House & Garden | The Bespokesperson

Painstakingly crafted work from a virtuoso in leather

He’ll create anything from a trinket to a superyacht’s onboard cinema

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Painstakingly crafted work from a virtuoso in leather

October 06 2010
Lindsay Macpherson

It’s not usually the done thing to judge a person by the car he drives. But when the person in question is Gavin Rookledge, and the car is magnificently hand-bound in leather (inside and out) and fitted in reclaimed teak and brass, it seems entirely apt.

The “labour of love” (second picture) – a copy of a 1920s Ford Branton, known as Miss Hepburnella – is the company car of Rook Books, the leather firm that Rookledge founded in 1987. Originally specialising in hand-bound books, he now works on an entirely bespoke basis, painstakingly producing commissions for leather furniture, frames, trinkets and sculptural forms from his studio in Crystal Palace, south London. Here, the filing is housed in a 17th-century medicine cabinet, while buckles, silver pieces and semi-precious gemstones spill out of studded-leather treasure chests (third picture).

Rookledge has a policy of never making exactly the same thing twice – “a personal choice, so I can continue to develop my skills” – and past commissions have ranged from full-scale interior projects (he recently completed a 10-seat leather cinema for Roman Abramovich’s yacht Pelorus) to smaller projects for clients including Bono, Naomi Campbell, Lord Sainsbury and Bill and Melinda Gates, as well as members of the British royal family.

All leathers are by-products from the meat industry and – whenever possible – are locally sourced. A bespoke cabinet or safe might be covered in vellum (first picture: vellum side table), suede, sturgeon skin or even the legendary “Metta Catherina” reindeer hides, which were recovered intact after two centuries of immersion in the silt on the sea bed near Plymouth Sound, the precious cargo of a sunken 18th-century Baltic brigantine. Embellishments include fossils or shark teeth set in copper or bronze, which Rookledge hand-crafts in traditional tools, many of which date back hundreds of years.

But while his working methods might seem antiquated, Rookledge is certainly not stuck in the past. His latest project is an intricately bound leather book, which opens to reveal an incongruously modern iPad, sitting neatly in a hidden compartment between the pages.