SCIN deep

marbleI think I have met the ultimate materials girl.  Annabelle Filer, architect, journalist and founder of the SCIN Gallery (pronounced skin) is passionate about materials.  While working as an architect Annabelle developed a fascination, even addiction, for materials, their properties and practical applications.  While she continues regular contributions to FX Design magazine (and formerly Grand Designs Magazine), four years ago SCIN was launched to show and share this passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of materials.

SCIN source and advise on finishes for every surface inside or outside buildings of every scale. Working with materials experts sourcing from around the world, SCIN’s sphere of knowledge reaches to the limits of current research, and if SCIN can’t find what their clients are looking for they can work with them to develop it.  SCIN is committed to introducing more materials with ‘green’ credentials, and “fundamentally believe that environmental or sustainable design heralds a new era in architecture and design”. So after whetting my appetite at the Surface Design Show, I headed to the SCIN Gallery to learn more.

The ground floor is dedicated to new material design.  First to catch my eye were some bowls (pictured right) made out of ‘decafé’ a material created by  Raúl Laurí from used coffee grounds.  Alongside was Coleoptera, a bioplastic made from dead beetles, developed by Aagje Hoekstra.  The shells of the beetles,  a by-product of the animal food industry, contain chitin. After cellulose, chitin is the most common polymer on earth and, with a little chemistry, is transformed into chitosan which bonds better and is already being made into jewellery.  From insect to marine life and exotic leathers made from salmon, perch, wolffish and cod fish skins by Icelandic tannery, Atlantic Leather. solidOther exhibits included Denimite, a cotton fibre bio-composite made from recycled denim suitable for countertops and architectural applications and Soilid (pictured left).  Made from a mixture of soil, fungi and other natural materials left overnight at room temperature to “rise”, the mixture can then be poured into a mould and baked becoming strong enough sand, saw or drill.

ppThe first floor showcases architectural materials, such as Polluted Pattern (pictured right).  A concrete surface printed with a photo-catalytic white i.active cement based on TX Active nanotechnology that self-cleans and breaks down air-pollutants.  Over time, the printed sections stay pristine, while pollutants discolour the unprotected areas revealing the printed lace-like pattern, a metaphor for pollution wrapping our cities.  The material would be suitable for urban surfaces, pavements, facades.

fcThe installation ‘The Forest Commissioned’ displayed some leading wood products including Accoya, a high-performance wood created from softwood using a proprietary non-toxic acetylation process that gives it the dimensional strength and durability make its suitable for windows, cladding and other architectural uses.  Showered with eco-labels including FSC, PEFC,  and Cradle to Cradle™ to name but three, Accoya is made from renewable sources, fully-recyclable, and looks good to boot.  It is distributed in the UK by Lathams.  UPM Grada is a new thermoform able wood made from FSC or PEFC rotary cut birch veneers and non-formaldehyde adhesive.

ghInteriors products occupy the second floor. Marbelous Wood (pictured at the top of the page) and Green Hides (pictured right) were just two of the exhibits currently on display.  Marbelous Wood, from the Danish Snedker Studio, uses an old marbling technique to create an organic and colourful play on the natural grain of the wood.  A decorative reinterpretation of a flooring choice favoured by many.  Green Hides‘ Ecolife Italian leathers are processed with chrome-free, natural vegetable tanning  and solvent-free finishing methods to meet stringent technical specifications that mean they are suitable for home and contract clients.

neptIf the temporary installations are not inspiration enough, the basement is home to a permanent materials library.  The SCIN library is a colourful and tactile treasure trove with thousands of samples catalogued by material and property in bright orange boxes. Solid wool and paper stone I have seen before, but insulation made from seaweed was a surprise. NeptuTherm (pictured left) is an insulation material made from neptune grass seaweed that has become matted together into balls in shallow water.  Often considered a waste product, in fact,  without chemical treatment this material is naturally flame retardant, mould resistant and helps regulate humidity without degrading its thermal insulation capacity.  Seaweeds’ wonderful properties extend far beyond sushi and face creams!

organoidAnd finally a product that is simply joyful, if not immediately robust enough for a home with two small children, but if I could, I would find a place for some decorative Organoids panels (pictured right).  Natural fibres (in this case rose petals and rose buds) are ground up and mixed with a natural binder, then covered with a vacuum film, compressed and hardened to make a biocomposite that is 100% biodegradable.  The decorative panels are a sensual experience, the aroma of the rose buds, texture of the panel and visible rosebuds a reminder of the natural materials.  The process is entirely free of biocides, plasticisers and solvents and powered with 100% green electricity.

