Replica furniture: Fakes or Affordable design? The big debate.

Last week I wrote a post about replica furniture and didn’t expect the feedback to come back as much as it did, and I’m very appreciative of hearing the comments because it’s why I wrote a blog after-all. It felt like throwing a rock pebble in to a pond and the ripples are still going.

As a single post on the topic of Replica furniture, it was never going to be able to touch on all aspects of this subject so I had planned to pick this up again with a few more posts. The main point that was raised over this post is whether we (and by ‘we’ I am referring to the less wealthy design lover) should have the chance to buy designs at a far lower price.

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Images above courtesy Vitra

Why should an Eames DSW chair be out of my reach when I’m as appreciative of this as those with more cash. After all Charles & Ray always wanted their designs to be placed in the public realm and enjoyed by everyone.

This opens two strands of conversation for me:
1. Why does an Eames DSW cost £340?
2. Should copies be allowed to offer a lower cost version?

I’ve given my moral opinion on this subject, I am against copies. They take royalties away from designers. Simple as that. (NB. I’m going to deal with the subject of royalties for designers who are no longer alive another time as that keeps coming up.)

But what about my opinion on affordability, and the desire of a designer to make their products inexpensive. And what should that price be? I hear the amount £30 a lot for a chair. In my opinion, you can’t make a good chair to retail for £30. But I do own chairs that cost £10 which I love. But I wouldn’t compare them to the comfort of my Vitra Eames DSW. If a chair is £30 then I’m desperate to sit my bum in it and see how comfortable it is. If it is comfortable then I’m starting to look at the quality of manufacturing. Do those nuts and bolts come loose easily? Is the edge of the plastic finished by hand? If that looks good to me too, then I’m wondering where it is made, what the packaging is like, and how it will look after a few years of use. This is a difficult area, and one that I’m hoping to explore very soon. (On that note, I’ve reached out to some companies for help on this, but I would love a manufacturer to explain to me why their products cost more than the copies.(

So, let’s get back on track. Should copies be allowed to offer a lower cost version? I believe in creativity, and funding this, be that a designer or a manufacturer. And copies open up issues for me with this.

But why copy a design? Why not design a £30 chair? Or is this a key point that the designing/modelling of a product takes time and costs money whereas a copy can be done for relatively little money. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. Or is it to fuel demand? We see the Eames DSW on Pinterest and in magazines all of the time which fuels our desire to have one of these icons in our own homes. If a new chair design was launched would it sell as well as a copy? Probably not. And to market a new product is expensive…to create the demand that the Eames DSW has generated. Herein lies some of the extra cost seen by the official products, they support and create the awareness that makes it appealing to copycats.

But why not let the people who want the original buy that, and let people who can’t afford it buy a copy? Here we are with a moral dilemma again. If you designed something and were happily selling it making profit from your own idea, and someone copied it and sold it undercutting you and paid you nothing, would that make you angry or happy that your product was being enjoyed by more people? Don’t worry, dear reader, there is no need to answer that question. Most of us are capitalists when it comes to commerce.

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Images above courtesy Ikea

So why not design a new chair for £30? C’mon, how hard can it be? Form Us With Love were tasked with just that by mega-retailer Ikea who sell their Janinge chair for £40. It’s a plastic chair that infringes no copyright and even supports creativity by funding new affordable design and furniture. Or why not buy Hille’s reissue of the Polyprop chair endorsed by the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation which is only £49 and is so very beautiful in all it’s utilitarian splendour. Buying that chair supports the foundation’s work with student development and funds future design exploration.

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Image courtesy Wikipedia via Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

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Images above courtesy Amos Marchant / Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

There are a variety of ways that you can buy an inexpensive chair without having to buy a copy. Great design, affordable, ethical, made to last and comfortable. Precisely what an affordable chair should be.

