The Wish List

wishlistThere was no better way to kick off my London Design Festival 2014 than The Wish List” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  With a mentoring relationship at its heart, the project began with a conversation between Benchmark, Terence Conran and the American Hardwood Export Council.  They conceived of ten leading designers commissioning the object that they had always wanted but never found or had time to design themselves. The ten commissioners chose, or were matched with, up-and-coming designers, for whom it was the commission of a lifetime!

Each of the young designers was given a box of American hardwoods, and the design process unfolded, culminating in an intense, “Making Week”, or first furniture festival, at Benchmark working with master craftsmen skilled in traditional techniques, as well as the latest technologies.  Benchmark has embraced sustainability from its outset in 1984, after Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder with Terence Conran, was influenced by Jonathon Porritt. The commitment to sustainability, craftsmanship and expertise in timber (though they also have a specialist metal workshop and an upholstery studio), made Benchmark an ideal partner for AHEC in The Wish List. AHEC were keen not only to showcase the range and properties of American hardwood, but also share the AHEC’s work on life-cycle assessment (LCA) with the designers.

Wood has many environmental virtues: it is organic, renewable, versatile, and a carbon sink.  The area covered by American hardwood forests is equivalent to UK, France & Spain combined, and the AHEC estimate that the carbon footprint of all ten projects is less than one return flight to New York.  Wood is also probably the material that man has been working with for longer than any other.  Wood is sensual and tactile, overtime it responds our touch, changing patina, becoming smooth, or chipped, with each knock or indent becoming part of the story of the object.

RTEmagicC_Sebastian_Cox_2883_txdam9114_dfa4c8.jpgThe young designers made careful choice of their material.  Sebastian Cox asked David Venables of AHEC which were the least popular in the UK and deliberately chose to work with them, seizing the opportunity to elevate their status. Cox, who usually works with greenwood, relished the opportunity to experiment with red oak and cherrywood.  Initially Conran had wanted a rail and curtain to screen his desk, in response Sebastian suggested a curved, woven screen. The kiln-dried oak was too inflexible to weave, so Cox made use of swilling, a technique he recently learnt with Lorna Singleton to soften the timber so it was malleable enough to weave.  Swilling, or soaking, the timber in the stream at Barton Court, Terence and Vicki Conran’s 18th-century country home, connected the piece to the landscape of its future home.

wishlist2Known for his innovative use of wood, Alex de Rijke, Dean of the School of Architecture, RCA, and a founding Director of the architectural practice dRMM, pioneered the use of hardwood for cross-wishlist3laminated timber (CLT) for the Endless Stair he designed at last year’s London Design Festival, so it is unsurprising that he and Barnby & Day chose to use CLT made of American tulipwood.  But this fast-growing timber, that is is often overlooked, overpainted and “chopped through to get to the good stuff” is here given the Midas touch.  Nathalie de Leval’s shed for Paul Smith was made of thermally modified ash (pictured right, and below with Terence Conran, Paul Smith and Nathalie de Level).  Thermally modified timber (TMT) is heat-treated for three or four days in an inert atmosphere (no oxygen).  The process irreversibly changes the chemical and physical properties of the wood so that does not need additional treatment as it is more resistant to rot, fungi and moisture.

RTEmagicC_Wish_List_Hadid_Ves-el_Petr_Krejci_Photography_33_txdam9267_071dd1.jpgThe Wish List fused the craft of design and the craft of making.  A conversation with some of the designers, commissioners, and Sean Sutcliffe, chaired by Edwin Heathcote, explored the relationship between the two.  Heathcote recounted a recent visit to a design school without workshops.  Today industrial design is often separated from making with products moving from design to rapid prototyping and then manufacture overseas.  Sean Sutcliffe offered a definition of craft from Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsmenas when “the point of focus becomes the limit of the tool”.

The Ves-sel that Gareth Neal made for Zaha Hadid is a perfect example of engaging traditional process and digital manufacture.  Neal said he “provocated Sean to use the CNC router”, and Benchmark had to upgrade wishlist4its software accordingly.  Neal had been invited to Hadid’s company offices and use their modelling software to create the vessel’s design that captures the fluidity of Hadid’s designs, and functions as a water carafe.  One of the vessel’s was left unpainted, after consultation with Hadid, to reveal the natural colour.  The vessel is extruded along one axis, with a slit at the end creating what Neal describes as a ‘cathedral-like space’. If not monumental in scale, it is in complexity.  Sutcliffe described the object as an outstanding piece of craftsmanship, “the most remarkable thing we have ever made”.

Continuous involvement in the process, and evolvement of skill underpins the best craftsmanship, and several commissioners warn of the limitation of digital tools.  As Amanda Levete noted the link between intellect and hand becomes more remote with technology, an element of control is relinquished.  Something may seem perfectly resolved, but not be conceptually perfect, but without space for adjustment.  With rapid prototyping a hundred options can be quickly, and extravagantly, produced, but does this ease compensate for a lack of rigour at the design stage?  Making great objects is often an iterative process in response to the material.  For Alex de Rijke one of the constraints of digital technology is that computers do not have the same dialogue with materials or scale.  Alison Brooks, too, describes how computer design can quickly take a designer into complexity that they have to navigate out of, often through physical experimentation.