So whether wrestling with the refurbishment of a Victorian terrace house or in search of a supernatural material to make a car fit for James Bond, the library is a rich repository of innovative, practical and green materials.  Architects, designers and consumers are all welcome to have a rummage, by appointment.  You too could get addicted!

Picture credits: Raúl Laurí

Chop on a new block

HAMPSONWOODS_HOMEPAGE_1I have been chopping an awful lot of root vegetables making seasonal warming winter soups and stews.  I recall Dieter Rams’ ten principles that include  ‘good design is aesthetic’ as I look for a board with form and function.  A beautiful object that we use every day can bring with it a daily dose of joy and elevate a small task from the mundane.  As such I have had a roving eye out for chopping boards.

I love the simplicity, and idiosyncrasy of the boards from Hampson Woods (pictured left).  Made from London Plane, and sourced directly from the arborists that have cleared once mighty trees from the city whose name they bear.  Every board is unique, hand carved from rough cut pieces in sympathy with the form of the wood.  Finished with olive oil, the resulting boards have a delicate beauty, perfect food platters for home, cafes, delis or restaurants.  The boards with a handle are priced from £35, there are also geometric boards (245 x 140 x 17mm) priced from £25.

SrO3BnANuIuShBAhRfqASJ-qA-MIf Hampson Woods make best use of materials on our doorsteps, Haidee Drew‘s ‘Handled’ Chopping Boards are made of bamboo sustainably manufactured far further afield.  The shape of the handles are inspired by traditional silverware from the Victoria and Albert Museum providing a decorative edge to a utilitarian product.  Bamboo is a fast-growing (some species grow up to 1m a day) and can be cultivated without pesticides, it is also extremely strong, so offers great durability as a chopping board.  The boards retail from £40 for a board 170mm x 335mm x 20mm.

6-leeborthwick-grain-and-haH1_thumb Sustainably sourced ash and beech are the canvas for Lee Borthwick‘s Grain and Hairy series of boards.  Lee strives to reveal the beauty of natural materials.  Each board has been scorched using a technique called pyrography to highlight its unique grain.  The boards are then oiled and ready for use as food platters, or simply as objects to provoke contemplation.   Prices start from £35 for a 5inch (12.7cm) board.    

EL-0613-10_thumbFor the minted version, I return to savour the work of Eleanor Lakelin, characterised by sculptural vessels and forms in wood from British trees that have been felled in the UK.  Eleanor uses traditional woodturning and carving techniques with great empathy for the natural form of the wood.  Sandblast, bleach or fire are then used to further tease out the grain creating fossil-like forms before finishing with natural oils.  The same techniques are used to make solid wood food boards either in olive ash or sycamore.  The olive ash has a deep chestnut colour with a beautiful grain. The boards (diameter 300mm or 400mm x height 50mm) are turned, lightly sandblasted and scorched around the rim before being oiled to bring out the grain.  In contrast, the sycamore boards are a light, creamy colour.  Also turned on the lathe, the sycamore boards have a distinctive hand carved rim with a dimpled effect.  Each piece has its own story, priced at £260, for 40 x 300 x 300 mms.

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Posh Salvage offer a range of chopping boards made from reclaimed teak.  Prices start at £35 for the rectangular board pictured, 37 cm x 18cm, 3cm thick.  Teak has long been used for general construction and boat building in Java, Indonesia because of its strength and durability.  Now new infrastructure built from concrete and steel is replacing the old plantation grown teak.  Long planks are salvaged to make furniture with off cuts and smaller pieces suitable for chopping boards.   Some of the pieces have some even have hand carved graffiti, if not the Posh Salvage range includes boards decorated with wholesome reminders that you are what you eat.

