Madam Bottwright's Bureau by Mike Kann & Tim Burrell-Saward
by Harry / September 26, 2012

Madam Bottwright's Bureau is a restored reproduction Victorian bureau embedded with LED's, potentiometers, rotary encoders and piezo transducers to playfully help tell the story of it's owner, a Victorian era madam.

(Click the images below for full sized images)


Madam Bottwright's Bureau with all drawers locked.

The bureau was recently been shown at Tom Dixon's Dock Kitchen during London Design Week. It ss embedded with various electronic components to create an interactive object that tells the story of it's owner through hidden artifacts that only reveal themselves through play and exploration.


Match the colours of the top(blue) and bottom(red) LEDs to unlock a drawer.

The project was developed in collaboration with Tim Burrell-Saward and is a one-off piece commissioned for the first Traces exhibition in August 2012. The exhibition, held in a derelict East London pub, used a collection of specially made objects to tell the real-life history of the building and its owners.


Enter a combination code of three times with the clock hand to unlock a different drawer.

The focus was on a particularly infamous period during the Victorian era when the pub was used for, amongst other activities, gambling, smuggling, fencing and prostitution. Madam Bottwright, the landlord's wife and brothel madam, used to conduct her illicit trade, but being a lady of fine upstanding she hid her wrongdoings from prying eyes.


Avert the gaze of the three wise monkeys by turning their heads to face backwards to unlock another drawer.

The cabinet creates the methods of interaction using a variety of electronic inputs including LED's, potentiometers, rotary encoders and piezo transducers, while the drawers are locked with solenoids that will only allow access when the correct input is entered. These inputs include colour matching LEDs, entering certain times in a specific sequence and knocking in a certain rhythm in the right place.


Knock the rhythm of "Shave and a haircut, two pence" to open the last drawer.

As well as evidence of the Madam's secret life, including ledgers for the business and bundles of letters intended for her girls, each drawer contains a clue on how to open the next one.


View of an open drawer, showing the solenoid that acts as an electronic lock.

Says Kann, "This creates a piece that is a sort of treasure hunt, leading people through how to interact with it and encouraging exploration and making the story behind Madam Bottwright a dialogue between the object and the people exploring it."


Clues for the clock and knock inputs.


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