Journal

The timeless power of the Pestle and Mortar

The timeless power of the Pestle and Mortar

How this simplest of objects has had the power to span millennia transcending cultural barriers. The pestle and mortar is ubiquitous; found in every culture, its use can be traced back through each millennium. Evidence of its place in the lives of humankind dates back to Ancient Egypt and 1550BC, but it’s estimated that this simple yet highly functional tool was actually put to work more than 6000 years before the existence of the Pharaohs. Essential for preparing medicine in Roman times, the pestle and mortar was an early symbol for apothecaries or pharmacists. In Malay and West Asia, it’s still used today to grind meat, whereas in the Philippines its function continues as a rice de-husker.

The pre-Hispanic cultures of both the Mayan and Aztecs used the pestle and mortar to grind spices. Indeed, they’re still employed for exactly this task in modern day Pakistan and India. And it’s long been understood that in Papua New Guinea, pestles were carved into elaborate birds’ heads, whilst the Chalon and Mutsun peoples of California’s Salinas valley chiselled shallow depressions into bedrock in order to grind up their grains and acorns. Browse the Internet today and you will find numerous articles describing the best way to go about choosing the pestle and mortar ideal for your modern kitchen.

The longevity of the pestle and mortar’s design is astounding; it has changed very little over the course of thousands and thousands of years. From culture to culture, it has merely adapted in order to suit the materials to hand, the only caveat being that the user – whoever and wherever they were – must be able to crush and pound. And even though modern kitchens might have access to industrial grinders, many chefs prefer to use the traditional pestle and mortar to bring the best out of their ingredients; much like bread enthusiasts often choose to enjoy the immediacy of kneading dough by hand instead of machine. One place where the cuisine is just as diverse as the population is Africa. As varied as the food is over this vast continent, there’s a tool that is the common denominator: the pestle and mortar. Essential for preparing everything from staples to spice mixes, the use of the pestle and mortar was once so prolific that it was the custom in some West African cultures to give one to every new bride. Traditionally, the African mortar is a large, heavy vessel made of wood on a pedestal base. Between one and one and a half feet high, most have a diameter of between 24 and 30 inches.

The design of the pestle is a slender rod form with a ball-shaped end and therefore a larger surface area, thus making the grinding process less time consuming and more effective. Cleaning was simple: water, a clean rag and time to dry naturally. Modern technology has made the process of grinding easy and - on the African continent - food processors, blenders and powdered staples have all but rendered the need for this handcrafted tool redundant. Except for one thing: flavour. For a tool that predates agriculture, many have made the mistake of considering the pestle and mortar obsolete and inefficient. However, the pestle and mortar cannot be underestimated for its unrivalled ability to create rich, authentic aroma, taste and texture. Simple, organic and seemingly as old as time itself, it’s not very often that form and function come together to create such a joyous and long lasting union.

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Kuba Cloth

Kuba Cloth

Kuba cloths are so admired for their elaborate designs and craftsmanship that mathematicians have gone to great lengths to study their intricate, complex geometric patterns. Unique to the Kuba Kingdom of central Africa – now the Democratic Republic of Congo and formerly Zaire - vegetable dyes are used to give the fibre of the Raphia Vinifera Palm leaves a variety of earthy tones. Then, Kuba cloth is woven from the leaves’ strands. Traditionally used in a multitude of ways, from the prestigious (including ceremonial court adornment and dance regalia) to the more prosaic (for example, as wrapping, sleeping mats and even currency) the cloth remains highly coveted.

 Textile production is firmly rooted in a cultural practice where the division of labour is based on gender. Men are wholly responsible for cultivating the palms and weaving the raffia cloth, whereas it is the women who engage in hand-stitching embroidery and appliqué or the technique of cutting the pile as a form of embellishment in itself. Traditionally rectangular, two main types of Kuba cloth are most prevalent: cut pile, which has been shorn in such a way to form a surface similar to velvet in texture and flat woven, which is the most often decorated. What is common to each piece of Kuba cloth however, is its individual nature; meticulous craftsmanship ensures that every piece is unique. The geometric patterns on the Kuba cloth speak of far more than the artisanal skills of their makers; they’re also illustrative of the extent of the exploration that has taken place by the Kuba people into the formal possibilities of geometric variation. It has been clearly evidenced that – in their repetitive border designs - the Kuba people use every single geometric possibility. Of the seventeen geometric designs able to be used on a surface, they have mastered twelve.

