Rethinking at New Designers Part 2

liddardPart 2 of New Designers 2014 welcomed graduates from furniture and product design, visual communications, motion arts and theatre design.  I was delighted to see Oliver Liddard’s Rethink Sink.  In last summer’s dry spell, I could regularly be seen emptying water from my kitchen sink into the garden to revive wilting peas and beans.  My efforts at grey water recycling would have been much more efficient with Oliver’s RSA Award winning design.  Rethink the Sink uses two basins to make users visually aware of how much water they are using.  The first basin is plug less, so you have to consciously pour or ‘throw away’ water into the second basin.  This act enables users to intervene and recycle the grey water elsewhere in the home.  The design aims to decrease water consumption by making us aware of the volumes we use.  An elegant intervention.

keoghAfter the abundance of blooms at Part 1, one of the first works that caught my eye was Sam Janzen‘s Eco-System Composter.  Designed for an Electrolux Design Lab competition, the gravity-fed system takes food waste in, and fresh food out with the system sitting on top of a seed incubator.  The green-fingered amateur was also in the mind of Joshua Keogh when he designed Cultivate, as a client project for Joseph Joseph.  The self-watering system uses two silicone pots of different sizes making it easier to repot in the early stages of plant growth.

IMG_0022To propagate and cultivate plants, we need bees, and Jon Steven is a man on a mission to make bee-keeping more accessible with his eco-friendly and affordable Pine Hive.  Made of economical pine, with hemp rope handles, the hive has the same internal dimensions as the National Hive, and allows interchangeability of pre-existing parts such as frames and mesh floors, reducing waste from potential upgrades, and is stackable, so it can be readily expanded.

For a splash of colour,  Effie Koukia has developed paint and print products that are literally good enough to eat.  Effie set out to replace the hazardous chemicals in spray paints used for graffiti with a safer and healthier alternative.  The dyes and solvents used in the EXTRACT range are derived from 100% natural products and biodegradable.  The paints are available in three formats (paint, spray paint and screen-print) and safe for users, including children, in case of contact with the skin, ingestion or inhalation.  The hot pink on show was picture perfect!

yamazakiRecycled plastic bags provide inspiration and material for Reiji Yamazaki‘s work.  Heat is used to shrink the bags into a durable, flexible material that Reiji used to make colourful accessories.  seaibyWael Seaiby reminds us that one million plastic bags are used every minute around the world and around 93% of these bags end up in landfill.  With PLAG, Wael recycles some of these discarded bags into hand-worked vessels, that would bring a vibrant splash of colour into anyone’s home.

DSC_0003At last year’s New Designers 2013 I enjoyed Kai Venus Designs‘ Bambureau, made of formaldehyde-free bamboo ply, so I was delighted to catch up with him at One Year On. This year Kai exhibited a cabinet of curiosities made of birch ply, up-cycled kitchen knives and ash chopping boards.  The chopping boards are made from ash from Kai’s uncle’s farm that has been seasoned for several years, rather than months, revealing a deep grain and rich colour.  The “Zero-Carbon Knives” are made from up-cycling used saw blades, finished with handles of hardwood off-cuts.  The high-carbon spring steel used for saw blades is the same as that of Japanese sushi knives, so provides a razor sharp edge, which stays sharp for an exceptionally long time.  You just have to clean and dry the knife as soon as you have used it so the blade does not discolour.

obtineoStorage1Kai’s knives would be perfectly complemented by Tom Hutchinson’s considered and elegant Obtineo Storage jars made in the UK from the finest solid ash, felt and glass.  The glass is hand-blown at a works that can trace its roots right back to 1612. The felt, made of 100% wool, is from one of the last British felt factories.  Each of Oliver Richardson‘s three Kitchen Totems provide further decorative function to the rituals of eating an egg, steak or evening glass of wine.  Michael Papworth’s design project, sponsored by black + blum, looks to influence our drinking habits, designing a water carafe, based on black + blum’s charcoal products, as a functional table centre piece.

hpatelAs my children grow, I am left with a litter of toddlers’ toys, so the future-proof design of Heena Patel’s baby walker that transforms into a smart Scandi-style occasional table really appeals.  hknowlesHannah Knowles approach to changing lifestyles is to design modular, flat-pack furniture from everyday products such as pipefittings, ash dowels and pipes.  The copper adds a sense of luxury to her affordable, functional and fixable occasional table.

hongYonghui Hong’s stools are recyclable, biodegradable and compostable.  An eco-friendly alternative to polypropylene, PLA (polylactic acid) is a thermoplastic derived from plants (corn, sugar-cane and tapioca roots).  Yonghui designed two stools: the first, is injection-molded from Fibrolon F8530, a compound of PLA and natural fibres; the second, designed for low volume batch production is made from a composite of PLA woven with Biotex flax fibre shaped on a heated steel mould.

