I popped into 19 Greek Street where Diana Simpson was preparing for a process run through of GlassLab. ‘Waste’ glass is in plentiful supply in the midst of Soho, and the recent introduction of a mechanical crusher enabled Diana to provide bar tops, tiles and other interiors products for the Library, a new private members, on time. I had a peak of GlassLab’s new rectangular floor tiles (which were also on show at Tent London, as part of the Material Council’s ‘Nooks, Niches and Crannies’ materials trail), and then it was on to designjunction at the Old Sorting Office.
Like a magpie, I was drawn to the sparkling brilliance of the Waterford Crystal Flash Factory. Waterford is an iconic brand, so it was humbling to watch Master Cutter, Tony Grant, at the wheel, with a backdrop of glittering chandeliers and vases. Tony began as an apprentice at Waterford more than forty years ago, and it is that depth of knowledge that lies at the heart of Waterford’s heritage. A moment in the shoes, or seat, of a master, provides a great appreciation of their skill, and I leapt at the invitation of a seat at the wheel. The steady, subtle hand, precise eye and great knowledge of the material, are things the new generation of apprentices at Waterford will surely master, though I will not be one of them!
Bringing a contemporary design twist to traditional craft skills emerged as a theme of this year’s designjunction. Each of Pia Wustenberg’s Transformed Stacking Vessels celebrates craftsmanship and materials. Each of the Vessels is unique as each of the three pieces is handmade: hand-turned wood; hand-blown glass and hand-thrown ceramics. Each piece reflects the character of its maker, and adds a layer to the story.
London-based designer, Hend Krichen, draws on her Tunisian roots to create elegant homewares that fuse artisanal skills and craftsmanship with a pared back aesthetic. I was drawn to the warm terracotta and copper tones, and so it seems is the buyer for Paul Smith as products will be appearing in their stores soon. Working with an ethical network of manufacturers, Krichen hopes to develop their understanding of the export market. This rejuvenation and re-orientation of traditional craft skills, can play a vital role in securing a community’s heritage, and enhancing their livelihoods.
This model of reciprocal exchange, that is evident in the British Council’s Maker Library (seen at 100%design), underpins another of their initiatives, the Common Thread. London-based designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez spent a month in the Atlas mountains of Morocco working with six Amazigh artisans to create a limited edition series of bespoke hand-woven rugs. The Amazigh are traditionally a semi-nomadic people, with men tending livestock while women harvest wool, cotton and plants to dye the fibres that are then woven into kilims, or rugs. The designs, based on the Amazigh’s traditional weaving techniques, are available via the Anou, an online platform and community of over 400 Moroccan artisans working to revive their community. The platform enables artisans to sell their work directly to customers all around the world.
Revitalising traditional industries including carpet weaving, cashmere production, and other artisan products to secure sustainable livelihoods is central to AfghanMade’s mission. In collaboration with Wallpaper* and a number of prominent European and American carpet companies, AfghanMade exhibited a portfolio of contemporary rug designs in a huge space on the top floor of designjunction. I was drawn to the deep turquoise pools of Michael Young’s design for Christopher Farr, Organic Fractals, made in wool and silk with hand-spun yarn and natural dyes. One of the AfghanMade team is a leading authority on natural dyes, and the opportunity to work with him was a catalyst for Christopher Farr’s involvement in the project. ‘Duck-head’ green is one of the hardest colours to achieve naturally, and as Michael Young’s design evolved the choice of colour was inevitable. The rich teal colour is achieve first with a yellow dye from daisies, and then a natural indigo. The rug is 2.3m in diameter (though available to order in smaller sizes), around £6,750 and now on my wish list!
Stimulating cross-cultural collaborations between UK designers and African artisanal makers are also central to Africa Calling. The outsize, monochrome vases made from up-cycled textile ‘waste’ using traditional weaving techniques. These vases, and other more colourful products with a similar provenance are available from Shake the Dust.
Craftsmanship and provenance define the subtle, hand screen-printed linen fabrics and interiors products at Thorody. The fabrics are hand screen-printed in London using water-based pigments (which exceed British Standard upholstery specifications for abrasion and pigment fastness for domestic use). The natural linen is woven in Lancashire, or sourced from Belgium where it can be traced back to seed, and where the flax is sourced within 20 miles of the mill. It is soft, but strong, two adjectives that also describe the abstract designs that Thorody characterise as “rustic modernism”. They are considered, and timeless.
Flax, and flaxseed or linseed oil is the key ingredient in linoleum, a material ByAlex chose to upholster the seat of their Neighbourhood chair. Conceived as a contemporary dining chair to celebrate John Lewis 150th anniversary, the studio set themselves the challenge of making the chair from renewable materials. Bamboo, which is ready for harvesting after only six years of growth, is used for the main body of the chair with moulded Plywood for the seat.
After seeing her Wish List commission for Norman Foster, Tulipifera Sharpeners, and then Folded Chair, shortlisted piece for the Wood Awards at 100%design, it was pleasure to complete a hat trick and meet Norie Matsumoto. Here she is pictured beside the Folded Chair, originally designed for “Out of the Woods” in 2012. Matsumoto redesigned the chair using special hinges, and a smaller version that can hang on the wall. The elegant and deceptively simple cylinder hooks, Deco (pictured in the background) are turned from solid wood. Matsumoto chose to use solid wood to give the objects a strong presence that could be decorative as well as functional.
As Matsumoto’s designs salute the strength of solid wood, Tom Raffield’s designs using steam-bent wood showcase other virtues of flexibility, crafting sensual forms through innovative use of steam-bending techniques. His lamps cast delicate shadows in warm light.
Finally, I was captivated by the evocative installation (curated by Anthony Dickens) of ercol and Anglepoise’s timeless classics given a bespoke overhaul as the part of the ‘A Child’s Dream’ silent auction. A moment to pause and reflect on what dreams are made of for the young, and slightly older! Some of the collaborations at designjunction have the power to be transformational.
Image credits: Thorody