Being adept at geometry however, with an innate understanding of its facets does not mean that the Kuba people confine themselves to this patterning alone, especially on larger, open surfaces. That said, their geometric designs – especially when layered and placed in bright light – work rather like a three-dimensional puzzle, giving the eyes and mind a sense of space and upward movement. Indeed, the designs on the cloths have often been described as creating true magic and visual alchemy, which is one of the reasons why the cloths were so coveted and prized, especially during ceremonial occasions. The mathematics behind Kuba cloths is both fascinating and deeply impressive, as is the textile’s cultural history and its relationship to African music and other African art forms. Their elemental colours and intricate patterns will add warmth, depth and - perhaps surprisingly for some, an historical mathematical element - to any interior. For AU’s carefully sourced collection of vintage Kuba cloth cushions, click here.

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Interior Design and the fusion of function and design: Peill + Putzler

Interior Design and the fusion of function and design: Peill + Putzler

Fine craftsmanship and collaborations with iconic designers of the 20th Century, mean that Peill + Putzler’s sculptural glass shades and futuristic globular forms have always been highly sought after pieces. Rising from the ashes following the Second World War when two successful German manufacturers merged to become one company, Peill + Putzler unifed their respective expertise in glass blowing and lighting. Fusing their skills together, they took light manufacture beyond the mundane and prosaic transforming it into an aesthetic and intuitive art form.

 

Clear and Frosted Glass Round Peill + Putzler 1970s glass ice cube light


Peill und Sohn (Peill and Son) was founded in 1903 in Düren, a small town in the west of Germany. Leopold Peill, a prominent citizen in Düren was well known for both his glass works and his philanthropy. The Putzer brothers from Penzig (Pieńsk) had extensive experience producing petroleum lanterns for street lighting. Previously part of Germany when annexed by Prussia in 1815, Penzig once again became part of Poland following the defeat of Nazi Germany and consequently - expropriated by the Polish government - the Putzer brothers joined forces with Leopold Peill. Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke was therefore rebuilt as both a glass works and lighting company; the first glass was melted in 1948. By 1950, the company owned five glass ovens, adding two more in the 1970s. Employing 1,500 people at its peak, the glass works was the largest employer in Düren.

Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke, 1958

Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke, 1958

 

From 1952, under the direction of Günther Peill and Hans Ahrenkiel, the importance placed on innovative design and intricate work meant that Peill + Putzler became one of the founding members of the German Design Council. The significance given to good design also meant that the glass works consistently worked with notable designers such as Ferdinand Gangkofner, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Helmut Demary, William Brown and Horst Tüselmann, amongst many others. Rapidly becoming admired in architectural circles, this was not least because of the high standard of Peill + Putzler’s production as well as its attention to detail. Two periods of collaboration are of particular note. During the early 50s, the workshop joined forces with Wilhelm Wagenfeld in order to evolve lighting design. Then between, 1953 and 1958, they partnered with Gangkofner during which time a vast number of models for lighting and goblets were produced, including the timeless Iris glass, which was still made and sold, well into the 1980s.

Developing numerous new techniques enabling glass lighting fixtures to be inflated, Aloys F. Gangkofner was instrumental in bringing these methods into industrial production. The art of light making had always been somewhat hampered by an inability to break free from the reliable - though somewhat rigid - ways of fabrication, but as a consequence of Gangkofner’s innovative, experimental approach with good design at its core, suddenly lighting was able to become an art form in its own right.

In 1994, Peill + Putzler relocated their glassworks to Slovenia, Poland and Chechnya. Although a small number of lamps were still produced on the original site in Düren, the company was declared insolvent in 2004. The legacy Peill + Putzler leaves behind, however, is manifest in the world of interior design and styling today. Entrusting its designers with the freedom to put truly good design and artisanship into practice and by developing manufacturing techniques to realise those designs, Peill + Putzler moved lighting from being something overwhelmingly practical into an art form. Function becomes multifaceted; the lamps don’t even have to be switched on to be admired.