IMG_3345Monica Prieto Alzate won an Ercol design contest for her reinterpretation of a Windsor chair, Lucia.  Her bijoux vanity set, Kyo (pictured right) suits space-constrained urban-living and her decorative laser-cut hanging solutions, Familia, would be an affordable hanging choice.  A sensitive choice of materials and playful nature permeate all her work.

numaDaniel Brooks tackled another blight on life in a small flat, getting your clothes dry without the space or cost of a tumble dryer. His design, Numa, which won the Wilko Award for Innovation, is a heatless clothes dryer that can try up to 5kg of wet clothing 3 times faster than an airing rack, at a cost of 5p an hour.  A top-mounted fan creates constant air flow, encouraging evaporation, and a dehumidifier then extracts the moisture from the air to prevent damp and mildew.  Brilliant.

osborneFor a final decorative edge, Emilie Osborne, a paper artist, One Year On, displayed her three-dimensional surface designs.  Made of paper that is 75% recycled and 100% recyclable, the geometric designs create optical illusions of shape, depth and perspective.  The effect is decorative, dynamic and bang-on trend.

Image credits: Daniel Brooks, Effie Koukia, Kai Venus Designs, Monica Prieto Design, Purplewax, Tom Hutchinson Design

 

 

 

Abundance of blooms at New Designers Part 1

holmesAesthetic beauty was blooming at New Designers Part 1, the first chapter of an exhibition that shows work from over 3000 UK graduate designers over two weeks.  Part 1 showcased textiles, fashion, contemporary applied arts (including ceramics and glass), jewellery and metalwork.

Fauna and particularly flora (Laura Holmes pictured left) provided a deep well of inspiration for many of this year’s graduates, with bold, outsized, colourful prints of flowers greeting you as soon as you walked. Flashes of tropical colour from Sophie Painter,  Loughborough University, who garnered a “John Lewis Loves” label sat alongside, the ethereal, wintry prints from Robyn Dark.  Amy Malcolmson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, also won a “John Lewis Loves” label for her clean, crisp spring and autumn floral series.  Her hand-painted wallpaper samples echo the fresh, vibrant, if whimsical florals of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder.

cravenLayering images to depth and structure to floral was a popular technique.  Ellie-rose McFall‘s handprinted textiles, which overlay wildflowers on cracked surfaces, are inspired by the Garden Bridge, planned for London in 2016.  Sophie Tattersall, De Montford University, Leicester, uses layered photographs to create delicate floral patterns.  Sophie Thompson, Nottingham Trent University, builds up layers of detail taking inspiration from nature, enhancing hand drawn imagery with digital techniques.  I was drawn to “In the Undergrowth”, with a mix of birds, bugs and silhouettes.  Charlotte Raven‘s wallpaper (pictured right) is a like of snapshot of a summer garden in bloom.  Malin-Charlotte Ødemark work draws on landscapes creating a subtle, earthy palette that worked to great effect as upholstery on Ercol’s classic sofa.

buchanan

Natural beauty went more than skin deep for Emily Buchanan, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.  Her work, Living+Dying displays the wonderful array of colours accessible from nature using traditional craft methods.  Red cabbage, red onion, eucalyptus, and other plants dyes, two mordants, time and a couple of serendipitous accidents were used to dye peace silk a rich spectrum of soothing tones.  buchanan2Peace silk allows the silkworm to emerge from their cocoons. The silk is degummed and spun like other fibre, instead of being reeled.  Conventional silk is made by boiling the intact cocoons, which kills the silk worms.  Emily is a passionate advocate of the joys, and beauty, of natural dyes.  She continues to run workshops with schools and interested groups.  There were a couple of interested parties at the show.

