An interview with Amanda Levete
Dinners at Amanda Levete’s house sound like convivial affairs. The 4.8m long dining table, which she designed herself, seats up to 18 people. It is narrow to encourage interaction. It is this table and the parties that she holds at it that formed the basis of her wish.
‘I thought hard about what I really want,’ she said. ‘The placement has always been really important to me. I have always dreamed of having a dish that stretched the whole length of the table so that it is a sharing experience.’
The aim was to have something that could be used either for cold meats and cheese, or for fruit. The latter would need a different profile, and out of this grew the idea that the dish should be reversible – relatively flat on one side and more curved on the other.
The other problem with a dish so long is that you don’t always need it. After all you don’t always have 18 people to dinner. Sometimes it might be only six. And sometimes you might not need it at all. ‘Out of this,’ explained Levete, ‘came the idea that it should be modular and slot together. And the idea of storage was important as well. I wanted it to look precious. The box it goes into should be as beautiful as what is inside.’
Levete also had a sense of what she wanted the bowl to look like. ‘There is a rich tradition of shallow African bowls,’ she said. ‘They are often embellished with rich materials or with engraving. It is the kind of thing that I would never do for myself – I would never be so extravagant.’
She worked with her chosen designer Win Assakul to create her wish. Assakul was an architecture student who spent his year out in Levete’s office. ‘He was probably the best year-out student we have ever had,’ Levete said. ‘He is quite exceptional as a designer, thinker and communicator. It is rare to find those qualities in one so young.’
Levete also was keen to work in wood again, after her practice AL_A designed the technically daring Timber Wave, outside the Victoria and Albert Museum, for AHEC during the London Design Festival of 2011. AL_A also wanted a reason to work with the fantastic master craftsman at Benchmark again, after its experience of working with them on a 4m long walnut desk for James Murdoch’s New York office.
Assakul designed the piece using walnut, edged in brass with a matching walnut box for storage. Then Assakul had to make it! He faced a couple of challenges. First, the design development process coincided with his Part II exams at the AA. His solution? To give ‘100%’ to each. Secondly he had never made anything before. And thirdly, he was told that he would have to make it in an entirely different manner from the one he had anticipated. But he overcame all these obstacles, and found solutions to problems he had been told were impossible. The result? Dinners at Amanda Levete’s house should be even more elegant and convivial.
Levete loved the whole experience. ‘It is a beautiful idea to be asked to be a mentor to somebody I respect and who is just starting out,’ she said.