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By way of complete contrast, TopGourmet, supplier to the catering industry, produces very understated, functional chopping boards made of Richlite.  Richlite is a paper-based fibre composite made from FSC-certified and post-consumer waste paper content.  The boards are dishwasher safe and heat resistant to 180c and priced from £14.50 for a 150mmx200mm board.

It seems inevitable that most of the boards are made of wood.  Wood has wonderful aesthetic, tactile and renewable qualities, and with a little care it is extremely durable.  I was expecting a few surprises in terms of alternative materials, but may be they are yet to come.

Picture credits: Lee Borthwick, Haidee Drew, Eleanor Lakelin, Hampson Woods, Posh Salvage, Top Gourmet

Discover craft at Heals

heals1It’s time to discover new craft at Heal’s Modern Craft Market, running in their London Tottenham Court Road store until Sunday.  With expert demonstrations and hands-on workshops of contemporary craft as well as the chance to pick up a unique design, it is a real opportunity to invest in  some of the most innovative craft makers of the moment, from as little as £9 for a limited edition pencil sharpener from Will Smith.

IMG_2695Heal’s has a long history of nurturing designers from its beginnings as bed-makers in 1810, to Ambrose Heal’s instrumental role in the Arts and Crafts movement supplying sound, well-designed furniture at reasonable prices, and more recently the Heal’s Discovers Design Competition.  Today the Modern Craft Market, in association with the Crafts Council and Contemporary Applied Arts brings work from a carefully edited selection of artisans using traditional and contemporary techniques, skill, innovative materials and often a wry sense of humour.

jleeChief among the pieces that caught my eye were Jungin Lee’s candlestick holders made from salt.  In a range of colours from spring green to candy pink are a passing joy that can be savoured in the moment, as with any celebration, and then dissolved after use.  Jungin Lee is part of the the WORKS collective, a group of Royal College of Art alumni formed in 2012.

prin2Fellow WORKS design talent Ariane Prin‘s pencils are made from the wood dust, graphite, clay and flour recovered from the floor and canteen of the RCA and compressed into pencils. The pencils are labelled “From Here for Here” as they are waste from various areas of the RCA recycled in a local pencil factory to supply drawing tools to students. The project, shortlisted for the RCA’s Sustain Award, connects making, materials, and product with their place, and environmental principles.  The picture shows the tool, surrounded by pencils arranged in a dial.

stoolAnother wonderful reincarnation courtesy of  WORKS designers are the Well Proven Stools,  from Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw.  Mindful that processing wood products normally incurs 50% to 80% timber wastage Aubel and Shaw looked for ways to recapture the value in that waste.  Mixing a bio-resin with waste shavings caused a chemical reaction resulting in the distinctive foaming wood, a lightweight material reinforced by the fibres in the hardwood shavings.  Aubel and Shaw mixed the porridge-like material with coloured dyes and found it could be easily moulded.  The resulting Well Proven chair was nominated for the Designs of the Year 2013 by the Design Museum.  The stools currently for sale in Heal’s are the next iteration of the Well Proven Chair.  Pairing the foaming wood with  elegant turned American Ash legs creates a partnership of two contrasting forms.  The stools are  available in a variety of heights and colours.

The stools from Ellen Thomas were another pretty place to perch, with their on-trend teal feet and decorative inlay.  Prices start at £220 for a small stool.  Nick Fraser’s witty take on candlestick holders made from brass fittings and pipework are useful objects with industrial form, fitting for more than bachelor pads.  There were also gorgeous woven accessories from Beatrice Larkin and Eleanor Pritchard and equally tactile, though not as cuddly, boiled leather moulded to make lampshades from Hoare and Brady.nest

Everybody needs a home, and for £20 many of us could joyfully accommodate a Bird House from Smith Matthias to provide a home for small British birds such as the tit family and tree sparrow.  The flat packed nesting box is designed to fit in an envelope through a letter box and for easy self-assembly.  The Bird Houses are available in a palette of colours that are kind on the eye.

Go discover, there are many delightful objects with their own story to tell!