From the natural, to the utterly fabricated, Laura Holmes makes fantastical floral displays from recycled plastics.  Laura works with milk bottles, coke bottles, offcuts of acetates, sequin film and all manner of plastics.  They are cut, painted and flocked inspired by colours from the aquarium.  The result is almost fantastical.

healy2Karoline Healy‘s Domestic Mining is also an ethos that makes good use of the things that we find in our homes.  Karoline was first inspired by reading0 Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  A visit to India and encounters with street vendors and road-side workshops prompted Karoline to design a kiosk.  The kiosk is constructed from household objects, an old shredder, file, bicycle chain. Discarded plastic bottles are shredded, moulded, marked with the appropriate recycle sign and then a watch assembled from the flat pack kit.  No glues, nails, paints, or varnishes are used, so the watch can be readily repaired or recycled.

rosakSophie Rosak’s table lamp with a shade of naturally-tanned leather, and copper, is simply constructed and so easily dissembled at its end of life. Its industrial style is softened by the warm tones of the leather and copper.  priceA simple aesthetic defines Rebecca Price’s work.  Scouted by the Design Council’s ‘One to Watch’, her food storage jars (pictured left) are covetable for any contemporary kitchen.  The lid of each vessel is also a portion measure.  What is more the vessels nestle snuggly together saving precious space on your worktop.

More covetable vessels were on display as part of One Year On, which showcases the work of 50 emerging designers in their first year of business. I was delighted to catch up with Isatu Hyde, who I met at New Designers 2013.  hydeAfter a stint with Kilner to develop her foraging project, Isatu is now an apprentice with Marches Pottery in Ludlow.  Isatu has worked with terracotta for the first time to throw distinctive coffee drippers, carafes, cups, and milk jugs, as well as continuing to develop her own distinct style.  I fell in love with these bowls, inspired by those used by Medieval monks.

boonsNext door was Sofie Boons, the Alchemical Jeweller, a graduate of the RCA, 2013.  Available as a recipe book and kit, with an elegant silver pin, I was lucky enough to experience Sofie’s solid perfume.  Grapefruit zest, TicTacs, mint, cardamon, coconut and salt were put in small pouch and pinned as a brooch to my chest. My daughters thought it smelt good enough to eat.  I was reminded of Lauren Davies Alchemists Design Table, encouraging a transparency and honesty about what we put on our skin.

The show was a feast for the senses.  Appreciation of the environment was visually evident, but scrabble around in the undergrowth and the homage rarely has the opportunity to go deeper.  There was a desire to design textiles and surfaces that take their appreciation of the natural world to a more tangible level, constrained by cost, college facilities, and a sense that demand is limited.  As the exhibition for emerging design it would be great to see more innovative and sustainable textiles on show as they begin to be adopted more widely, especially by contract clients.

New Designers Part 2 will be at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 2nd until 5th July.

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2013/07/08/new-designers-2013-2/

Design Factory @ Clerkenwell Design Week

sc1The buzz at the entrance to the Design Factory was palpable for the opening of Clerkenwell Design Week 2014.   By lunchtime the queue to get in was snaking up the street, and with good reason, as there are some exciting stories to tell.

I raced upstairs to see the first pieces from a new collaboration between Sebastian Cox and Benchmark Furniture.  The Chestnut and Ash range, made from coppiced chestnut and well-managed ash, includes the SHAKE and LATH series.  The SHAKE cabinet (pictured left, w80 d41 h180) and SHAKE sideboard (w150 d45 h80) are made from a solid dovetailed ash carcass with doors made from cleft chestnut shakes, hence the name.  Cleaving is the controlled splitting of wood along its grain to create a unique, textured detail that speaks honestly of the materials crafted with such skill.  

sc2The LATH chair revisits the traditional ladder-back chair.  With laths split from freshly coppiced chestnut and a frame made from ash cut with a CNC router, it is epitomises this new, true collaboration.  The chair (w42 d50 h98) is available with a seat in either veg-tan leather, or natural Danish cord (both are pictured with the SHAKE sideboard).

Sean Sutcliffe, MD and co-founder of Benchmark, came across Sebastian’s work when he was judging the Wood Awards 2011 (Sebastian won the Outstanding Design category).  Sustainability and craftsmanship have been integral Benchmark Furniture   since it launched in 1983, and in 2007, Benchmark won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, the first furniture maker to win this award.  It is the perfect springboard for Sebastian’s designs.  

sc3sc4Whittling away the hours, and sharing some greenwood working gems alongside a splendid Benchmark table was Barn the Spoon (here he is on the right whittling with Sebastian).  Barn started woodworking when he was 12, and has not stopped since.  He has a shop at 260 Hackney Rd, runs courses and the annual Spoonfest (tickets for 2o14 are already sold out).  Working with all manner of wood from London, sycamore, cherry, beech, birch and spalted alder (which has a lovely speckled look), Barn fashions that most essential, and treasured of kitchen implements with great eye for the grain.

