Hand-Crafted Finishes By Simon Orrell

Simon Orrell’s hand-crafted finishes in shagreen, parchment, straw marquetry, selenite, mica and shell

Simon Orrell Designs green straw drinks cabinet
Image: Green straw marquetry drinks cabinet

Designers search out wonderfully unique products to add colour and texture to interiors. Enter Simon Orrell with an arsenal of exotic, luxury finishes: shagreen, parchment, cracked eggshell, mica, selenite, mother of pearl, straw marquetry- to name a few. The delicacy of these finishes requires skilful and experienced expertise when applied to furniture, joinery and accessories. For over 20 years, Simon has been perfecting these skills, working with interior designers and private clients on commissions worldwide, creating that one special item, or 24 as may be the case (read on)!

Simon Orrell Designs Shagreen drop leaf table
Image: Shagreen drop leaf table

1. What is shagreen?

Shagreen is the skin of the stingray.  There are many species of stingray and we use Non-CITES stingray that is a by-product of the food industry

2. How was it used in furnishings historically?

It was originally used on Japanese sword handles, because the denticles are barbed, so it grips into the hand if someone tries to pull the sword away.

From the 17th century it was used on scientific instruments and then at the tail end of the art nouveau era, Paul Iribe and Clément Rousseau used shagreen to cover a piece of furniture and it became an overnight sensation as one of the defining materials of luxury art deco.

Simon Orrell Designs serpentine shagreen cabinet and fugu box
Image: Serpentine shagreen cabinet and fugu box

3. What is parchment?

Parchment is the untanned limed skin of an animal, commonly sheep, cow, pig or goat. Goat is the most popular for furniture.

4. How was it used in furnishings historically?

Carlo Bugatti was the first to use it as accents on furniture at the end of the 19th century, but it was the art deco designers and furniture makers like Jean Michel Frank that applied it as a veneer to furniture.

Simon Orrell Designs parchment dressing room
Image: Parchment dressing room

5. What made you turn your hand to these lost forms of craft?

They’re stunning finishes and I fell in love with them. There was no documentation on how to work with these materials and I had to figure it out for myself. This is the challenge and the excitement that continues to interest me.

Simon Orrell Designs Adzed oak side table
Image: Adzed oak side table

6. When did you launch your business?

In 2001 part time, while I set up another business, and 2005 full time.

7. Where does the manufacturing process take place?

We do shagreen, parchment, selenite (gypsum) and mica here in our London workshop near Chelsea Harbour.  Straw marquetry is produced in our workshop in North Wales, and shagreen, parchment, chicken eggshell and marine shell in our workshop in The Philippines.

Simon Orrell Designs Apslund drinks cabinet in selenite and bronze
Image: Apslund drinks cabinet in selenite and bronze

8. How do you begin to create a bespoke design?

We talk to the client about the space and functionality, the materials and colours they want to use and the style they are looking for. We then create initial drawings to portray our ideas and from that we can create 3d renderings.

Simon Orrell Designs Selenite bedside with antiqued brushed brass
Image: Selenite bedside with antiqued brushed brass

9. Can you give us an example of one of your most exciting commissions?

We were approached by a German interior designer to produce 24 pieces of furniture for a house outside Moscow with a very loose brief, so we were able to propose some amazing pieces in straw and selenite and marine shell.  We spent six months manufacturing all 24 designs which were commissioned.

Simon Orrell Designs green straw drinks cabinet
Image: Green straw drinks cabinet detail

Simon Orrell’s handmade finishes provide an opportunity to add imagination and flair to interior design. Skilled artisans apply a range of raw materials, from the humble to the rare, to furniture, joinery, walls and other surfaces, transforming the ordinary to extraordinary with mica, selenite, shagreen, straw marquetry, lustrous shells and cracked eggshell. Simon Orrell’s bespoke, handcrafted service opens a door to creating unique contemporary and traditional interiors.

Simon Orrell

By appointment: Unit 12, Townmead Business Centre, William Morris Way, London SW6 2SZ

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7371 9339

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