Outside the Box: shoemaker Sebastian Tarek on crafting The Keyring from leather and copper for our moving-in box
outside the box
At The Modern House, we have made our first foray into designing products. Our moving-in box is a design-led welcome gift, a collection of individually-made objects that we give to people when they buy a home through our agency.
In our series ‘Outside the Box’, we’re talking to the designers, artisans and craftspeople involved, meeting them in their studios and exploring their creative processes.
Here, we meet shoemaker Sebastian Tarek at his studio in Shoreditch to discuss his background, work and the leather keyring he contributed to the box.
“I am somewhere between the 14th and 18th generation of shoemakers in my family – the exact number is up for debate. I had no idea about that history when I was first inspired to get into shoemaking, so there’s a strange sense of inevitability to my fate!
“My mum is from London, so I have family here. I was sitting at my auntie and uncle’s house on Christmas Day in 1994, watching the film Hans Christian Andersen and thought, ‘that looks like a nice life, running around the countryside making shoes and telling stories’. It all seemed so romantic.
“I went back to Australia and enrolled in an adult education course on shoemaking. I was in the first year and my grandmother told me about my great-great-grandfather and the history of shoemaking in our family.
“I moved back to London in the 1990s but ended up working in pubs. After a while, and a bit more training, I eventually ended up working for various West End couture shoemakers and a bespoke orthopaedic shoe company in Marylebone.
“Then, I set up my own company, crafting handmade bespoke shoes from the first measurements to the last stitch.
“When Faye Toogood and her studio approached me about The Modern House’s moving-in box, I thought that it would be good to contribute a leather keyring to the box.
“The actual ring part of the object evolved over the course of a few other projects. I made a pair of clogs and, in the process, had found an amazing company who make custom nails.
“They also make copper screws, and I got quite into the material off the back of seeing them. I kind of got this idea into my head about wanting to make a copper ring.
“Once I had mastered the ring element, I started looking at the leather. I work quite a lot with a tannery in Derbyshire called Claytons, who specialise in architectural leather. They are one of only four tanneries in the world who make cordovan, which is horse buttock tanned in a very specific way.
“It produces a beautiful-looking leather that can take debossing well, so I took it together with the copper and started working on the specifics of the design.
“Because I had become interested in copper, I think this project came at a good time. I’ve made small leather goods before but, weirdly, I don’t think of myself as an artisan; I’m more of a jobbing craftsman.
“I become quite focused when I’m making shoes because it takes seven days of labour just to get a pair ready for a fitting.
“Working on smaller objects like the keyring is more straightforward, but they give you a real sense of satisfaction and gratification in a much smaller turnaround, so it was a lot of fun to do.”