It was impossible not to enjoy the arrestingly colourful outdoor furniture from Jennifer Newman.  The M-Bamboo Table and M-Bench were voted “Top Product” when first exhibited at last year’s Clerkenwell Design Week.  This year, they were back in exuberant fashion made from a base of aluminium (88% recycled and recyclable) with a durable powder-coating finish available in any RAL colour. As with the M-Bamboo, the top of the prototype table pictured is made of bamboo, which grows to maturity within 5 years, with light bamboo for inside, and dark bamboo for outside.  

jn1There is other colourful, functional outdoor furniture on the market, but look closely and the joy is in the detail of the Jennifer Newman pieces.  The crisp, clean lines as the aluminium folds around the seat of the A-Frame Bench are precise.  It takes skill to wrap like that, just ask my husband at Christmas!!  The planter on castors would be the perfect home for any citrus or similarly fair-weather plants as they can be rolled into warmer locations when the British weather dictates.

disciAround the corner, I lingered at the DISCIPLINE stand admiring their concise 2014 collection and manifesto that promises, “Natural materials, sustainability, durability, beauty and simplicity.”  DISCIPLINE works with 16 international designers to create function objects for everyday enjoyment from bamboo, cork, glass, leather, metal, stone, textile and wood.  I particularly liked the Drifted chair with its cork seat, but it was too early in the day to justify a sit-down!  The Drifted series, designed by Lars Beller Fjetland also includes stools, is available in a combination of natural, red and black painted base with dark or light cork seats, priced from £170 for a stool.

bd jaElsewhere, there are further contemporary reinterpretations of traditional chair-making techniques.  In particular, leaving the end grain of the legs exposed is used to great effect with the Holton series at James UK (pictured on the left in walnut) and the Occasional Peg table (440mx520mm) from  Barnby and Day (pictured here on the right).  I was also partial to the brass detailing on Another Country’s Bar Stool One.  The various foot rest options are apparently well-suited client of all statures and standings, and the back support steadies those late at the bar!

IMG_3452 IMG_3453There is plenty for the bijoux urban home, such as this clever and versatile folding Proppy chair from Devon-based Tandem Studio.  The chair can be used inside or out and is surprisingly comfortable with an adjustable back rest.  When not in use it can hang from a wall bracket, awaiting the next guest, or freeing your floor space for other things!  Available in solid oak or beech and finished in Osmo oil from £225!

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgFor those inspired by RHS Chelsea Flower Show but without an inch of outdoor space, the boskke Sky Planter provides a bit of green indoors. Hanging from the ceiling the Sky Planter uses a terracotta disc to feed water gradually to the roots.  Made of ceramic or 100% pre-consumer recycled plastic the planters could keep fresh kitchen herbs very much to hand.

Today, Thursday 22nd May, is the last day of Clerkenwell Design Week so get there while you can, or you’ll have to wait until next year!

Photo credit: boskke; the rest my own!

 

 

May Design Series – cc edited highlights

tr1Time 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.

myx-hanging-lamp-growing-180dpiWhile 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!

wall2bearIn 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.  

feltFrom 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?

corkThere 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!

ootdIn 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

Carry-A-Bag home from Pick Me Up

IMG_3329If you are short of inspiration this bank holiday weekend, you will find a wonderful tonic at Pick Me Up, the UK’s contemporary graphic arts festival that runs until 5th May at Somerset House.  Pick Me Up is a fun and informal festival.  After the more sedate gallery on the ground floor, the mezzanine is bursting with colourful, eclectic and quirky studios.

The daily events are hosted with such enthusiasm that even the most timid of amateurs can dive in.  When I visited Handsome Frank artist Sarah Maycock was leading an interactive day of blind drawing.  Large cardboard boxes were arranged around a central table of still life objects.  Budding artists sat with their drawing hand inside a box and drew what they saw.  The results were surprisingly good.  A great exercise in recalibrating the relationship between hand and eye, and releasing inhibition, that I will be replicating at home.  

Herbarium 1600I attended with intent, and made a beeline for the collaboration between Carry-a-Bag and Heal’s hosted by Outline Artists.    Outline Artists, Hvass & Hannibal designed Herbarium (pictured left), one of ten new fabrics from Heal’s as their first textile collection since the 1970s.  The colourful designs include work from emerging as well as established designers, such as Zandra Rhodes.

