Inside an unusual library project

By Steve Esdaile
January 12, 2021

Esdaile Design commissioned striking bespoke pieces for this library project. Steve Esdaile talks us through the brief and the challenges he faced.

There are two distinct parts of the project: the interior of the study library and the carving that forms a backdrop in the external light well. These were always envisaged as separate elements which would complement each other with distinct dialogues.

For the interior of the study library, the inspiration was the client’s passionate interest in the history and mapping of astronomy. Plates produced in the 1600s by Andreas Cellarius stood out as exceptional examples of mapping ahead of its time, with beautiful application and detailing. I came up with the idea of introducing this imagery into the furniture. Some of the original plates were cropped to details to create a series of columns through the space, and the bordering detail of the original map plates became a parquetry inlay border for the furniture. The selected imagery was then re-touched and coloured, and is presented in the finished application backlit by LED lightboxes, with a remote dimming function.

For the carving in the lightwell, we had agreed with the client on a hand-crafted stone relief. It was to have an Asian-inspired sense, and that it would tell some part of a story. The final scene we settled upon is the battle between Rama and Ravana, from the Ramayana: Rama and his monkey and bear armies fight Ravana and his hordes of demons. Rama and Ravana are preparing to discharge magical arrows at each other.

An architect I know who works in Singapore recommended an artist in Cambodia, and this led to contact with the carver who had trained on the restoration at Angkor Wat. I’d visited this spectacular site some years before, and I was keen to work with someone who had this level of expertise. I travelled to Cambodia to meet with the artist and carver, to see examples of the carver’s work and to check out his workshop. This allowed us to form a relationship in person, which makes a big difference to the ongoing communication.

Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome?

I got pictorial updates throughout the process and made one return visit to see the virtually completed piece and make the final shipping arrangements. This included ensuring the twelve specially made crates – one for each of the carved sections – were fit for purpose. After clearing customs and the crates arriving in London, we arranged for a specialist art installer to install the twelve sections into their final place in the lightwell.

The biggest challenge on the project was undoubtedly around the shipping and installation of the carving. It actually all went remarkably smoothly. But there was always a risk of damage in transit of the stone sections, and consequently a somewhat nervous time waiting for the twelve crates to arrive on site. Fortunately when we opened them, everything was intact!

Esdaile Design – Steve Esdaile is a freelance designer with extensive experience in bespoke furniture manufacture and specialist finishes applications. An art and design graduate, he’s always loved making things and has a keen interest in the artisan workshop environment. Esdaile Design began bespoke art commissions as a way of adding personality to commercial environments. When employed to present ‘standard’ products, Steve looks to engage artists and craftspeople to add an element of ‘bespoke’ to the settings.