To Love And Endure
Harry Owen on his abiding respect for leather as a material and craft. Hole & Corner meet him in his North London workshop to find out more...
Where did your love of leather come from?
I was led to leather by working in shoe repair and cobbling as a teenager. But I suppose that I saw that as work and didn’t fully engage with the material until university when I started making leather seats for a stool that I was designing. I wanted to make furniture but people seemed to be really interested in the leather.
I just fell in love with it and never looked back. It’s very satisfying when you get it right. You’re always learning something new. There’s thousands of different types of leather, and whenever you start a new project it might require a new skill or new innovation that you haven’t yet thought of. It keeps you busy.
Tell us about your workshop?
I was in my dad’s café one day and a woman overheard me complaining about how hard it was to find space in London. She said that she had some available space in the back of her store and that I could use it if I wanted to. It just kind of happened, you know.
Do you have a particular philosophy or set of values when approaching your work?
It’s more about balancing my values more than any specific ethos. Obviously, I have an affinity for sourcing my materials locally, but that’s not always possible. There’s always some kind of a trade off. My main value is that I want to make something not only durable but enduring.
Where does your commitment to handcraft come from?
I’ve never really had an option of doing anything else. Even at school, making things was what I did and I’ve just continued doing it.
How important is your muscle memory to your work?
You only realise how important it is when you begin to teach. When I see someone who hasn’t got it yet, that’s when it hits you. The pressure that you apply when you’re pairing edges or finding some instinct in the threading process comes to you only after doing it thousands and thousands of times.
What do you like about British leather?
The quality. For heavier bridal leathers it is second-to-none. I source my leather from artisan tanneries in either the West Midlands or Devon depending on what I’m looking for.
What’s your favourite type of leather to work with?
That’s like asking a wine connoisseur what’s your favourite type of wine. We’ll be here for hours [laughs]… Pass.
What’s this little machine in the corner?
It’s a Victorian hand-cranked pairing machine. The cobbler that I used to work for gave it to me as a leaving present. It used to be used for doing the bevel on leather soles, but I’ve fixed it up to do pairings on the edges of leather. But I rarely use it to be honest, I like to do pairing by hand.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?
Don’t give up your day job. I know that it sounds really horrible, but when you’re starting your own business you need some cash-flow. There are going to be times when there isn’t going to be work and you don’t want to be stagnating. Continuing to make stuff costs money.
A hole-and-corner is a secret place hidden away from the hustle and bustle of daily life: Where is your hole-and-corner?
Anywhere I have a guitar. If I have a guitar then my mind and hands are occupied and I’m happy.
Interview Nicholas Hitchcock
Photographs Chloe Winstanley