It’s the stuff of epic movies – a young girl visiting her step-grandfather in Cairo finds herself playing backgammon with an elderly gentleman in the street. ‘He was dressed in a galabeya, the traditional Egyptian robe. He was about ten times as old as me and he didn’t speak any English but game-playing is a universal language as well as an ancient pastime and so somehow we were able to communicate and laugh together,’ says Alexandra Llewellyn.
With a fashion designer mother and a father who was a garden designer, creativity was all around her as a child. Her love of the ‘game of kings and the king of games’, continued as she went on to study fine art and work in product design for a charity. Ten years ago, she launched her own brand, creating beautiful, hand-made backgammon, chess and other games sets as well as game tables. Most are created bespoke and feature a striking contrast between traditional marquetry and photography plus precious stones.
‘People are more interested to know about materials and techniques these days, especially when they’re having something specially crafted,’ says Alexandra, who is currently working with Martian meteorite for a doubling cube. ‘It’s a painstaking process because there are so many constituent parts. It can take up to three to four months from initial conversations and sketches to the moment when I present the final piece to the client.’ Restrictions permitting, she’ll visit her suppliers in their workshops to ensure that the wood, leather, polished stone and other materials being used are exactly the right colour, texture and quality.
‘As a designer I find it quite liberating to be creative and imaginative and to meet a client’s requests while complying with the strict geometric requirements of a games board,’ she says. Clients come from all over the world, and she’s recently completed a major project for a client in Australia.
The Glacier Travel Set depicts the epic grandeur of snow- covered mountains against a backdrop of dazzling blue skies. A collection of playing cards features two designs inspired by Alexandra’s popular Skull Poker Set. Interpreting some of her favourite motifs, including the pattern on a pheasant’s feathers and a grinning skull, complete with gold tooth, the artwork on the cards incorporates elements of the marquetry box that has been especially created to house them.
Created from sustainable natural and dyed woods, including black poplar, sycamore and bubinga, the Crane and Poppy Signature Marquetry backgammon set is based on a traditional Japanese design.
Demand has increased since lockdown as many of us spend more time at home, seeking entertainment that requires thought and patience – and doesn’t involve staring at a screen. This slowing of the pace of life means that customers are willing to wait for something special that will last a lifetime. ‘Like a leather-bound biography or photograph album,’ says Alexandra, ‘my designs tell your life story in a game to be enjoyed for generations to come.’ Game, set and match.