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Publication Date: 2012-02-27

Behind the Design

Q&A with Will Fisher of Jamb

Most Americans may not even recognize the word “chimneypiece” as part of their interior-design lexicon, but across the pond that marble mantle surrounding the hearth is as important a statement piece as any hand-tufted sofa or cast-iron chandelier. For intrepid hunter-gatherer Will Fisher, “flying, driving, and exploring the world looking for needles in haystacks highlighted how apparent it was that these were antique pieces we’d never see created again.” So Fisher and Charlotte Freemantle (a Dickensian name if ever there was one), the duo behind London-based Jamb, decided to manufacture their own—both historically accurate designs and “fantasy pieces we couldn’t find anywhere.” Now you can browse these homespun, “new antiques” on Jamb’s Dering Hall storefront. We asked Fisher to tell us more about his passion for chimneypieces, British cheekiness, and more.

Q: You’re known for your incredible mantlepieces and fireplace accessories. How did you become interested in them?

A: I suppose the truth is that I was a dull boy obsessed with country houses, and I met an antiques dealer through a schoolmate and he introduced me to a whole world of interiors. I learned that a room necessitates a focal point, and from the moment they got the science right in the 18th century, the chimneypiece was the anchor of the room. I became obsessed with them, and bought and sold chimneypieces when I was 10 through newspapers (I even got arrested for underage selling); then I worked at Christie’s, and then for a guy who had a fireplace shop. In my heart, I am an anglophile, as is Charlotte. I don’t think we could have done anything else with our lives.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic?

A: Country House style is close, but it is a sort of misnomer—it’s not attics and servants quarters! We create accessories from sculptures to chimneys, anything that looks pleasing and not over-restored. And of course, it all works perfectly well in a city home. These are pieces meant to be used as part of everyday life, not precious and kept untouched.

Q: What is your creative process like?

A: I take pictures of objects and vocalize the way I see them transformed to our artisans. The Convex Globe, for example, grew out of a fantasy, really. We took a globe form that we’d used before, added the disks of glass, and then used the top from another lantern. Kind of like a Frankenlantern. We layer one concept on top of another, but make sure that the final product is completely plausible, and 100% historically “correct.”

Q: Where do you look for inspiration?

A: Travel, mostly. The Orsini Lantern, for example, started off life as a lantern body that I found in Italy. There was something about the base that I warmed to, but the body was too long. So I reduced the body, created the top, put the scales on. It’s a combination of Asian Art Deco and modern sculpture, but the idea really just came from what I’d seen around me and what was on the top of my mind.

Q: Your Ruhlmann Wine Table and some of your benches have such interesting curves. How would you recommend using them in a home?

A: That was based on a 20th-century design, slightly tweaked, though the final product is pretty close to the original. The shape just called to me. Same with the Saltram Garden Bench. It has a back that is reminiscent of a spider’s web—and in actuality, it is textbook incorrect, but it works sublimely. It came from Saltram House, an old country pile, and had been deemed unrestorable by the dealers. I ended up buying it and we used it as a pattern. It’s sophisticated in that it’s so bizarre, playing with proportion in a dangerous way. I would use it in a garden or a conservatory. There’s nothing quite like it in the marketplace. It’s truly one of a kind.

Q: So many of your pieces at Dering Hall have incredible curvature and shape. The Footman’s Chair, the Bucranium Mirror. Where do these shapes come from?

A: The Bucranium was taken off an antique mirror, and I loved that ox skull. It’s a Roman detail that was a symbol of power and strength and was adopted in the 18th century by William Chambers. Today, it’s lost all its symbolism, but when things have such ancestry, it’s hard not to naturally bond with them. The Footmans chair almost looks like it has Mickey Mouse ears—and we English love cheekiness. I’ve used the Footman’s for years as dining chairs—I put them around a wooden dining room table. But they are open to interpretation, really.

Q: And those lanterns and globes! Some are Chinese, some are very English, some I can’t even describe. How do you use them in a home?

A: They work inside or outside. They’re so unique they really don’t have a precedent. We’ve used the globes in modern or even classic environments. In a vestibule, in a drawing room, in a hallway, in the stairs—they are pretty flexible in how they can be deployed.

Q: What are some tried-and-true tricks you have for making a home feel comfortable and fresh?
A: Well, of course, I love there to be a fireplace as the centerpiece instead of a television, and it should have an amazing chimneypiece around it. I love the Hyde, the Ovington, the Bainbridge. I kind of like them all, they’re like children. And then you fill your hearth with the firelog dogs and some fragrant wood, and your house is instantly a home.

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