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Interior Design Investment Pieces and their Pivotal role in Interior Styling

Interior Design Investment Pieces and their Pivotal role in Interior Styling
Buying an investment piece for your home needn’t be complicated, but it does warrant careful thought. When making a more expensive purchase, it’s easy to be dissuaded by what can seem to be - at first glance - a large outlay. Of course, that old adage of buying something of superb quality and avoiding false economy is true, but there are other factors to consider. Pair of vintage, cocoon FLOS table lamps designed by Castiglioni

An heirloom for the next generation

The reason some pieces of furniture or artwork have come to be referred to as ‘investment pieces’ is just that: they are an investment. Buying a beautifully designed, iconic object means greater expenditure in the short term, but, in the long term, it’s almost a certainty that the piece will retain its aesthetic appeal and even increase its monetary value. Carlo Scarpa Samo table

Balancing aesthetic appeal with functionality

An investment piece might well have been chosen for its beauty and design credentials, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used and enjoyed. What is the point of a handcrafted dining room chair if it’s not pleasant to sit on, or a desk that can’t withstand a heavy workload? Choose classic pieces that are comfy but resilient and able to weather the knocks and scrapes of life. Seek out objects that look even better as they age: leather, which will only become softer, wood that takes on a patina. Being surrounded by objects that are beautiful yet highly functional contributes enormously to a sense of peace and well-being and highlights design as the art form that it truly is. Good design has evolved to enrich people’s day-to-day lives, not to create museum pieces, untouched and only admired from afar. Vintage wooden screen

Protecting heritage

Sometimes it might be that an investment piece is chosen because of the importance of its heritage. This could be a decorative object rather than a functional piece, but either can provide tangible reminders of our past, enhancing our own self-awareness. Why we are who we are and how we have arrived at that point is equally as important as the person we might become; a certain object can remind us powerfully of both our history and our traditions. It brings to mind the generations that have come before us and – on a personal level - those individuals who have made an indelible mark on our lives. Pair of huge vintage Willy Guhl planters

Choosing classic designs

Passing trends certainly have their place in interior styling. However, for a more sustainable approach, it’s always worth choosing something that has been expertly designed and made to last, whether it’s a handcrafted side table or an iconic light. More often than not, it’s worth spending the money if a piece will still be both loved and fulfilling its function in fifty or sixty years time. And just because something has design longevity, doesn’t mean it’s staid and boring; a multitude of design classics demonstrate whimsy and playfulness and were highly original at the time of their inception. There’s always room for frivolity, but hopefully not at the expense of sustainability. Moon rock stone lamps, Andre Cazenove

The versatile investment

Versatility is one factor that makes a piece of furniture an excellent long-term investment. If something can be used, reused, adapted and then even repurposed, the investment will pay for itself many times over. An investment piece will rarely sit in isolation. A side table may double up as a bookshelf or transform into a storage cube, perhaps even travel from a living space to a bedroom. Whichever piece you choose, however, needs to fit seamlessly into your interior, complementing the elements already there and creating a unified whole whatever its function. Handcrafted glass top coffee table with marble legs Finally, no matter how versatile the investment piece, how iconic its design or practical its function, there’s one more factor to consider before making an important purchase: do you like it? Trust your instincts and choose what you love; all things taken into consideration make sure you buy a piece because it sings to your soul. Continue reading

The African Headrest

The African Headrest

How the objects we choose to place in our interiors can also teach us about humankind. The items in AU’s collection have been chosen because of their style, their sustainability and their aesthetic. However, each piece – whether it’s a table, a lamp or a sculpture – comes to us already possessing a story of its own.

Before it becomes a part of our own personal heritage, learning about an object’s history and valuing its provenance teaches us much about the place from which the object originated. Taking a closer look at the history of an object means we can marvel at the skill of those who designed and handcrafted it, gaining deeper insights and perspectives into the lives of our fellow human beings. These African headrests, from the private collection of Terence Pethica, are one such example. In style they are unique to areas of southern Africa, but at the same time, part of a global tradition dating back millennia in which people have found ways not only to preserve hairstyles whilst they slept, but also, simply, to have something upon which to rest their heads. It seems that since the dawn of time, humans have fashioned ‘pillows’ out of whatever material they have to hand: clay, wood, stone, bamboo or a cotton casing filled with feathers.