There was a hive of activity in the event space with a steady hum from two sewing machines.  After adding my name to the list, I was handed a bag liner to personalise, if I wished, with a range of stamps.  “Act upon your dreams” were my bon mots to accompany my choice of Heals’s 1810 Killary fabric in Cloud study.  Ever the dreamer on a bright, sunny day!  Once I had prepared my liner the bag was swiftly pinned, sewn and ironed by the experts while I browsed the rest of the show.

IMG_3340Sally Walton (pictured on the right) started Carry-a-Bag, making bags from a mixture of vintage fabrics and organic cotton, in 2005.  Her previous collaborations include Liberty’s and Aveda.  I treasure a floral make-up bag (pictured right) that was originally filled with Aveda travel products. IMG_3346 By their very nature the bags are all limited editions as they are made of vintage fabrics.  The bags are available online, priced at £25 for a tote.  Your bag is perfectly personal to you, and what a better way to get yourself prepared to say no to a plastic bag when you go to the supermarket.

In 2012, supermarkets in the UK gave out over 8 billion single-use carrier bags, that’s over 120 bags per person and about 60,000 tonnes of waste (source DEFRA)-quite some footprint!  Plastic bags are a very visual blot on the landscape as litter and also harm wildlife.  Many single use carrier bags are made of oil-based plastic (a non-renewable resource) and 86% of them end up in landfill where they can take up to 500-1000 years to decompose, if they ever do break down.  IMG_3331Other options are available to us.  I often wonder if people had to ask for a bag, rather than being offered one, would they use fewer?  As a step towards changing incentives the UK Government is introducing a 5p charge on all single-use plastic carrier bags in England in October 2015, four years after Wales introduced a 5p charge in 2011 (Northern Ireland did so in 2013, and Scotland is introducing a charge this year).  As the experience in Wales shows, people can change their behaviour.  There was a 76% drop in the distribution of single-use bags in the year after the charge was introduced.   A Carry-A-Bag makes even everyday errands that bit more beautiful.  And all those vintage florals are bang on trend this summer!

IMG_3344Back at Pick Me Up, you can pick up affordable works from the most innovative graphic art collectives, galleries and organisations of the moment.  It was a good job that I had my new tote to hand to take home my haul! 

 

 

Sebastian Cox Pop-up @ Heals

sc1Catch him while you can.  Tomorrow, Sunday 23rd, is the last day of Sebastian Cox’s Woodland Workshop pop-up in Heal’s Tottenham Court Road store.  Sebastian is an award-winning designer and maker, with a strong ethos of sustainability.  As you might remember from earlier posts, he is famed for his work with coppiced hazel, an ancient method of woodland management.

For the last couple of weekend’s Sebastian and his team (today, George) have been very much front of house for Heal’s ‘Made for you‘ series, hand crafting drawers in the store window.

IMG_3054The stack of drawers are for their latest Heal’s piece, a five drawer ‘Tall-boy’ in celebration of British grown hardwoods.  Each drawer is individually crafted using one of ten timbers, showing their distinctive grain, and colour, to subtle and stunning effect.  The timbers have all been sustainably sourced.  In fact, they can even tell you when the wood was milled and grown.  The Tall-boy pictured right is in oak, walnut, sycamore, London plane, and elm.  We were particularly struck by the flecking and wavy grain of the elm.  The undulating grain is what gives elm its characteristic strength.

IMG_3057Other timbers available are ash, brown oak, chestnut, hazel and birch.  The ‘brown oak’ is not a different species, but oak that has been infected with fungus, leaving it a rich tea colour.  The choice of timber and tonal scale is yours.  If you are undecided, you could order a pair and then mix and match the drawers to your heart’s content.  The Tall-boy retails at Heal’s for around £2,000, depending on your choice of timber.  Remember a thing of beauty is a joy forever!

IMG_3058Seeing Sebastian and George deftly making use of the range of hand tools was fascinating, for us, and our young daughters.  They were enchanted by this real-life Mister Maker, and thoroughly charmed when Sebastian used his hand plane to give them a couple of shavings that spiralled in their palms.  They watched, coyly, as George meticulously prepared a dovetail joint.  It was a moment for us all to appreciate the skill of hand crafting furniture, to connect the elegant piece with its humble beginnings and reflect on the beauty of Britain’s natural resources.

A conversation with Unto this Last

Unto This Last Shop 1A conversation with Olivier Geoffroy, founder of Unto this Last, was a much anticipated treat.  Unto this Last is a contemporary workshop in London that makes furniture using digitally-controlled cutting tools.

