Bill Amberg’s favourite bookcase

The leatherwork specialist transformed an old cherry tree in his garden into functional furniture that is peppered with family memories

Bill Amberg in his study with the bookcase he designed to complement the Edward Bulmer navy-blue wall
Bill Amberg in his study with the bookcase he designed to complement the Edward Bulmer navy-blue wall | Image: Sam Pelly

“When we moved into this house in Somerset 14 years ago, there was a very old cherry tree in the garden. It had stopped producing fruit but still had a lovely strong, straight trunk. After a couple of years, I thought I’d replace this lone, ailing tree with a new orchard. I didn’t want it to go to waste so I chopped it down and took the trunk to a local timberyard where they cut it into two-inch planks. I put them in the rafters of my barn and left them there for three years until the wood was completely stable and dry – and I had fully given thought to what I’d use it for. 

I have a very nice, cocoon-like study in the house and I wanted a bookcase that would complement the rich, Edward Bulmer navy-blue wall. I spoke to a local joiner called Paul Vincent, who makes very beautiful furniture, and commissioned him to craft the piece to my design. My thinking was to have sturdy but elegant shelves, partly inspired by David Mlinaric, as I’d noticed he uses thick boards but with a pretty thin, tapered front edge. I was also keen that the wood was not covered in a horrid tacky varnish, so it is simply sanded back. I love the cherry-wood colour and the way it looks with the blue walls. The shelves have beautiful vegetable-tanned leather detailing that I sourced from one of my favourite tanneries in Europe. It’s a particular cut of a cowhide – the shoulder section – which carries the most grain so it sits well with the natural character of the timber. 

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Our house was built in 1642 and the study has a stone mullion window with leaded lights and the original Blue Lias stone floor. The room looks out over Cogley Wood and used to be the coal store, so it’s a naturally cool space but makes for a very nice reading room – the perfect place to sit and contemplate. I keep a collection of books, maps and art publications on the shelves. I’m a keen reader, buy lots of reference books and collect catalogues from shows and galleries I like. Most of them are books on photographyarchitecture or furniture, but there are also recipe books and specialist titles about old cars and bikes. In other words, my collection represents a variety of passions. My favourite cookbook at the moment is from Gjelina, the restaurant in Venice Beach, LA, serving New American cuisine. I’m also enjoying Luciano Giubbilei’s book about gardens. I heard him speak recently at The Chapel, a wonderful restaurant and hub of the local community in nearby Bruton. As a result, we’re in talks about doing a furniture collaboration together.

There’s a wide and eclectic mix of books and objects on the shelves at the moment. As new ones arrive, the objects are shunted elsewhere – the books are definitely taking over! When the bookcase was a cherry tree standing in the garden, my three daughters and I used to pin targets to it and shoot our air rifles at it for practice. So when Paul was making the piece, he found various pellets in the wood. He was terribly nervous and said that perhaps he should take them out and fill in the holes with something more suitable. I said I’d be very happy to have my pellets preserved in the wood. It’s a family legacy.” 

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