For that unique gift, you’d be hard pushed to beat Purling London’s stunning exclusive chess boards. Founder Simon Purkis explains to Mark Kebble where the inspiration for Dark Chess came from, and why he can’t wait for Christmas in London

Let’s start at the beginning Simon – what was the inspiration for Purling London?

I first thought of the idea for our ‘Dark Chess’ set whilst playing the game on a beach at dusk. As the sun set, I found that it was becoming ever more difficult to identify and differentiate between the chess pieces. This added a fascinatingly stealthy element to the game and playing in the darkness got me thinking… I experimented with chess board illumination and discovered the effects of light and shadow that make Purling London Dark Chess unique. I also questioned why so many chess sets are brown varnished wood – it seemed a missed opportunity to have pieces in burnt orange, cobalt blue and wonderful hand-painted colours.

How tricky was it to get Dark Chess from concept to product?

As a Chartered Engineer, I love design and problem solving. We work very closely with our British manufacturer who hand-crafts every illuminated board to an incredibly high standard. We had two rounds of prototypes before reaching the final Dark Chess design, which has sold in standard and bespoke forms all over the world.

Purling London's exclusive chess boards

Simon Purkis, founder of Purling London

The press release for the company name-checks Saatchi Gallery and I have always felt your products were works of art. Is that how you approach the design?

Definitely. Art and chess have strong links throughout the past 1,500 years and the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Art of Chess’ exhibition in 2012 was excellent. It included fine art chess sets by Tom Friedman, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, all of whom have followed in the footsteps of greats including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.

We have collaborated with 20 British-based contemporary artists so far including Darren MacPherson, Damilola Odusote, Daniela Raytchev and Olivia Pilling. Every Purling London ‘Art Chess’ set is unique and hand-painted – traditional, hand-carved and very playable Staunton with a twist!

Do the artists you involve have a specific brief to follow, or do you give them free rein?

The artists receive technical guidelines and produce test pieces which we discuss. But the creative side is down to them – we are lucky to work with such talented artists who make the Art Chess range fresh and exciting.

Purling London's exclusive chess boards

Chess, but not as you know it… Work by Damilola Odusote

What new creations can we expect to see out and available to buy this Christmas?

Yes, there are always new sets being created! I can’t wait for our new series of ‘Street Art Chess’ which will be launched in time for the festive period. We’ve commissioned three renowned urban artists – Inkie, DS and Henry B – to design chess sets with spray paint and stencils. They will make a fantastic addition to the Purling range and will be stocked at Harrods. 

Why would a Dark Chess set make a unique gift?

Our Dark Chess would make a unique gift because there is nothing else like it!  You won’t find another illuminated chess board from any other company but Purling London. A Dark Chess set would be perfect for a chess lover or someone with a passion for striking, contemporary design.

Is it just for lovers of chess – or can anybody own one?

We’ve found our customers are interested in art, interior design, luxury and chess. Most chess companies concentrate on the passionate players, but our brand appeals to those new to the game, or who used to play when they were young and stopped. They look at our products and think, ‘I could really get back into chess’.

Purling London's exclusive chess boards

Art Chess by Darren MacPherson

I believe you are a resident of Maida Vale, so will you be staying local over the festive period?

Indeed I am. I love London during the Christmas period – it’s so peaceful. I’m looking forward to spending time with family and friends and enjoying a roast turkey and mince pies!

Where are your favourite local places for Christmas?

I like to walk on Hampstead Heath over Christmas, explore the market in Notting Hill and drink a beer or two at the Bridge House in Maida Vale.

Finally Simon, what are your plans for Purling London?

We are planning many events over the next few months including at Debut Contemporary gallery, London Chessboxing, the London Chess Classic and Library members club. Next year we will be further expanding our retailers internationally and launching some fantastic new products!

For more information, visit purlinglondon.com