Kaymet – metal trays
The Kaymet factory is a small modern light-industrial unit in the shadow of Millwall football ground in south London. Motivated by a passion for keeping manufacturing alive in London, architects Ivana and Mark Brearley have recently joined in on running the business.
The company dates back to 1947, when it was set up by the father of current general works manager Ken Schrieber. 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 Abigail's Party comes to mind. 'How many people were employed in those days?' I ask Mark. 'Over two hundred,' he tells me. 'That was at much larger premises on the Old Kent Road.' 'And how many do you have here now?' 'Six and growing,' he replies.
Mark shows me the various processes involved in the making of each tray. 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 going on; 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 an fresh option for the base of the tray. 'Renewed vibrancy at companies like Kaymet reflects fresh interest in manufacturing,' says Mark. '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!' 'Oh my God,' I think 'there's enough there for Real Craft 2, Real Craft 3, and more!'
After my visit to Kaymet, and my meeting with Mark, Ivana, and Ken, I'm more sure than ever that craft and making-by-hand is alive and well – you just have to seek it out.