In Africa, most notably the central, western and southern parts, headrests were a status symbol. Most of the cattle-herding traditions made use of them and, if you owned livestock, that most prized of assets, you were considered wealthy. Protecting your herds meant a nomadic lifestyle, travelling with your animals as they roamed. Most cattle-herding cultures had therefore a warrior caste, young men assigned for the important job of safe guarding the valuable cattle. Headrests – light and durable to suit a pastoral lifestyle - were an essential possession. Made specifically for their owners, careful measurements were taken of the distance from shoulder to neck before the headrests were carved. Irrespective of time period or country of origin, it is the young most especially who take pains with their appearance. The men of these warrior-castes were no different and vanity played a part in the widespread use of the object. Whilst watching their cattle, the men would spend hours braiding each other’s hair, dying it with red ochre, or decorating it with clay and beads.

The hairstyles they achieved were elaborate and complex, designed to last in an environment where access to water could be severely limited; it would have been impossible and impractical to recreate them every day and so headrests proved invaluable. Not only did they ensure that hairstyles could be kept intact for months, they also held the head up off the ground, away from the dust. Often intricately carved, headrests were not just the means through which status and vanity were displayed, they were also authentic pieces of tribal art thought to give the young warriors a way to communicate with the ancestors of their past. As in many cultures, extreme significance was placed by the warrior men and their peoples on dreams. It was believed that using a headrest would encourage spirits to enter a person’s consciousness through the medium of sleep, passing on messages and providing guidance to those in the world of the living.

Practical and utilitarian, the headrest is therefore that rare object which is also spiritual and sublime. Its simple wooden structure belies its ability - if we are careful enough to take a second look - to transport us to another belief system, another continent and another time. Aiming to put objects into our living spaces that are both beautiful and meaningful is the goal of every interior stylist. However, it is only right that we afford these objects the greatest of respect. Respect for their past before they came into our hands, respect for the peoples that crafted and used them as well as their place in world history.

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Interior Design and the Transformative Effect of Marble

Interior Design and the Transformative Effect of Marble

Marble is metamorphic which simply means it is a rock that has undergone a transformation. Incredibly beautiful and natural, marble is the result of limestone having been heated and pressurised within the earth’s crust.

Beauty from imperfection

Composed of recrystallized carbonate materials, most commonly calcite or dolomite, the impurities that are present in the limestone when it goes through the change affect its mineral composition; this is what gives marble its unique veining, colouring and textures. Imperfections give rise to beauty. Reliable and sturdy in construction to the point where it lasts for thousands and thousands of years, marble was chosen by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for both its allure and its dependability. Highly versatile, marble can be polished or left raw and it is also able to withstand extreme heat. It’s therefore a material that has been venerated by sculptors and artisans for centuries. 

 

Interior Design and Styling

It is somewhat ironic then, that it is marble – so transformed itself – that has the ability to transform living spaces and interiors. Marble is chosen because of its minimal aesthetic; although it can be an investment, it is one that is sustainable and considered. Marble, after all, is able to withstand a lot of wear and tear whilst at the same time, conveying a timeless elegance. One or two statement pieces are subtle enough to fit seamlessly indoors or out, complementing a space whether it is classic or modern. Unless overused, marble will never steal the show; what it will do is unite styles without detracting from them. 

 

Signature Pieces

Being a natural stone means that each piece of marble is unique. It is not just this individuality or its stand-alone beauty to which AU is attracted; it’s marble’s impressive ability to be a signature piece within any environment, be that contemporary or traditional. Browse through our collection of handcrafted marble tables and objects here.

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Carlo Scarpa - the architect and his impact on interior design and style

Carlo Scarpa - the architect and his impact on interior design and style
Au Bespoke was born out of the love for beautiful design and the appreciation for unique products with their own individuality. I often get asked what inspires me so, I thought that I would share just some of my passions and inspirations as well as highlights from my carefully edited AU Bespoke collection. Carlo Scarpa is definitely one of my favourite designers. Continue reading