Product: Official Eames DSW Chair
Designer: Charles & Ray Eames
Manufacturer: Vitra or Herman Miller
Year: 1950
Price: £340

Product: Replica Eames DSW Chair
Designer: Charles & Ray Eames
Manufacturer: Voga
Year: 1950
Price: £67

Product: Polypropylene Side Chair
Designer: Robin Day
Manufacturer: Hille
Year: 1963
Price: £49

Product: Janinge Chair
Designer: Form Us With Love
Manufacturer: Ikea
Year: 2015
Price: £40

Replica furniture outlawed in UK. Is this the end of affordable design?

I received a press release from a PR a couple of weeks ago with the title as you see it. “Replica furniture outlawed in UK. Is this the end of affordable design?” Naturally I was intrigued to read what they had to say on the subject, as the title is rather leading. It is passively suggesting that this new law will have a knock effect to affordable design which makes me curious to read the argument.

The company that commissioned the press release is Pash Living state “Pash Living, who have specialised in replica furniture market, now face the prospect of having to reinvent their entire business model.”

A bold statement that this law is putting their livelihood in jeopardy. “A new copyright ruling designed to bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, was expected to give retailers a number of years to sell off their existing stock. But yesterday they were told they must stop selling by January 28th, 2017, or face prosecution.” Crikey.

Pash Founder, Aaran Hall, said: “The dream of designers like Ray and Charles Eames was to make good design available to everyone. That’s not possible when the license for these products belongs to big business and costs big money. When an original Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair will set you back about £5,000, it’s easy to see why the £450 copy has been so popular.

Our aim is to make great design available to as many people as possible, at an affordable price. We take as much pride in our products as any design house, quality checking every item before it leaves us. We are moving into more original lines as a result of the legislation but our mission will always be to offer the best quality designer furniture at the most competitive price.”

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Image copyright Vitra

However, this bill was first raised in 2012, and later put to the House of Lords in 2013 allowing replica furniture to be sold up until 2020. Most of these companies have made no effort to make changes to their business in the three years since then, holding out until 2020 before they begin to pivot their business models. The decision to bring this forward to 2017 may escalate the decisions these companies need to make however it is not quite the shock that the press release is suggesting.

According to MailOnline: “The coalition Government’s decision to repeal Section 52 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988, as part of the the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, was expected to be implemented in 2020, to give companies affected time to adapt. However, a legal challenge has forced the Government to fast track it to April 28th this year.”

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’m whole-heartedly against fakes. I wrote a piece about the Tolix chair which has been the most popular post every month ever since I wrote it back in 2013 around the time of Elle Decoration’s Fight the Fakes campaign.

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Image copyright Knoll

But what really caused me to grab my laptop and write a blog post about Pash Living’s press release was a short statement at the bottom of the release which states “Supporters of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill say the companies who pay to license these products should be allowed the exclusive rights to them. Those against it, claim the bill will stifle creativity and that big businesses are taking these products out of the reach of the very people they were designed to serve.”

No explanation has been given by Pash Living as to how this will stifle creativity and I would argue quite the opposite. By producing replica furniture and not paying royalties to designers, you are lining the pockets of a retailer and not a designer. No designer is benefiting from replica furniture sales, and therefore any money they may need to support themselves during design processes is under pressure.

By supporting this bill, we are enabling companies to work with designers as all products will need to be licensed and pay appropriate royalties or fees to designers to continue their creativity.

Those against this bill are supporting no creativity. And if you can sleep at night knowing that then I have no issue, but let’s not all pretend that replica furniture is in some way a good thing. I personally support the bill and Pash Living should be changing their business to support design rather than exploit design.

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Image copyright Fritz Hansen

People took to Twitter with their comments, and in the fairness of giving a full view here are some that grabbed my attention…

The world’s finest knitwear. John Smedley.

“If you don’t start with the right raw materials, you’re never gonna end up with a great garment” says Ian Maclean, managing director of John Smedley. Don’t let the name fool you, Maclean is an 8th generation member of the Smedley family so knows a thing or two about garments.

John Smedley is the name of four generations of owners of Lea Mills, near Matlock, Derbyshire. The most famous of these was John Smedley (1803-1874), born Wirksworth, Derbyshire. Lea Mills was founded in 1784 by Peter Nightingale (a relation of Florence Nightingale) (former accountant to Richard Arkwright), and John Smedley (father of the better-known son of the same name). It was set up on a hilly site straddling a brook at Lea Bridge, just outside Matlock. The brook was used to both clean yarn and power machinery.

