It looks simple but this coin purse really is my most precious possession. I found it on the first visit I made to Venice with my wife in the 1990s. You know what Venice is like – you wander through this network of mesmerizing alleyways and get utterly lost. Down one of the streets we came upon a beautiful artisan leather store. I saw this purse and fell upon it.
The way it’s made goes back to the Renaissance. It is wet-moulded around a piece of wood, dried and painted, and then put together. It takes around 10 days to make each one. The Italians call it a tacco, which means ‘heel’, because it is the shape of the heel of your foot.
Coins in the bottom of your pocket are very annoying. Yet here they are gathered and controlled in the most elegant fashion possible. The fact that it changes weight according to how many coins you have is a useful by-product because you have a sense of how much change you have or haven’t got.
For me, the purse illustrates the brilliance of the human brain. It shows that you can take a basic material and, through human imagination, it can be transformed into something unique and useful. Terence Conran once told me that he was worried about designers drawing designs and sending them away to get made without experiencing the feel of the materials. His view is that you cannot design anything unless you understand the capabilities of your material. I completely agree.
In 100 years of modernism, we have lost sight of the beauty of the handcrafted and individual. But now I think there’s a resurgence in people’s appetites for the handmade. The digital revolution is brilliant and emancipating but scary too.
I am no artisan builder though I did make my desk. The top is from an old pine coffee table that my wife and I bought at Camden Market. The legs were originally on a Victorian garden table. It was languishing in a corner and had lovely crafted iron legs. I added the wooden top and, lo and behold, an ideal writer’s desk.
Oxford is the most beautiful city. Of course it’s my home but it is also a brilliant example of how you can combine the old and the new. It is a medieval city with some of the best contemporary architecture in the country. There are wonderful Arne Jacobsen and Zaha Hadid buildings.
I do all my writing in this room. I’m at the BBC during the week and then I come here and I’m looking out at the garden and it’s a different world. We found the corner cabinet at The Jam Factory in Oxford. The dark wood is very soothing in a writing room. It’s like the darkness of the purse, which I am holding in my hand right now.
Interview: Alice Hancock
Portrait: Grant Scott