Time for another design pilgrimage to the ExCel centre for the May Design Series 2014, featuring 400 suppliers of kitchens, bathrooms, lighting, furniture, decor and an edited selection of products from four key European shows (Maison et Objet, Paris; IMM Cologne; Light & Build, Frankfurt and i Saloni, Milan), as well as New Design Britain.
I was delighted to see Tom Raffield Design. It was an a-ha moment for me as a few years ago I bought some pendant lights for our house (the Helix and the Hive I now know). They are often complimented, but I could not remember where I sourced them from. Suddenly they are everywhere, in the Green Room at Salone del Mobile, at Chelsea Flower Show as part of the Artisan Retreats (alongside another favourite, Eleanor Lakelin) and here at May Design Series.
Tom Raffield designs and handcrafts steam-bent furniture and lighting. Steam-bending wood is a traditional woodworking technique, that is low energy and adhesive-free. Tom developed his own technique to create the complex, fluid shapes characteristic of his work. All the wood is from sustainably managed sources and typically unseasoned, green or air-dried timber, and any wastage used for the composting toilet! The wood is finished in lemon oil, beeswax or a water-based varnish. Not only is the production process ecologically sound, the products are built to last, and so beautiful you will cherish them for a long time. I loved the coat loop (pictured in the background), literally Shaker with a twist, and the occasional table with its sinuous, curved detail, a new product launching at May Design Series.
While waiting for the 11.15am Conversation Series discussion on the circular economy (more of that later), I was drawn to Smart Environment zone. MYX is a material cultivated over 3-4 weeks using oyster mushrooms grown on a hemp and linen fibre mat. The fibres are byproducts of clothing and rope manufacturing. The fibres are woven with mushroom spores, and as the mycelium (vegetative part of the fungus) grows the textile-like material gains strength and flexibility from chitin, the polymer in mushroom cell walls. The material can be shaped, in this case as a lampshade (pictured right) then dried leaving a lightweight material that is organic and compostable. And you can harvest oyster mushrooms in the meantime, so MYX is an end-waste product, that products a delicious food product in its growing cycle. What a deliciously sustainable example of the circular economy!
Next door, Nobelwood is a smart alternative to tropical hardwood. Fast-growing pine (FSC certified) is fully impregnated with water soluble biopolymers made from bagasse from sugar-cane. After drying, the wood has the colour of natural teak and weathers (if un-treated) to a silvery grey colour when used as exterior cladding. I hope to see a garden furniture set on the market soon!
In the New Design Britain corner, I couldn’t walk past Cristiana Ionescu’s family of felt bears without a smile. What a delightful accessory for a toddler’s room. Helen Dugdale‘s colourful Paper-Knotwood caught my eye. Helen wanted to create a sustainable, recyclable material from coloured paper. Each piece is unique with the possibility of bespoke colour patterns and combinations. The material can be cut, sanded, and machined to reveal its layers as a grain, or used as a veneer. A candy bright or subtle stripe for any interior surface.
From the hard to the soft, comfort of 100% pure wool felt from Hollandfelt. There was a rich array of vibrant colours urging me to stroke them. Hollandfelt is one of the few felt producers using 100% pure wool from Australian and South American sheep whose fleeces have softer fibres than those closer to home. The Merino wool is washed in hot water with natural soap rubbing the fibres together to create wool felt. Felt is renewable and recyclable. Hollandfelt contains some recycled material from previous customers re-dyed to a darker colour. The carpet felt, twice felted for durability, is naturally flame and dirt retardant, as well as having good insulating and acoustic properties. Woolfelts are suitable for fashion, furnishing, architectural interiors and craft applications. All the products have reached the Öko-Tex 100 standard whose test criteria exceed existing legislation, for example limiting formaldehyde use and banning allergenic dyes, and why wouldn’t you err on the side of caution when choosing materials that you live with?
There were definite moments when I would have been grateful for a seat in the Corqui, made of natural, renewable and sensual cork from Corque Design and designed by Pedro Silva Dias (600x50x690mm). My potential choice of seating was not limited though as Out of the Dark provided eight chairs for a Silent Auction (pictured below) to raise both awareness and funds for their social enterprise that trains young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to recycle, restore and repaint furniture. More of their wares were on display in the DX section of the show. I have just got wind of an exciting collaboration between Out of the Dark and one of my favourite makers, Sebastian Cox, so watch this space for more news!
In the meantime, news from Clerkenwell Design Week will follow, along with tales of the discussion on the circular economy hosted by Stephen Gee, Director of Resource, with Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA, Mark Shayler, Managing Director of Ticketyboo, and James Bell, Environmental Consultant at FIRA.
Photocredits: Jonas Edvard (MYX); Helen Dugdale