RTEmagicC_Win_Assakul_2755_txdam9130_dfa4c8.jpgThe “Making Week” brought many of these tensions to the fore.  With no experience of physical making, Win Assakul was persuaded to pick up hand tools to craft the 3m long serving dish he designed for Amanda Levete.  Hand-making is part of the story of the object, requiring considered, elegant solutions to the complex shape and presentation of the dish.

RTEmagicC_Banaby_and_Day_2425_txdam9093_dfa4c8.jpgThe “Table-Turned” Barnby & Day designed for Alex de Rijke presented the challenge of scale.  Weighing 170kg, and with a diameter of 2m, the table is quiet possibly one of the largest objects to be turned on a lathe.  Benchmark brought in specialist turner Mike Bradley to turn the table in 3 sections, with the largest section turning at 62mph on the outer edge.

wishlist6Even skilled craftsman, Sebastian Cox was presented with new challenges.  The Conran commission, “Getting Aware from it All” was, Cox said, “the most intricate and challenging thing that I had ever made, but how often will I get the chance to design for someone who is so important in the industry?”  If the screens were 1mm out at the joint, they would be 5mm our where they met. The rolling tambour is made from solid strips of wood, rather than cloth-backed and there is a secret drawer.  The compliment was repaid by Conran, “I have been making furniture for 60 years but I am still learning from Sebastian”.

RTEmagicC_Wish_List_Pawson_Room_Petr_Krejci_Photography_12_txdam9295_12e383.jpgNot all the project were conceived as one-offs. Felix de Pass’  “A Stool for the Kitchen” designed with Alison Brooks could in future grace our homes.  The series of architectural elements, “Room”, designed by Atelier Areti with John Pawson could indeed make the everyday more beautiful.  Simple, elegant forms finished with an incredible attention to detail.  For example, the grain on the dimmer knob of the light switch is aligned with that of the base plate when it is switched off.

wishlist7Wish list is about design, and beautiful materials. For the commissioners it was an unusual role reversal, a process Amanda Levete found moving as though handing the baton on to the next generation of inspiring designers.  It is also about the intensity of making, the joy of sharing collaboratively, and the richer learning that results: that was perhaps the real alchemy of the Wish List.  Sean Sutcliffe certainly hopes that seed has been sown.

The AHEC Wish List page has a playlist of short films of each of the pieces, but the installation is definitely worth a visit to the V&A!

Image credits: AHEC, or my own.

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/09/14/looking-ahead-to-london-design-festival/

Come & watch Lorna Singleton demonstrating swill basketry this Wednesday

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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!

Handmade in Britain – this weekend

 

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After Made London last weekend, the Christmas shopping season is well underway, so rather than leave it to a blind panic at the last minute, or  the almost overwhelming task of navigating online offers, try a slow, steady, even enjoyable browse of some of this season’s autumn fairs.  If you are in, or around, London, ‘Handmade in Britain‘, is being held this weekend (8-10th November) at the  Chelsea Old Town Hall.  The contemporary craft and design fair is the seventh annual showcase of around 90 designers and makers showcasing their wares in the run up to Christmas for some original, and creative gifts.  If last years event is anything to go by jewellery, textiles and ceramics will all be well represented.  I shall be looking out for the driftwood sculptures from Mike Lythgoe.

This year, for the first time, the show includes a ‘New Graduate’ showcase, I wonder if any of the designers and makers I saw early in the summer will be exhibiting.

 

 

 

Get creative, get personal at Liberty for 10 days

liberty

For ten days it is time to Get Creative, and get personal at Liberty of London.  This august emporium of beautiful things famed for its distinctive fabrics, Arts and Crafts heritage, design, craftsmanship and innovative collaborations is inviting us to have a go.  As well as bespoke products, there are a variety of interactive workshops where you can emboss, engrave or monogram products to put your stamp on them.  You could literally stamp your mark and design your own bespoke shoes in conjunction with English shoemakers Grenson (starting at £360 for women’s shoes!).

For something closer to carefully curated’s remit, Rowan are running a craft session everyday from 12pm-3pm in the Haberdashery department on the 3rd floor where you could make a Christmas bauble, make a needle case, or an Advent calendar (from Button Bag, the craft kits for children).  By way of a last hurrah, Etsy hosts a couple of sessions on the final day, including making origami greeting cards led by Gemma Gileard of Etsy shop, Gx2homegrown.

Use your hands, connect with your inner creativity and allow yourself to be inspired. The full calendar of events is here.

Knitting and Stitching Show

7819610_assocImage_3This weekend it is the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London, 10th -13th October.  If you need a little inspiration to make, do and mend, explore a new hobby, or advance an old one there is plenty on offer.  There are exhibits from some of the leading names in textiles, as well as taster workshops for the amateur and plenty of supplies available for to get you going.

Carefully curated would be heading for the Upcycling Academy,  headed by Barley Massey of Fabrications. and joined by TRAID, War on Want and Craftivist Collective.  There will be all manner of creative avenues for old cast-offs from rosette making to knitting with waste fabric, plus lots of customisation and ideas!

A hearty appetiser before Wool Week starts on Monday.