As you walk in you are struck by the manifesto suspended from the ceiling.  The name, Unto this Last, comes from a book by John Ruskin (whose picture hangs on the adjacent wall), published in 1862, in which he advocated a return to local craftsmen and workshops in reaction to the monotony and conditions of the rapidly industrialised working class of his time.  For recent generations, this would have been a nostalgic process affordable to the few. Mass produced furniture was for the many, just as today, Olivier observes, Ikea make good value furniture on a global scale.  The efficiencies of repetition, high volumes and uniform products allow low industrial prices.  The flat-pack design of the products is dictated by the need to package and transport them easily.  Unto this Last is turning this economic model on its head with local craftsmen creating products that are made to measure, and hand-finished in a workshop, but at an affordable price. “Unto This Last’s purpose is to offer the convenience of the local craftsman’s workshop at mass-production prices.”

Unto This Last WorkshopDigital technologies can change the economics of small-scale manufacturing.  The Future is Here exhibition last year at the Design Museum, of which Unto this Last was a contributor, characterised the changing boundaries between designers, manufacturers and consumers and new distributed manufacturing techniques as a new industrial revolution.  In fact, Unto this Last was launched in 2001, and CNC (computer numerical controlled) routing is not a new technology, but perhaps the wider interest in micro-manufacturing reflects a confluence of trends: revisiting making things in Britain; a focus on provenance and who is making things; a concern for materials and how things are made.

Our conversation began with Olivier’s definition of the environment.  So often we are bombarded with global definitions, but at Unto this Last, the environment is the workshop, the immediate physical surroundings and conditions in which he and his team work.  Every aspect of design, material choice, production, and delivery is examined through this lens.  Perhaps because the enterprise is so closely connected to its environment, there is an imperative to tread lightly.

boardThe workshop is characterised by 3 principles.  The first is less mass generated by using more data.  Starting from software designed to make aircrafts, it took 6 or 7 years to develop a special biometric format able to adjust to the variations of the wood, and clients’ needs.  Tools that are easy to use, and flexible reduce waste.  Nearly every square centimetre of a standard 2metre plywood board plywood is utilised (see picture).  Small areas are used to make candlesticks, utensils or toys.  The remainder is used for heating, or recycled.

The second principle is optimising logistics.  Digital technology streamlines supply chain management and scheduling.   The local, made to order production process means that there is no overproduction, warehousing or packaging costs (or materials).  Everything is delivered wrapped in blankets within the range of the big electric-van.  And when your clients are local, you take great pride in the quality of your work and care over your choice of materials.  The Latvian birch plywood is from a man-planted forest, where plantation is growing at 10% a year, and certified FSC and PEFC.   To simplify the supply chain products are made with the same material, even down to the hinges, so easily recyclable.  The only metal parts are shelf-pins.

Underpinning both of these principles is a stringent focus on improving productivity and absolute precision.  Influenced by production methods developed in the car industry, assemblies are timed and analysed to ask ‘can we do it better’.  It is an iterative process with feedback revealing a more elegant and efficient dynamic.  So the team at Unto this Last are selected not only for their skill as designers and makers but also for an enquiring mind.   This spirit of enquiry and desire to do it better has relevance and merit far beyond this Brick Lane workshop.

Unto This Last TV Stand bespoke coloursThe third principle is that the workshop is the brand.  From the street, through the shop, the workshop is visible.  Everything is on display, and this literal transparency is integral to Unto this Last’s approach to micro-manufacturing.  Clients are buying the story, and involved in tailoring their piece with a wide choice of finishes.  As the workshop, and process is open, no solvent-based paints are used anywhere in the process (pictured right is a TV stand and colour chart).  The plywoods are laminated in the workshop with impregnated paper, cold-bonded with PVA glue.  The surfaces and edges are finished with hard wax oil from OSMO, a food safe mix of sunflower, soya, linseed and thistle oil with wax.

Unto This Last Kids ChairThe aesthetic is clean, contemporary and sensual.  When I mention Unto this Last, without prompting people remark how they just wanted to touch the furniture.  Servicing a local, loyal clientele necessitates a wide catalogue of products.  The design is inspired by the production process, the environment, and Olivier’s requirement to furnish the needs of a young family (kids table and chair, pictured left).  Every detail is considered.

Unto this Last does more than make joyful products, as they hope their “workshop contributes positively to the life of the city”.  It is an enterprise with a tangible and transparent integrity.  Olivier tells the story with a combination of passion and eloquence, I hope I hear it again in other cities and enterprises.

Photo credits: Unto this Last, except for photo of plywood board, which is mine!

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.

4e25a82465b20

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.

ep10806bks

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

aga

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.