Open Studios: Kaymet – A South London design icon

It is not every day you discover there is a design icon on your doorstep, but that is exactly what open studios producer Jordana found just off the Old Kent Road. Words and photos by Chris Eckersley of Real Craft
The Kaymet Factory dates back to 1947, when it was set up by the father of current general manager Ken Schreiber. Kaymet is best known for their design-icon metal trays, although in their 1960s and 70s heyday they also pioneered and popularised the typically-British domestic trolley – a sort of must-have accessory for all aspiring dinner-party hostesses (Mike Leigh’s play Abigail’s Party comes to mind).

Most of the machinery is old and highly specialised. Sheet metal and plastics are cut to size on a huge guillotine. Another machine radiuses the edges. Specially designed aluminium extrusions are made up in Cumbria, delivered in long lengths, and then cut to size and shaped to form the tray sides. Handles are cut from another extrusion and attached to the trays at left and right. There’s a lot of polishing and a lot of very careful hand work all done in a makeshift polishing shop made from a garden gazebo to keep the dust from spreading throughout the workshop.

The look and design of the trays has evolved through incremental improvements rather than radical rethinking, and herein lies the strength of the brand – it’s instantly recognisable as classic Kaymet. The latest development is the introduction of bright colour as a fresh option for the base of the tray. ‘Renewed vibrancy at companies like Kaymet reflects fresh interest in manufacturing,’ says Mark, an architect who joined in the running of the business with his wife Ivana. ‘The boundaries between the worlds of design and of making have been dissolving, talents have been mixing.’

‘Even in a city like London, where production is all but invisible, there is new momentum, new people joining in, businesses starting and being evolved, a conviction that we can make it well, and be proud.’

Mark’s hobby is the seeking out of small manufacturing businesses, pulling together a list of companies making things in London. Currently the total number on the list is over nineteen hundred.

‘Do you need any other suggestions of companies that might fit your theme of Real Craft?’ Mark asks me. ‘I know makers of such things as wallpaper, brassware, briar pipes, brushes, ceremonial hats, mannequins, bells, guns, eye-wear, bicycles, shoes, suits and shirts, beds, cars and laboratory glassware!’

Craft and making-by-hand is alive and well – you just have to seek it out.

Visit Kaymet during the Open Studios on the 9th & 10th September, and in the meantime, do not forget to follow their gorgeous Instagram feed!