Inspired by visits to Cairo, as well as the joy and clamour of street-side backgammon playing, the games Alexandra Llewellyn makes explore materiality – using not just wood, but leather, metal, glass and stones – transforming the experience of playing.
Having found a niche for herself in making exquisite backgammon boards and poker sets, it goes without saying that for Llewellyn, work is all about fun and games.
Her studio in East London is packed with material samples and examples of custom artwork from past projects – from precious stones sourced on annual trips to Jaipur, to a backgammon board inlaid with never-before seen images of Marilyn Monroe, taken by celebrated photographer Milton H. Greene.
Llewellyn works with about 20 different workshops throughout the UK to create her boards and sets, tapping each one for their specific expertise, ranging from dealing with expert craftsmen who line compartments and cases in leather, or engaging a skilled glasscutter (who also cuts meteorological lenses for NASA) to make playing pieces.
Her custom work makes these popular games deeply personal and at times biographical, using the stories of a client’s life to choose materials or create imagery. And then there are the sounds of the game: the sliding and clacking of pieces together; the rumbling roll of the die; the satisfying ‘click’ as you close the board after another wonderful game is done.
All these tiny but essential aspects show that Llewellyn’s games aren’t static objects – they move, make noise, and bring people together.