Alexandra Llewellyn: Passion and The Game


A derivative of the game was found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb; Plato describes a form of the game noting on its popularity; and the Romans used it to play a classical version of strip poker. After 5000 years in existence, the game of backgammon has long been associated with the leaders and aristocracy of ancient civilisations such as Persia, Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Far East. So it seems only fitting that Decorex is playing host this year to a designer of exquisite luxury boards for the game.

British designer Alexandra has played backgammon for as long as she can remember, and her love of the game has now evolved into a career designing beautiful boards. Launched in December 2010, Alexandra Llewellyn Designs embody an exquisitely unique vision of the oldest recorded board game in the world. Working with an incredible network of British craftsman, making any design and use of material possible, each piece is built to the very highest of standards. Every detail is created in close conversation with the client, creating a truly original way to commemorate memories and life achievements.

We caught up with Alexandra ahead of the show to learn more of her passion for the game...

Can you tell us a little about the history of the business?

I launched with 4 backgammon designs in December 2010, and we continue to make specifically bespoke backgammon boards and games tables. The majority of designs we now make are one-offs and we send our designs all over the world.

I work with an incredible network of British craftsman, covering all materials and techniques. Every commission is different with endless possibilities to create the clients vision / tell a story.

You have a strong passion for the game of backgammon, how did this come about?

I have played backgammon all my life, and my love of the game was cemented as a child in Cairo where I played endless games with my Egyptian step-grandfather. As I travelled more my interest in backgammon evolved, over countless games. I became enthralled by the idea that board games operate as an independent vocabulary requiring neither common language nor culture.

The idea of board games as a conversation is interesting, can you tell us more?

We have created an example of this especially for Decorex - The Frida Board. All custom designs are so personal to the client, many based on love. With this in mind, I have created a design as if it were commissioned by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera based on their love affair, with beautiful marquetry of the Mexican flag emblazoned on the top of the box.

What inspired you to turn this passion into a profession as a designer?

I trained as a fine artist, and have always loved materials. I have always made things and created some backgammon boards as presents in the past. I used them as vehicles to experiment with designs and materials…and so the story began. It is a great way of combining my love of painting and making.  

You have a network of British craftsmen who work on the boards, can you tell us more?

As an example, we have some incredible craftsmen who polish the stones we use for our playing pieces using original Victorian machines they use to make scientific lenses. They even have a crystal ball polishing machine – I love spending time there seeing the myriad of work they do.  Very often each person we work with is a specialist in what they do; we can sometimes work with up to 25 people on one design whether for marquetry, leather, finishing etc.

So you work with a variety of materials?

I use mainly wood for my backgammon board designs, inspired by playing in Egypt and Morocco; I love the sound of the clack of the dice on a wooden board. However we can of course make our board in leather too. I love the fact that we can make any idea a possibility.

Can you give us any sneak hints about your plans for the show?

I will be showcasing a collaboration with the renowned photographer Terry O’Neill. The board combines some of his most well known swinging sixties images of movie goddess’ such as Bardot, Raquel Welch, Goldie Hawn, Jean Shrimpton, Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy. The Goddesses board is crafted from the finest ebony wood, with mother of pearl and glass playing pieces, and dice-shakers engraved with Terry’s camera ‘click’ fingerprint. The O’Neill Goddesses Collection is limited to 20 pieces, each personally signed by Terry O’Neill.

Sounds wonderful! Will you be showing any other boards?

I will also be showcasing the rounded ‘Palm Backgammon Table’.  This was inspired by my ‘Lucky 6’s’ circular backgammon board I created for the Clarks re-booted project, for which I designed a solid brass circular backgammon board drawing inspiration from landmines: the project is partnered with the Landmine removal charity The HALO Trust. This is to be auctioned in October. The ‘Palm Table’ is a unique way of playing backgammon – it also has a circular flip to be used for card games or general table use. It is beautifully carved out of Oak and Sycamore, with the palm design marquetry on the backgammon table top.     

We have also created a design especially for the Decorex pressroom using your colours this year and based around the tools involved in luxury design.

What are you thoughts on the current meaning of the word ‘luxury’?

I believe the biggest luxury is time with friends and family – this is something that drew me towards creating beautiful games.

We also use only the best materials and British craftsmen to create our unique designs. Keeping the British flag flying to me is important in creating a luxurious product. I feel knowing the story & history behind a piece is extremely important. I create something I like to think will be something families will have in many years to come – a timeless classic with a meaning behind it.

What is the future of luxury for you?

To continue the innovation and exploration in design and materials that is possible when making things in the UK – with a strong awareness of the effects of what we make has on the environment.

Join us at Decorex 2015 to see more form Alexandra at this year’s show!