Working in close collaboration with acclaimed product designer Thomas Heatherwick, our leatherwork for the Friction Table was exactly the kind of innovative, research-based design project we love to challenge ourselves with.
‘What we love about working with Thomas and his team is they just like to take on projects because they’re fun and interesting,’ says Ned Ingham, our Head of Design. ‘They’re not too burdened by “form follows function”, they take a really nice approach to design.’ Of course, it was humbling for Thomas Heatherwick Studio to invite us to help in creating this future icon of industrial design – with Heatherwick himself describing us as ‘the best leatherworkers – their craftsmanship is phenomenal’.
The table itself – a result of 16 years of research and fine-tuning – uses the simple mechanical device of the lattice with precision execution to change its proportions, so that a 1.8-metre round table can be extended to a 4-metre-long elipse through a simple, efficient mechanism developed in conjunction with a team of makers using techniques developed in robotics and aerospace.
The table features 193 pivot points, precisely placed and pinned together by hand and calibrated to ensure it is perfectly level, balanced and can achieve a smooth opening movement that can be operated by just one or two people.
The table is made from aerospace-grade polished aluminium, cut on a Japanese-made Mazmak machine, which provides the incredible tolerance required for the smooth movement of the table. The transition is ensured by high-performance polymer bearings, which allow the mechanism to glide across itself effortlessly. Over that, the frame is clad in a red, hand-made, natural semi-aneline fine-grain calf leather. ‘It’s done with a virtually seamless moulding technique,’ explains Ned. ‘We actually developed the process specifically for this table. That’s exactly why these projects are interesting – you find new ways of doing things, and that’s what keeps us interested and at the forefront of leatherwork.’
The result is an object that celebrates the union of art and science – its construction representing the utmost precision and engineering, whilst the finishing process demonstrates the best in traditional, hand-crafted furniture, topped off with what Heatherwick himself describes as the ‘soulful materiality’ of leather hand-picked and hand-worked by Bill Amberg Studio. By demonstrating the very finest in cutting-edge, experimental leathermaking processes, we see this as the ultimate in modern product design: a combination of centuries-old knowhow and groundbreaking techniques never seen or tried before. We are proud to have played a significant part in such a landmark piece of industrial design.
Heatherwick himself is unequivocal in his opinion on the final piece: ‘For me, it’s one of the best objects we’ve ever made’. We have to concur.
Each table is from an edition of 12, which are signed in numbers by Thomas Heatherwick and can be purchased directly via the design studio P.O.A and made to order.