled through the Middle East and North Africa. This appreciation resulted in the construction of the Arab Hall, added to his house as a means of displaying his exceptional collection of pottery tiles acquired largely in Damascus, Syria. The Arab Hall interior was realised through a series of collaborations with artists and makers. This commission is therefore rooted in the history of the house but adds a contemporary twist, bringing identity, individuality and impact to the museum’s new spaces.
The pieces have been designed by London-based Drinkall Dean with marquetry developed by Turquoise Mountain in collaboration with the makers. The pieces are made from walnut and feature inlays in olive, cherry, eucalyptus, dyed walnut, maple and rosewood. The circular motif is directly inspired by the inlaid 17th–19th century Syrian chest that was acquired by Leighton and forms part of the furnishings of the staircase hall of the house.
The inspiration: A 17th–19th century Syrian chest
The inspiration for the circular motif in the Turquoise Mountain designs originates from the central shamsa, or ‘sunburst’, design at the centre of a 17th–19th century Syrian chest in the Leighton House collection. Crafted from wood (likely walnut) the chest is inlaid with elaborate bone and mother-of-pearl geometric and floral patterns.
It is not known exactly where or when Leighton purchased this piece of furniture, however a contemporary reference by Pepys Cockerell mentions Leighton may have bought the chest in Rhodes. In Leighton’s time, the chest was converted to form a seat for the staircase hall, upholstered with embroidered silk cushions by Gertrude Jekyll, where it currently remains as part of the museums’ permanent collection.
The design process
Working in collaboration, Turquoise Mountain’s expertise on the history of the crafts involved (traditional carpentry and wood mosaic inlay) led to the decision for their team of Jordanian architects and designers to work on developing the suggested design, inspired by the 17th–19th century Syrian chest found in Leighton House.
As part of this process, international designer and product developer Anna Pretty was asked to abstract this pattern and determine the types of wood to be used, to reach a point where all parties, including partner artisans, approved of the direction.
Great trust and value is placed in the expertise of the partner artisans, and their involvement is integral to the design process, as well as product development in general. For example, one of the most challenging aspects of this project was designing large-scale pieces of furniture that were constructed using traditional techniques, as well as being able to be deconstructed for flat-pack shipping and re-assembled on the other side with relative ease. Turquoise Mountain would not have been able to accomplish this task without the input and expertise of Master Carpenter, Maher Darwiche.
Watch the two videos below to hear from Maher, as well as Master Wood-Mosaic Artisan, Abdelrahman Shaaban, about the details of this exciting commission and the importance of continuing this ancient craft.
About Turquoise Mountain
Turquoise Mountain is a non-profit organisation founded by HRH The Prince of Wales to revive historic areas, communities and traditional crafts, to create jobs, skills and a renewed sense of pride.
Hidden Gem to National Treasure has been made possible thanks to The Friends, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.