Design, Craft and Technology: The Many Talents of the Late David Mellor

‘David Mellor was Britain’s greatest post-war product designer’ - Sir Terence Conran

The late silversmith and designer David Mellor is well known for the collaborative design of the Round Building - the unique, purpose-built factory which he created to house the manufacturing of his self-designed cutlery and knife sets, in Hathersage, Derbyshire - although an equally notable achievement of his was the redesign of the UK's traffic light system in the 1960s which is still in use today.

Mellor built his factory in collaboration with architect Sir Michael Hopkins and structural engineers Whitby and Bird in 1990, and since its completion it has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Financial Times Architecture at Work Award, the RIBA National Award, the Civic Trust Award, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England Award and the BBC Design Prize for the Environment. The Round Building, often referred to as a ‘minor masterpiece’, has also been named by The Independent as one of the ’50 Best British Buildings of the 20th Century.’ 

Built on a 5-acre site close to the Peak National Park, it is a highly functional and technologically advanced structure which enhances the backdrop of stunning rural countryside. The building has been placed on the site of the area’s old gasworks and so its spherical gas-holder foundation formed the perfect basis for the creation of a new factory, as David Mellor didn't like waste the re-use of the circular foundation was ideal. This circular form is ideally suited to the successive processes of cutlery production and the result is a wonderful example of a combination of traditional materials and modern structural techniques. A thick rim made from local gritstone runs around the perimeter of the building, from the top of which a column-less giant bicycle-wheel structure rises towards its glass central hub allowing natural light to penetrate the interior. This structure supports the roof itself, leaded on the exterior in a conventional way and internally built up of a series of double-skinned sectional panels from Finnish pine plywood. These hook onto circular purlins, allowing natural ventilation by the passage of air through these panels. 

David Mellor Design are based in the Round Building, and operate as a specialist manufacturing and retail organisation run by Mellor’s son since his passing in 2009. They consider themselves a design-orientated company, striving to focus on the visual standards and quality of the products on sale. The factory is open to visitors, offering tours on the weekends, encouraging people to view the making of the cutlery and also gain an insight into the company and the history of the building. The design process behind the pieces is surprisingly low-tech, mostly being completed by hand. This personal effort and attention to detail explains why Mellor’s famous cutlery is a popular yet useful collectable, and why it is relatively expensive. Members of the public can also visit their classy in-house café, design museum and smart shop - the only other being on Sloane Square, London. They sell an expertly curated range of professional kitchenware which of course includes Mellor’s famous cutlery and knife collections.  

'For me, in all aspects of my activity - from the architecture of our buildings, the selection of products for my shops, down to the choice of the right rivet for my cutlery - to aim for the highest visual standards has been  paramount and perfecting this skill has been one of the main aims of my life as a designer.' - David Mellor, 1984