David Mellor was one of the most renowned British designers of the 20th century. Born in Sheffield in 1930, he gained an international reputation not only as a designer but also as a manufacturer, craftsman and retailer. During his youth, more than half of Sheffield working population was employed in the cutlery and steel industries, including his father who worked as toolmaker for the Sheffield Twist Drill Company. Sheffield, the Steel City had a significant influence on his career, building his reputation on metalwork manufacture and design, especially cutlery.
At the age of twelve, Mellor started his studies at the Junior Art Department of Sheffield Art School , continued at the Sheffield Art School, where he showed a clear aptitude to metalwork and manifested an interest in contemporary design. Mellor was offered a place at the Royal College of Arts form where he graduated in 1954. While a student at the RCA he designed his first cutlery, “Pride”, developing his own design language and craft skills: a combination of tradition, an aesthetic vision and machine production. Mellor followed the philosophy that an everyday object, such as cutlery, should be pleasing to look at, hold and use.
After graduating, Mellor returned to Sheffield and set up a silversmithing workshop and an industrial design consultancy in Eyre Street. During the 60s David Mellor’s career flourished, receiving public acknowledgement in 1962 when he was elected the youngest ever Royal Designer for Industry at the age of 31. Among the works of this first two decades stand out the design of bus shelters and the redesign of the national traffic signal system, produced by the Nottinghamshire street lighting manufacturer Abacus, the development of a new square post box, arousing controversy among the public as it broke from the traditional pillar box or the design of an inexpensive minimalist set of stainless steel cuter for use of in government canteens in hospitals, schools, prisons and railways. In 1969, he opened his first shop on Sloan Square in London taking a step further on being a designer and manufacturer, and embracing a new role as a retailer.
In Sheffield, Mellor decided to set up his workshop and design studio alongside his home, firstly, in a modernist building on 1 Park Lane, and later, on 1973, in Broom Hall, a 15th century mansion with Georgian additions, the restoration of which received an Architectural Heritage Year Award on the integration of the cutlery workshops into the building. In the following decades Mellor became even a more prolific and renowned designer, with the Chinese Ivory cutlery set becoming one of his most popular designs, being chairman of the Crafts Council (1982-84) and a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum (1983-8). By 1990 Broom Hall was outgrew and Mellor decided to build a cutlery factory near the village of Hathersgate in the Peak District National Park, followed in 2006 by the opening of The David Mellor Design Museum.
David Mellor, who retired in 2005, died on May 7th 2009, having gained a unique position in late 20th century British design.
Spalding, Frances, “David Mellor: Influential designer whose classic and innovative work ranged from cutlery to street furniture”, The Independent, 8 May 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/david-mellor-influential-designer-whose-classic-and-innovative-work-ranged-from-cutlery-to-street-furniture-1681020.html [accessed 18 February 2015]
Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia – David Mellor (designer),
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Design Museum – David Mellor, http://design.designmuseum.org/design/david-mellor [accessed 18 February 2015]
David Mellor Design – David Mellor CBE, RDI Biography, http://www.davidmellordesign.com/whoWeAre/dmBiography.php [accessed 18 February 2015]