The company now sells to over 30 countries and has won numerous awards for its export achievements with the largest export market being Japan. “We’re proud to have ‘Made in Great Britain’ on the tag of every garment we make” says Maclean. The company has remained a British, family run business with a net worth of £8.9m. It’s current and past directors runs through a list of family members, and closer inspection shows that 13.54% of the business is owned by it’s employees. Marvellous. However this company has sold shares to private equity firms in order to grow the business but a sale to the giants is not on the horizon.

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John Smedley use a collaborative approach to create new designs…”we work as a team from start to finish”. Classic design is the essence of John Smedley menswear and womenswear collections and they encourage their designers to use a hands-on approach to realise their imagination.

They operate alongside the people who will translate design ideas into finished garments. From initial sketches to final pressing, the designers draw on the specialist knowledge and innovative technology available at Lea Mills.

“We’ve always been a design-led company. Our original designs were produced by mathematicians, engineers and knitters. Then an artist with a good eye for colour joined the company as a designer. With each new season’s collection, our specially trained designers continue to reflect the company ethos.”

Designer: John Smedley
Manufacturer: John Smedley
Year: 1784
Price: from £99.00

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Take it with you when you move / Vitsœ’s shelving system

Vitsœ. A shelving system. A chair programme. A time in history. A philosophy.

I could probably wax lyrical about Vitsœ for some time, and many of you might have heard me in person. It is well deserved and often generates the same response in its customers as it does with me. Of course, I just happen to have a blog to wax lyrical on which makes me a slightly loudly waxer.

Having just packed my worldly goods into a Big little Yellow storage container in preparation for a space to put it in to later, I’m reminded just why Vitsœ’s 606 Universal Shelving System is so loved by many. And this has nothing to do with Dieter Rams, sorry Dieter. This is all the work of the company as it stands today. A company that looks ahead and looks after its customers today so that they continue to be customers tomorrow.

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My shelving had to come down off the walls they had lived for 4 years, to be packed in to brown folded-cardboard wraps with perfectly-scored bends for each type of shelf so that only one “wrap” is required for any of the size shelves you have. It’s probably the simplest piece of design I’ve ever seen. An invisible design that you could gloss over in an instance because it’s there in the background working hard.

I’ve packaged more shelves than I care to recall over the years, so folding and stacking boxes was like second-nature, and these wraps made short work of what I imagined to be a very lengthy process. They kindly delivered to wraps to me, free of charge except for the cost of the courier, so that I may stack these boxes inside my little Yellow box to stay for a few months. Later I can return these back to them in London to be used again and again before recycling.

This isn’t “green”. This is sensible. Common Sense. Typically untypical.

Vitsœ have a line…take it with you when you move, which is supposed to spark an idea in potential customers that this is an investment, and not a cost. One of the few things that will easily move house with you, be reconfigured and reaccept your belongings again in a new home. That shelf of DVDs in the same spot in a new home. Your trusty desk shelf with the pen pot placed in the same spot again. It makes moving less stressful knowing that my belongings will ALWAYS fit.

I, like many others, don’t think about moving when buying a product for the first time. And I doubt this post will make anyone feel any different about it either. It’s just not what we get excited about when buying something. I’ve never walked in to a furniture shop and thought “that will look great in the home I haven’t moved to yet”, so we can’t expect everyone to start thinking like this. But, if you’re thinking about making a purchase, do think about it. Do take a moment to think how that might look in a different room, how it might reconfigure. It will help us all to be less wasteful when we move, save ourselves a lot of money replacing items after we’ve moved and provide consistency from one place to the next.

Thanks Vitsœ for thinking about this for me. It’s helped me move 3 times and still using it.

