Jacob Leth-Espensen chose the idyllic village of Old Rye in the lake district of mid-Jutland as the home of something reminiscent of an inventor’s creative cave – full of sketches, drawing tools, craftsman’s attire and a small machine shop. Jacob Leth-Espensen is in his element, surrounded by finished and half-completed models and prototypes. This is where he moves around, tweaking the models, or sits deep in thought at his work bench while a new idea takes form in his mind and slowly comes to life on his sketch pad. Fledgling ideas are appraised and challenged. Most are discarded.

- As a rule, the task is defined in advance. It could, for example, be a commission for a new kitchen knife. Every time it’s like starting from scratch. I always start with my pencil as it is the fastest way of trying out ideas. A new idea always pops up when I sketch because there is a kind of feedback between thought and drawing that you do not get from a computer. After 50 sketches, it can happen – all of a sudden. The right idea! That’s when I turn on the computer and carry on drawing. The computer gives me an idea of the outcome, but I always need to go back to my workshop to stay on the right track.

- I listen a lot to what I call bodily experience. Does it feel right in my hands? Does it have the right size and balance? Which materials go well together? It may well look perfect and well-proportioned on the computer screen, but what you see are still only relative factors. That’s why it’s important for me to keep feeling it all the time in the true sense of the word,” Jacob Leth-Espensen explains.

Jacob Leth-Espensen sees his work as a process and a constant dialogue in which he discusses different steps and phases with those involved.

- The way things look is the result of a work process whose length varies according to their complexity. There are many details that need to harmonise as a whole so that they function in everyday life and can be manufactured physically. I am always in close contact with the customer as my ideas need to be part of a form of strategic design, often as part of a series or a design family over a number of years. As a designer, I also focus on how I can give things their own independence with an extra finesse that consumers find attractive. That appeals to me.

As an example, Jacob Leth-Espensen describes the development of the herb chopper for Zone Denmark.

- I was working on a complete knife series for Zone Denmark and was preoccupied by the values that the customer and I wanted to imbue in them. We were looking for a Nordic expression when I was suddenly inspired by the Greenlandic ulo knife,” Jacob Leth-Espensen continues. “The Mezzaluna knife slowly took shape in a soft and organic cradle form that matched well with the way the knife is used. The handle, for example, has an ergonomic twist with room for the hand and that protects the knuckles. The design has clear Nordic roots and there is a tinge of yin-yang with two blades embracing each other, enabling each to be punched out in the same process, thus making for a highly efficient use of resources.”