Aga-nomics

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My Mum has cooked on AGAs for over thirty years, and as with many AGA owners she would struggle to imagine life without one.  The AGA heats the kitchen, boils the kettle, makes the toast, cooks the food, and air dries mountains of washing.  I thawed myself out before tea (supper) on many a cold winter’s day as a child.  As an adult, I have secretly longed for an AGA for many years, but dismissed them as uneconomical, and unsuitable for urban living.

AGA is the slow-cooker of stereotypes twinned in many peoples’ minds with country kitchens, but cast your preconceptions aside and meet the AGA Total Control.  I received a hearty introduction last week courtesy of Rosie at the AGA at Divertimenti Marylebone showroom.  It was a good job we were hungry as Rosie and Giovanna demonstrated that the AGA is capable of every culinary technique, just as its designer Gustaf Dalen intended.

Dalen, a Swedish industrialist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, wanted to spare his wife the domestic drudgery of inefficient and expensive stoves.  He set out to develop a cooker that was easy to use, consistent, and efficient.  He achieved it, and 90 years on the AGA is still made in the same way.  First cast in iron at a foundry in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the AGA then has several coats of vitreous enamel applied over three days.  This protective enamel coat ensures AGA stands the test of time.  Yes, the AGA is undoubtably an investment equivalent to a small, secondhand car, but longevity is just one of the compensations.  Voted in a BBC survey as one of the top three design icons of the 20th century, the AGA is timeless.  My Mum’s AGA has been going for over 30 years!  If and when it does reach the end of this life, it is almost completely recyclable.  AGA’s have always been made from 70% recycled materials such as guttering, gear boxes, door fittings or drain covers.

We were treated to a roast, toast, tray bake, quiche and much more.  The food was delicious and the AGA Total Control was straightforward to use.  The AGA rule of thumb is to use the ovens for anything that takes more than 8-10 minutes on the hot plate.  Root vegetables can be brought up to the boil on the hot plate, then put in the simmering oven until you are ready to eat.  Cooked in this way they can retain up to 20% more of their mineral and vitamin content, and ease the pressure of getting everything ready at the same time.

The huge ovens can fit a 13kg bird (a pretty sizeable Christmas turkey) or a stack of pans, 2X 2. The flavours don’t mix, and as cast-iron retains, and radiates heat well you can grill on the top shelf, bake in the middle and fry on the floor of the roasting oven at the same time as demonstrated by Rosie.  The radiant heat helps food to keep its moisture, texture and flavour and keeps the oven at an even temperature.

We all know that the trade-offs of fossil fuels are fracking complicated (pun absolutely intended) with high social and environmental costs of extraction, and a classic AGA does glug the oil.   AGA has models compatible with natural gas and electricity, you could even use it with micro-generated electricity.  We would be running our AGA off a renewable electricity tariff, but by way of indication the estimated weekly energy consumption for the AGA Total Control 3-oven is 35kWh a week for a cooker that is normally off and only switched on to cook, that is £4.03 a week (based on a third party estimate for a busy family using combined ovens and hot plate for 12 hours a week, AGAnomics publication, Sept 2013).  However, the choice of fuel, AGA model and usage profile will influence the running costs considerably.  For example, a 3-oven AGA running on oil will consume roughly 40 litres of oil a week, around £24 per week (see AGAnomics).  Of course, a classic oil or gas AGA that is on all the time, will take the place and energy costs of other appliances such as a kettle or toaster and radiates 1.5kWh into a room, the equivalent of a medium sized radiator, so in many AGA kitchens radiators are not needed. Even the AGA Total Control will continue to radiate heat into the room as it cools down.

For those of us that are out of the house for long periods during the day the AGA Dual Control and AGA Total Control provide the flexibility to have the AGA on and working for you when you need it, and off or ‘slumber’ when you don’t.  The 3-oven AGA Total Control has a roasting oven at 220c, baking oven at 180c and simmering oven at 120c.  The whole cooker takes an hour to get up to temperature from cold, but individual components take a lot less, especially if from the ‘slumber’ setting, for example the boiling plate takes 11 minutes from cold.  You can programme the Total Control to come on and off twice a day, morning and evening, just as you do the boiler.

It might take me a while to save up, but the AGA Total Control would be an investment I am prepared to make.