JOURNAL

A COLLECTOR'S STORY: CHRISTEN PEARS




As a silversmith, Robert understood cast iron. He used it to make stakes and mandrels for shaping silver onto. In 1961 Robert was working on a commission for a silver candlestick in the workshop. The design featured stacked discs around a central core. It was as a result of this project, and the direct influence of silver smithing with its focus on ‘decorative’ items, which led him to consider the possibility of applying cast iron in this way, instead of solely as a material suitable for cookware or heavy duty fixtures - this was unusual.

He conceived of an inexpensive, robust candle holder as a contrast to the silver design. He also cast the candle holder in bronze, but opted to use iron. The two designs (silver and iron) are reminiscent but the simplicity of the cast iron shape he produced turned out to be one of the runaway successes of his career.

Known as Campden Designs the cast iron series expanded quickly to form a small family of shapes; including the nutcracker, fruit stand and peppermill. The cast iron range helped Robert break into new markets and sold internationally in large quantities. The tazza-shaped fruit stand was especially loved in Denmark; images of these had featured in the Decorative Art Yearbook 1964 and not long afterwards a letter arrived from design retailer Hagbarth Skjalm Petersen ordering two dozen for his shop in Copenhagen - H. Skjalm P. The candlestick and nutcracker were eventually renamed ‘Hobart’ when relaunched in the 1990s after a small break in production, as a tribute to Skjalm, who had become Robert’s friend and whose first name was pronounced similarly.

By 1963 the whole venture had grown to such an extent that it was necessary to collaborate with a specialist agency, Heal’s recommended Wigmore Distributors. Together they formed a joint holding company, which took the name Campden Designs from the cast iron pieces. In 1967 Old Hall Tableware took over until the early 1970s when Victor Cast Ware began making and marketing the range.

The designs were his first products to be marketed and sold as a ‘Robert Welch Design’ and in many ways the story, from ordinary and unassuming to iconic, imitates his story - one man, his drawing board and pencil, to today’s global company.


Robert Welch Collector

Christen Pears

What started your interest in mid-century design?

- My first mid-century purchase was a set of three Danish candlesticks simply because I loved the shape.

The contrast of the modern pieces against the age of your cottage is striking, how did this aesthetic come about?

- It was purely by accident. We live in a farmhouse which dates back to the 18th century but, over the years, various renovations have stripped out the original features. It’s almost a blank canvas for the various mid century furniture and other pieces that I’ve collected over the years.

Why do you feel the cast iron pieces complement this?

 - I think the cast iron pieces are timeless and would look good in any interior. They have a very solid but elegant feel to them that I think works perfectly in our house.

Is it the material or shape which speaks most to you?

- I think actually it’s the design. I have a lot of stainless steel pieces too and

 

what they have in common with the cast iron is that they’re both functional and beautiful. The designs are pared back but distinctive and that really appeals to me.

Where do you find most of your pieces?

- I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few pieces in charity shops but most of my purchases have been online, either eBay or Etsy.

Are there other pieces you hope to add to your collection?

- I often flick through my Robert Welch book and earmark things I’d like to add to my collection. There are many but what I covet most is a canteen of Alveston cutlery.

Do you use your vintage Robert Welch items in day to day life, or are they just for show?

- Everything gets used, obviously some things more than others, and it gives me enormous pleasure to live with such well-designed pieces. The salt and pepper grinders are used every day but things like the gravy boat, serving dishes and Bistro cutlery come out on a regular basis.


Scandinavian works typically share "craftsmanship, quality, humanity and restraint combined with a sympathetic respect for the natural materials and a concern for their 'proper' use by the designer and their consumer."

 

Jan Opie, Curator, 1989 V&A Exhibition:
Scandinavia: Ceramics and Glass in the 20th Century.

THE

SCANDI TABLE

In recent years Scandinavian inspired styling has seen a resurgence in popularity as effortless sophistication, muted tones, hints of greenery and soft lighting have risen to prominence.

A greater appreciation of sustainability and the sympathetic use of natural materials in design has led to many of us aspiring to create sophisticated but understated living, dining and entertaining spaces that also have a cosy, welcoming intimacy.

Nordic design was always an influence on Robert Welch, and our design team continues to be inspired by the same principals today. This can be seen in the Limbrey collection, RW2 cutlery and most recently, Bergen cutlery.

