Welcome back to our continuing series on the artists, designers, and architects that inspire us here at Modern Fuel. We’ve taken a look at two hugely influential figures in the architecture and design space so far in our entries on John Pawson and Dieter Rams, and in this installment we examine the work of David Mellor.
Born and raised in Sheffield, England in 1930. Mellor was disinterested by every subject in school except art, according to a piece on his life by the BBC, and earned entry into a junior arts school-the Junior Art Department at the Sheffield College of Art-at the age of 11. There he received extensive training in crafting and metalwork.
The first thing he ever designed was a sweet dish, and from there he went on to design a set of award-winning cutlery, which he called ‘Pride’, while attending London’s Royal College of Art. His son Corin, who helps run his business today, explained his father’s journey into design in an interview with the BBC:
“…he went on to the Royal College of Art in London and designed a range of cutlery called Pride, which was released in 1953. That was his most famous range of cutlery. It was the first student design to be manufactured and was made by the Sheffield firm Walker and Hall. He won around 20 design awards after its launch and it's still being made today, it is David Mellor Designs' best selling range.”
Pride was, according to the BBC, the first student design to be commercially manufactured. Mellor’s name is still synonymous with the cutlery he designed today, but there were many, many other projects he undertook before he passed away in 2009. If you live in the United Kingdom, you probably see them every day and might not know it.
In 1965, the Ministry of Transport commissioned Mellor to redesign their traffic lights. The light filter system and pedestrian crossing signals he gave them were clean, efficiently designed, and are still in use today.
He also designed a series of hacksaws in 1970 for Sheffield manufacturing company James Neil, dubbing them the Eclipse hacksaws. The junior hacksaw from the Eclipse line, made for school children, is also still used in the UK today. The garden shears designed for Burgon and Ball opened were another success. Corin spoke on his father’s adaptability as a designer with the BBC as well:
“When you are designer you should be able to design more than one thing. His philosophy was that you should be able to design buildings, tools, anything. He was a designer across a wide spectrum. As a designer you are always looking at things. It is about taking in visual images whilst walking around.”
Mellor had a mind for design, taking inspiration from the shapes and colors of everything around him and mulling over how they could be incorporated into his work. Before he retired in his 70s, Mellor opened multiple shops to showcase his cutlery, and built his name around that product, opening stores in Chelsea, Manchester, Covent Garden, and Butler’s Wharf.
Mellor’s work earned him numerous honors, including his being named the youngest Royal Designer for Industry at the age of 32, charing the Design Council Committee of Inquiry in the 80s, and being named a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Much like the other designers on our list, we respect Mellor because of the legacy he created that continues to live on. Through his appreciation for true craftsmanship paired with a desire for perfection, he left a lasting impact on the world. People encounter his work every day, whether that’s waiting for the traffic light at an intersection, sitting at the bus stop, or at their own dining room table.
Currently, Mellor’s design firm, which is named after him and continues to do business with Corin as creative director, is holding a pop-up showcase of his work at the London Design Festival entitled Traffic Lights to Teaspoons. The tagline: seven decades of great design.
“He was a very determined person,” Corin said of his father, “I will remember him for that. He would go on and on and on until something was right. In design that often makes a big difference. Going that little bit further.”
Everyone who makes something probably wants to be remembered that way: the one who went a little further, pushed a little harder, to get it right.
Be sure to come back for the next installment in our series, where we explore the work of another fascinating artist, architect, or designer that inspires our work here at Modern Fuel.