Corin Mellor is bringing his own creative flair to the famous design company founded by his late father. Mike Smith reports from Hathersage
Corin Mellor was brought up in a live-work complex in Sheffield, where the design studio and workshop of his father, the celebrated designer and master metalworker David Mellor, was entered directly from the family’s living quarters. As a child, he would happily pop through the cleaning cupboard that masked the entrance to the work space and ‘fiddle about’ with the materials he found there. By his early teens, he was making skateboards to his own design and selling them to his school friends.
Three decades on from his formative years as a design entrepreneur, Corin is moving with his wife and two children into the living quarters of the second live-work complex established by his father, on the site of a redundant gasworks in Hathersage. The family’s new home is an adjunct to a former retort house, which now contains the offices of David Mellor Design. Faced in local stone on the outside, the building has a first-floor interior that looks like a superior loft conversion, with steel beams, pine ceilings and bare walls giving it the same clean lines and pared-back beauty found in all the company’s products.
I met Corin in his new living quarters, situated just a stone’s throw from the David Mellor cutlery factory, which became his sole responsibility after the death of his father in 2009. Known as the Round Building, the factory stands on the base of a former gas-holder and was designed by the distinguished architect Sir Michael Hopkins. Renowned for its hi-tech design, complete with ‘floating roof’, and its deference to the environment, the factory is one element in a unique visitor attraction which includes a fabulous design museum, an up-market shop and a caf� with an irresistible selection of home-made cakes.
Regular visitors will have noticed some recent changes to the goods on sale in the shop and, in the months to come, they will become aware of exciting alterations to the museum area and the grounds. These developments are a sure sign that Corin is finding time to put his own distinctive stamp on the firm, despite the pressures of moving house and the recent arrival of a new addition to his family.
Before describing these changes, Corin recalled his training in product design at Kingston Polytechnic, where he created a ‘modern market stall’ for his degree show. When I asked if his innovative design had gone down well, he said, ‘You could say that, because it actually fell down, with oranges spilling everywhere, but at least it was noticed and got me a job with YRM Architects, where I designed interior fittings for the new Angel underground station and baggage-handling apparatus for Gatwick Airport.’
After leaving YRM, Corin was employed on the design and manufacture of fittings for his father’s new retail outlet in London’s Docklands, fashioned by the architect responsible for the Round Building. After its completion, he moved to Derbyshire to work alongside his father, helping on new cutlery designs and producing his own furniture products, most notably an iconic one-piece table and matching stool, sculpted in birch plywood. His responsibilities gradually increased as David’s health deteriorated.
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Three years before his father’s death, a glazed link building was constructed between the shop and the offices on the Hathersage site, in order to house a caf� and the David Mellor Design Museum, planned as a tribute to the genius of a man who brought new standards of design to cutlery, silverware and all manner of street furniture, including the national traffic-light system which is still in use. Michael Hopkins was the architect for the new-build and Corin the designer of all the interior fittings.
In the last few years, Corin has been turning his hand to much more than the design of interior fittings and furniture. On display alongside a dozen classic David Mellor cutlery designs in the shop, there is the very first cutlery set designed entirely by his son. Called ‘Chelsea’, it comprises no fewer than twelve different pieces, including separate ice-cream spoons and dessert forks. Every knife, fork and spoon in the stainless-steel set has a beautiful fluency of line.
Explaining the design process behind the new product, Corin said, ‘I began with a hand-drawn sketch on paper, which I then took to James, my design assistant, who transferred the drawing to computer. We made a 3-D plywood model of the design in the workshop to get the ‘look’ and then made a crude metal version to get the ‘weight and feel’, before putting the design back in the computer. Lots of going in and out of sketch-making and computer-modelling followed until we were satisfied. After a year on the design process, we were ready to go into production in the Round House with our team of craftspeople.’
Reflecting on the process and the product, Corin said: ‘I love the mix of craftsmanship and technology that goes into the design and I like the idea that every piece is a balance between form and function, because it is designed for a specific purpose, but looks good in its own right. I like to think that we make cutlery which is "jewellery for eating". Our production run is small, because we put quality before quantity, and each of the sets is packed in boxes individually hand-signed by our calligrapher, who has worked with us for 40 years.’
In the past, carefully-selected glassware and china made by other producers has been sold in the shop alongside David Mellor cutlery, but Corin is now producing his own designs for glassware and fine-bone china, with all the usual painstaking to-ing and fro-ing between sketchpad and computer, but these particular products are being manufactured by skilled craftspeople elsewhere, rather than by the team in the Round Building. And that famous Corin Mellor one-piece table and accompanying stool from the sixties is in demand again, but manufacture is now in beech from sustainable sources, rather than birch.
Explaining another departure from the past, Corin said, ‘Until recently, our cutlery could be purchased from about 30 different stockists, but we’ve cut that right down. I much prefer people to come here, look at the design history in the museum, take a tour of the factory and then buy a little of what they’ve seen. We do also sell from our own website and our products are particularly popular in America.’
Corin’s third innovation will take place in the grounds of the visitor centre. Ever since the link-building was constructed, David Mellor’s street furniture, from benches and litter bins to pillar boxes and traffic lights, has been displayed in the long, narrow gap between the display cabinets and the caf�, almost in the manner of an indoor street. Corin is planning to take all these artefacts out of the museum and place them in a real street which will run from the car park to the shop.
Of course, the fourth big change is Corin’s move with his wife Helen and sons, Hector and Morris, into the living quarters on the Hathersage site. Since David’s death, his widow, the celebrated biographer Fiona MacCarthy (profiled in our April issue) has continued to live there, but she is now moving into a new house in Hathersage designed, of course, by Michael Hopkins. Like his father before him, Corin will be bringing up his family in a live-work complex – and young Hector is already happily fiddling about with materials in the workshop. Like father, like son – again.
The country shop, design museum and caf� at Hathersage are open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and on Sunday, 11am to 5pm. The factory is open from Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, when it is usually possible to see cutlery being made.
Corin Mellor’s Derbyshire choice
The Upper Derwent Valley / Fairholmes Visitor Centre
I hugely enjoy cycling this eleven-mile circuit around Derwent and Howden Reservoirs with my seven year old son. The views are absolutely breathtaking and you can even stop at the west tower of Derwent Dam for a history lesson on the bouncing bomb.
The Cavendish Club
This is a great place to take children for an early supper. Originally set up as social club for the Chatsworth employees, its facilities even include a swimming pool.
It’s like Blackpool in the Peak Park: unbelievable on a hot summer’s day with its array of amusement arcades and motorbikes on show. It has the feel of a traditional seaside resort with its cable cars, theme park and other entertainments, but it’s about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK.
I have always been a keen sailor and to have such an amazing expanse of water in Derbyshire is great. The fact Carsington also has an excellent fully-equipped sailing club on its shores makes it even better.
The Sculpture Exhibitions at Chatsworth House
Obviously it is difficult not to appreciate any world class sculpture but when the artwork has been carefully set in Chatsworth’s amazing grounds it is just irresistible.
Although they are not very healthy, I find them absolutely delicious and have a real struggle stopping myself from eating them all the time.