September 23, 2014

London Design Festival Recap

After a sleepy summer in Europe, the London Design Festival serves as a welcome kick-start to the new season, bringing with it a vibrant mix of exhibitions, events and happenings—from immersive installations to innovative new materials.

Olympic torch designers BarberOsgerby unveiled an ambitious installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum that was designed and made in collaboration with BMW. Called Double Space, the project saw the London-based duo install two gigantic but incredibly lightweight reflective panels into the museum’s breathtaking Raphael Gallery. Supported by a framework that fits snugly under the gallery’s vaulted ceiling, the two curved aluminum forms slowly rotate, providing a warped reflection of the Raphael cartoonspainting studies for Raphael’s tapestries which hang in the Sistine Chapel. The resulting effect is disorientating but mesmerizing.

Also at the Victoria and Albert Museum was a series of specially commissioned wooden products entitled The Wishlist. Executed by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Benchmark Furniture, the project was the brainchild of Sir Terence Conran, co-founder of Benchmark, who wrote to his friends and asked, “What have you always wanted in your home, but never been able to find?” Paul Smith, Norman Foster, Amanda Levete, John Pawson, Alison Brooks, Zaha Hadid, Alex de Rijke, Richard and Ab Rogers were each assigned a young designer to realize their responses. Highlights included a cherry desk with woven red oak panels designed by talented craftsman Sebastian Cox for Sir Terence Conran and a striking set of sinuous tableware by Gareth Neal for Zaha Hadid.

Every year the Festival takes over London’s Trafalgar Square with an interactive design installation. This year went to sponsors Airbnb, who asked four London-based design studiosIlse Crawford, Jasper Morrison, Patternity and RAW Edgesto furnish a pitched-roof hut constructed in the Square during the Festival. The brief was to create a space that answered the question: “What makes a house a home?” The most practical response came from RAW Edges, whose compact home demonstrated how, with clever design and a little imagination, it’s possible to live in the smallest of spaces.

Set up in memory of Designjunction director Deborah Spencer’s nephew, who sadly passed away at the age of three months earlier this year, Teddy’s Wish is a charity raising funds for research into the causes of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), neonatal death and stillbirth. To help raise money and awareness, Spencer organized A Child’s Wish, a charity auction held at Designjunction. A host of creatives from across the industry were asked to put their own spin on a plain white Type75 Mini desk lamp from Anglepoise or one of Ercol’s Stacking Chairs. A stand out piece was Donna Wilson’s Ercol Stacking Chair which she customized with rainbow-colored wool.

East London-based studio James Plumb presented a series of works made using vintage burnished indigo fabric sourced from southeast China, at 6 Puma Court. The rare fabric, which is traditionally used to make coats and pleated skirts, was washed and treated by the designers before being used to upholster a chesterfield sofa and a series of pleated lampshades.

SCP showcased the results of director Sheridan Coakley’s recent trip to Japan with ceramics designer Reiko Kaneko. Collectively called Simplified Beauty, the works on show included furniture from the Ishinomaki Laboratory, handmade Mashiko ceramics, and fine glassware from the Shotoku Glass Company. As part of the same show, New York designers Fort Standard presented a mixture of new and old work; from their first self-produced collection to a range of designs for clients SCP, Areaware and 1882 Ltd.

Wallpaper teamed with AfghanMade carpets to present a series of new contemporary rug designs made in Afghanistan. The project brings attention to the work of AfghanMadea company set up to help develop the country’s indigenous industries following years of war and unrest. Designed by industry luminaires and made in collaboration with a selection of European and American carpet brands including Christopher Farr, Nodus and Nanimarquina, the rugs challenged the Afghan craftsmen to create unfamiliar patterns, shapes and sizes. By introducing this new way of working and by improving facilities, AfghanMade hopes to bring independence to Afghanistan’s craft industries.

Amsterdam-based design studio Formafantasma designed a series of unusual timepieces to celebrate Established & Sons’ tenth anniversary. Using luxurious materials such as polished brass and marble, the five abstract clocks included a disc of Carrera marble cut into a central disc and an outer ring. The central disc functions as the minute hand, revolving 360 degrees over 60 minutes with the veins of the marble only aligning on the hour.

The Aram Gallery’s show “Future Stars?” showcased a diverse display of work by seven promising new designers. We particularly enjoyed Kim Thome’s geometric Layer Screens, made from colored lighting gels, cut out and arranged between two layers of glass. Lola Lely’s Ply Leather side tables stemmed from the young designer’s collaboration with renowned shoemaker John Lobb. “I have been experimenting with a new process to develop a series of vibrant furniture made from moulded leather and wood, resulting in a strong yet soft material,” explains Lely. Equally as experimental were James Shaw’s Plastic Baroque pieces, which he made by inventing a handheld tool that extrudes recycled thermoplastics.

The most innovative example of sustainable design at the Festival came courtesy of designers Matteo Fogale and Laetitia De Allegri who presented a series of furniture and products made from recycled post-industrial waste materials. Made by U.S.-based Iris Industries, the intriguing new composites are made by mixing waste laminate, denim and cotton fibers with resin binders to create three different sheet materialsslate-ish, denimite and marblus—that each look convincingly like slate or marble. Lightweight and strong, the materials were used to create simple shelving, seating, side tables and tableware.

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