We have compiled our favourite products to inspire you to create the relaxed comfort of a stylish home; something the Scandi movement embodies effortlessly.

In the early 1960s Robert Welch designed his first piece in cast iron, a candleholder he named Hobart. Cast iron was an important addition to Robert Welch's portfolio, complementing his designs in silver and steel. At first Hobart was produced in small numbers, the initial order was only two dozen, but after displaying them in his studio and home the designs popularity grew and led to a second order of one-hundred. Robert sold the designs himself out of a suitcase for a year, and initial buyers included Liberty and Heals.

In the early 1960s Robert Welch designed his first piece in cast iron, a candleholder he named Hobart. Cast iron was an important addition to Robert Welch's portfolio, complementing his designs in silver and steel. At first Hobart was produced in small numbers,

the initial order was only two dozen, but after displaying them in his studio and home the designs popularity grew and led to a second order of one-hundred. Robert sold the designs himself out of a suitcase for a year, and initial buyers included Liberty and Heals.

INTRODUCING

RW2 SATIN

Alveston cutlery, first designed in the sixties, became known as RW2 in the early 2000s. There have been very slight changes in the design, but the essence of Robert Welch's iconic cutlery pattern is still there.

With its sculptural simplicity, RW2 evokes a mid-century modern aesthetic and the design can be found in many museums across the world.

INTRODUCING

BERGEN SATIN

As a promising student of silversmithing, Robert Welch became inspired by the work of contemporary Scandinavian designers. This led onto his move to working with stainless steel.

"Scandinavia loomed large as an influence in the mid-1950s; the philosophy of the Scandinavians, so popular at that time, designing simple, everyday objects that were functional and beautiful and which most people could afford, greatly appealed to me. I was, and remain, committed to this ideal and since the 50s I have endeavoured to pursue this aim along with the craft of silverwork"

Welch, R. (1986) Hand & Machine, p.16

Robert made four trips to Scandinavia between 1953 and 1955, his first visit to Norway was in the summer of 1954. He was one of a group of students from the Royal College of Art and Kingston College of Art invited to work in Norwegian factories, with the visit culminating in an exhibition held in Bergen which was designed as a room setting. As the only silversmith in the group Robert worked with the factory of Theodor Olsen, a company founded in 1868 specialising in silver and enamelware.

The Scandinavian ethos can be seen throughout his career across a variety of metals and materials, but it all began with silver and stainless steel.

Design Hunter, founded by interiors writer and stylist Helen Powell in 2009, has become one of the UK's leading interiors, design and lifestyle blogs.
Through her styling, photography collaborations and content projects, Design Hunter reflects honesty and simplicity in the design and use of materials, and a belief that the objects we choose to live with should help create a home that is inviting, restful and a place of sanctuary.


How did you first become interested in design?

I think I've always had an interest in design. For me it's a fascination with how it shapes the environment around us and how we can use it to create a home that reflects what's most important to us, whether that's a space for sociable gatherings with family and friends or a clam sanctuary to retreat to at the end of a busy day.


Where do you find most of your pieces?

We have a few vintage pieces like the Alveston tea pot which I bought from a twentieth century design dealer as a Christmas present for my husband when we first met. We've come across a few lucky finds over the years including a 1960s vanity mirror which I picked up for just a few pounds in a junk shop. We've also been given a few pieces as gifts,

Robert Welch Collector - cont'd


including the Brunel log basket - a present from my sister after we had a wood burner installed last year.


You are renovating at the moment, have you found a favourite place in your home yet?

We recently completed a kitchen extension project and it's definitely become our new favourite place within the house as we were able to design it from scratch to our own specification. Our overarching goal was to create a light, open space that could be used for cooking and eating but would also be a room we could enjoy relaxing and spending time in. The quality of light in the space is really lovely and the wide window ledge above the sink provides the perfect place to display some of our favourite design objects.


Why were you drawn to Robert Welch's Hobart candlesticks?

They are a classic design - solid, weighty and beautifully crafted.


Do you use your vintage Robert Welch items in day to day life, or are they just for show?

I don't believe in keeping things for best. We use many of our Robert Welch pieces on an almost daily basis. Lazy weekend breakfasts are an important ritual in our house and tea is always served from our Alveston teapot.


Are there other designs of Robert's you hope to add to your collection?

I love cooking and as we've just completed the kitchen I think a new set of saucepans might be next on the list.