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Every piece Soane creates, whether furniture, lighting or fabrics, holds a story, from its historic design influences to meticulous manufacturing by our skilled British craftsmen. At Soane we thrive on exchanging these stories – they capture our imaginations and enrich our daily lives. The Journal offers an opportunity to take these conversations further and delve into other subjects that excite and inspire us. We warmly invite you to share in our musings

Lulu Lytle

Founder & Creative Director

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Casting Naturalistic Designs

Naturalistic designs and details regularly appear in Soane Britain’s collections. Creative Director Lulu Lytle, cannot resist the lure of a little creature – whether beast, bird or insect – enriching a fabric pattern, or an interesting flower, fruit or tree, such as a knobbly trunked palm lamp. These natural elements have remarkable appeal and add to the whimsical charm of Soane’s designs, each hand-made piece revealing subtle variations; what we like to call the “perfect imperfections.”

Soane’s Pineapple Lamp and Palm Lamps (see our previous post, ‘A Passion for Palms‘), are inspired by antique lights with delightful botanical details in trunks, roots and leaves – and elsewhere, the Hand and Bamboo and Nureyev Trolley Collections include realistic human hands. Only the highest quality casting is able to produce superb relief that, in turn, casts shadows and highlights details, as well as reflecting light to create wonderful atmosphere in a room. To produce these designs, Lulu sought out British craftsmen who are expert at traditional lost wax casting.

Lost wax casting is mostly associated with the art world, where its use allows sculptures to be reproduced to an exceptional standard that modern sand casting cannot achieve. The original antique hand and bamboo handles were discovered by renowned antique dealer and decorator Geoffrey Bennison and Lulu was thrilled to be able to recreate them for Soane. The Hand and Bamboo Handles are made by a 150-year-old family business that specialises in producing brass and bronze architectural hardware. Its lost wax casting craftsmen possess a great eye for detail, along with a determination to produce the best possible results.

The Lost Wax Casting Process

Casting begins with the production of a latex mould of each part of the antique handle. Using a scalpel, intricate details are hand-cut into moulds and any defects, such as air bubbles rectified. Wax replicas are made from the moulds and these are, in turn, attached to a waxed framework (a process known as ‘treeing up’).  The ‘tree’ is placed in a metal cylinder and ceramic poured around it within a vacuum chamber that ensures any air is removed from the ceramic. The ceramic is ‘cured’ in normal atmospheric conditions, then placed in a 280-degree kiln that removes all the wax from its internal cavities (‘de-waxing’). The mould making process is time-consuming and must address problems such as shrinkage, air gaps and ‘op tears’ (cracks that result when there is not enough ‘give’ in the mould). 

Prior to metal pouring, the ceramic mould is placed in an 800-degree kiln for 8 hours. It is then returned to the chamber where molten brass is added to the mould, the vacuum working to pull the metal into the thin sections and fine details. Once cool and solidified, the brass parts are removed from the tree (a process known as ‘fettling’), and sand-blasted ready for finishing.  

The handle parts are cleaned by hand, paying attention to, for example, crevices between the fingers and where the hand meets the bamboo. Next, they are hand-polished by experienced metal polishers and, if an antiqued look is required, an ageing process applied. Finally, the parts are hand-assembled with the two-part ‘bamboo’ inserted into the hand and then fitted to the rose. The result is a magnificent piece of traditional hardware that the craftsmen take great pride in making.

The distinctive Hand and Bamboo Door Handles may be ordered as a right hand or left hand version in a wide variety of finishes and look exceptionally smart on traditional double doors. A notable example is the antique brass pair mounted on the entrance doors to Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill in Mayfair. The smaller and simpler Hand and Bamboo Cupboard Handles add wonderful character to a room – we recently spotted a pair on wallpapered jib doors in Stacey Bewkes’ home (see her Quintessence blog post here).

The design theme continues in the newly launched Hand and Bamboo Wall Light with its ‘arm’ and neat, clasped hand. The idea of an arm supporting a light fitting is unusual, but not without precedent – Lulu vividly remembers first seeing an arm wall light as a child visiting the French château, Vaux-Le-Vicomteand Fortnum & Mason’s striking shop facade has a row of magnificent ‘armed’ torchieres. Lulu wryly recalls another example: the live wall lights (with moving arms supporting candelabras) in Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film ‘La Belle et Bête‘ – watch a film clip of the wonderfully atmospheric scenes here!

For more inspiration, see Soane’s Pinterest board ‘Hands In Art and Design.’

Top gallery: The Nureyev Trolley with Side Rails and Pineapple Table Lamp at the Soane Britain showroom; Soane Britain’s Hand and Bamboo Door Handles; Soane Britain’s Palm Lamp Collection; Soane Britain door handle designs; Detail of Soane Britain’s Nureyev Trolley.

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