New Year’s resolutions come and go and even at the best of times they have been forgotten by week one. Yet this year you could try something new and original and nothing to do with the newest diets but a way to exercise with your mind and a pleasurable one too.
Alexandra Llewellyn is a young woman with an infectious laugh and an engaging crisp voice, an artist, who as a young girl loved the sculptor Giacometti and the painter Cecily Brown. Now she designs Backgammon boards, which she started making for friends out of passion for the game. As they all sold straight away, what started as an idea became a business.
The boards are made as one-off commissions but in fact Alexandra could design almost anything for one of your rooms or for your entire house, sometimes creating a complete theme based around the gaming. Having launched her business in 2010 she has enjoyed success with a varied clientele, including Sir Richard Branson, Elle Macpherson, Jacquetta Wheeler, Sony Music, Eden Rock, Mark Ronson and Paloma Faith.
Her designs embody an exquisitely unique vision of one of the oldest recorded board games in the world and not being overtly familiar with this type of playful activity we were keen to discover more about this London based British designer whose workshop in Shoreditch is where the magic happens. Here she comes up with all kind of ideas, concepts and collaborations and is surrounded by a team of master craftsmen who each specialise in different techniques and materials, making each unique commission an original to be enjoyed by generations to come.
Her love for Backgammon was always there and she fondly remembers when it was cemented in her as a child in Cairo while strolling through the streets of the city with her Egyptian step-grandfather where she could hear the rattle of dice on large wooden crate-boards signalling the game in play, a beautiful memory. Exploring her world of work is exhilarating and we could listen to her stories for hours, for example about the Santos rosewood backgammon board with photographic nudes from the 1920’s on the playing surface, finished with hand-applied lacquer, not something that you would expect but beautifully executed.
Also to be found in her gallery are collaborations with various artists, for example the iconic fashion designer Alice Temperley with a detailed and luxurious design to resonate Alice’s fashionable style, translating it into a backgammon board. Another partnership is the limited edition of 10 boards designed for the Terrence Higgins Trust with 20% of each sale going to the charity. This is another example of a design reflecting the character and nature of those Alexandra chooses to work with, consisting of an ornate board with photographic red and white Cala lilies on the playing surface. Adding more strings to her bow Alexandra also collaborated with legendary photographer Terry O’Neill, whose images defined the Swinging Sixties and the Seventies. The result is the limited edition GODDESSES backgammon board, featuring some of the incredible women Terry has photographed including Bridget Bardot, Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Goldie Hawn, Jean Shrimpton, Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy with each board signed and numbered by Terry.
Last but not least being my personal favourite is the Marilyn Monroe board, a collaboration with Milton H. Greene’s Archive to create an exclusive limited-edition of 10 backgammon boards featuring previously unpublished photographs of the iconic screen legend. To say that this is special would be an understatement of this series of portraits taken in September 1953 by Monroe’s friend, the celebrated photographer Milton H. Greene, which features the actress in a negligee, draped in fur, with a sparkling diamond bracelet on her wrist. This works beautifully as it creates in one object, a conversation piece and a game, drawing people together to play and talk about Greene’s photography and the incredible Marilyn Monroe.
The variety of designs is vast and she stocks a collection of in-house designs that can be available immediately or personalised with engraved or painted messages, initials and dates. Chess sets are available for those so inclined and a very unique limited edition skull poker set which has the edition number engraved on the skull’s hand-cut gold tooth. Looking for inspiration, we found it in the wild and wonderful world of Alexandra Llewellyn.