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Daring desk design leads to Top in World Cambridge honours

Creating a spectacular and innovatively intricate desk for his Year 13 design project was the perfect way for Beau Engelbrecht to showcase his skills and abilities. Not only is the desk a stunning example of form complementing function, but it also brought him the title of Top in the World for A-Level Design & Technology at the 2021 Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards.
Beau Engelbrecht with the desk design which saw him awarded Top in World A-Level Design & Technology

A Kakapo that slots together, a pewter sculpture embellished with paua shells, a miniature rustic-styled restaurant and a mid-century modern tiny home are among the many projects design buff Beau Engelbrecht has crafted during his seven years at ACG Strathallan.

But it was his 2021 creation – a multi-timbered wooden desk with a secret drawer, a built-in drawing board and a decorative motif forged by passing thousands of electrical volts through the timber – that helped earn him a top global ranking.

Now in his first year of a Bachelor of Architecture at Victoria University, Beau has received a Top in World Award in A-Level Design & Technology, and his extraordinary desk has played a starring role.

“It took quite a long time to decide what project I’d like to take on for Year 13 design and technology, but eventually I chose to design a desk as I knew it was something I’d use in the future,” says the highly talented alumnus.

Crafted from a variety of materials, including oak, ash, mahogany, pine and MDF, the desk took 250 to 300 hours to build (not to mention countless additional hours for planning and adjustments) and was expertly designed to align with Beau’s workflow and enhance his productivity.

“The desk has many special features. For example, I’ve created a unique pattern on the right-hand drawer using a Lichtenberg wood burning technique, and the left side of the unit has a hidden six-dial combination lock that opens a secret drawer. I’m exceptionally proud of the entire design but most proud of the combination lock, which I designed based on the look of old suitcase locks. Making the lock mechanism work smoothly and efficiently within a very small space was a big challenge, and I had to create multiple prototypes for every part within the mechanism to enhance the overall performance.”

But Beau believes all his blood, sweat and tears have been well worth the effort.

“Achieving Top in the World has been the greatest achievement for me and is something I could never have imagined nor dreamed of happening.”

Beau’s aptitude for building became apparent at a very young age. Fuelled by a childhood obsession with Lego, he received ample guidance and inspiration from his father (a skilled woodworker) and grandfather (whose life’s work was designing childcare centres). So it’s fair to say artistry and craftmanship are firmly etched into his DNA.

The secret to his ongoing success? “Sticking with my strengths and enjoying what I do. To be able to incorporate these two things into my schoolwork has pushed my skills and knowledge to the next level and made my time at ACG Strathallan incredibly memorable. This fact really hit home to me last year when I decided to swap AS-Level accounting for AS-Level painting seven weeks into the first term. I was already taking A2-Level design and A2-Level digital media, and I knew the total coursework from all three creative subjects would be tremendous. But it ended up being my best-ever decision because I did exceptionally well, and it made my final year of college truly spectacular.”

And now Beau looks set for another spectacular year of learning.

“I’m looking forward to exploring my skills and seeing how far I can push my academic limits. Ultimately, I plan to get my masters with the intention of designing people’s dream homes all over New Zealand. And I’ll no doubt be doing some of that from the comfort of this very desk!”

Beau's award-winning multi-timbered wooden desk took 250 to 300 hours to build
Its unique features include a hidden combination lock that opens a secret drawer
Along with a built-in drawing board and a fully functioning record player
Now in his first year of a Bachelor of Architecture at Victoria University, Beau looking forward to exploring his design skills to see how far he can push his academic limits