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Beirut is an Ugly City / Red Chair by Assem Salam

Beirut is an ugly city. Well, at least that is what architect Assem Salam says about the war-torn city he spent his life living and working in until his death in 2012. He spoke to the BBC about how there is a jungle of grey concrete that towers over his garden, hiding what used to be a spectacular sea view. It is not the loss of the sea view that he mourned. It is not the commonplace nostalgia for the old and familiar that drives his bitterness about an extraordinary pace of construction in his city.

One of Lebanon’s most prominent modernist architects, Assem was a vocal advocate for, and active in, trying to improve Beirut’s built environment — his aim was to inspire the development of a unique and new form of Beirut architecture. His impressive projects like the Ministry of Tourism and the Khashoggi Mosque still stand as proof that the public sector and civil society are more effective at changing the character of the city. As a member of the Council for Development and Reconstruction during the visionary years, he brought his knowledge of post-War European reconstruction to bear on the processes of large projects. Like many architects of his time, he also excelled in reflecting the spirit of the times through contemporary furniture design.

“Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman. Take London, for example” he says. “It has changed immensely since I first visited in 1942, but I can still take the same bus route as I did then, or walk the same streets. Beirut, on the other hand, has changed beyond recognition.”

[ref: BBC]

Up until the late 1950s, there were few architects in Lebanon and the region. Those who designed buildings were architectural engineers. Along with Raymond Ghosn, Assem Salam, who graduated from Cambridge in 1950, founded the School of Architecture [today, Department of Architecture and Design] in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB.

It was this generation of mainly European-trained architects that would help the region start differentiating between engineering and architecture. “In the early 1960s we started the School of Architecture at AUB and local architects began to emerge,” Salam had said.

Assem Salam was a major actor in creating a generation of architecture graduates between 1954 to 1979. Any graduate of that period will remember his remarkable sense of criticism during juries. In one glance, he would find the strengths and weaknesses of any project. His opinion was revered by other jurors as well as students.

[ref: American University of Beirut]

Assem Salam and the Red Chair

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

So, it may seem flippant to celebrate his life work by looking closely at a red leather chair that Salam designed. His continuous fight to make Beirut, and more widely, Lebanon a better-designed country through architecture and interior design down to details of furniture. What interests me is how few creatives can move between these disciplines so freely and excel at so many of them. It was almost revolutionary to see this modern design aesthetic in Beirut, yet Salam and his peers were striving to move forward and creating an identity for Lebanon to proudly boast.

This red chair may be a simple red leather chair designed in 1955, but it embodies ideas that Beirut has been generating for as long as other modernists have been, yet in Europe we so rarely recognise their work and are not familiar with the names that hold so much importance to change in the Middle East. It is discoveries like this that make me realise how there is so much we are not aware of when we are led by the design press to feed our knowledge. When there is no marketing machine behind a design, we can often find little information about these.

How we find the long-lost icons of design in our past will forever be a challenge, so I encourage my fellow bloggers to help discover and share this work in the hope that we can mark a point on time for all great designers and architects who have, in some way, shaped our built environment and our interior designs.

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Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Designer: Assem Salam
Manufacturer: Unknown
Year: 1955
Price: Unknown

Benwu Studio’s Bund Table

As with most of the posts I write, they start with the statement ‘whilst on a recent trip to X, I spotted X’ and this post is going exactly the same way. I jetted off to sunny, and rather warm, Dubai for the inaugural Dubai Design Week where I was thrust in to the interesting culture of a 50-year old independent city still under major development with no signs of slowing down.

But would we spy design from Dubai or a mixture of design from all over the world, reinforcing the melting pot it has become of all culture and business in the middle east.

As we toured Downtown Design, the main show during the week in Dubai Design District (or d3 as it is commonly known), I spotted a table by designers Benwu Studio exhibiting with Beijing Design Week‘s stand promoting the Chinese trade show’s standard for design. Benwu Studio’s goal is to create a platform for collaboration with designers & artists around the world to realise objects for an artistic stylish living.

The Bund Coffee table is inspired by the fluid trace that the Yangtze River erodes and the shape of Lujiazui Delta. The table is designed for easy assembling by hand. With a few simple twist the table stays firm as one (can be flat packaged).

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Apartment Shanghai is an edition brand founded by Benwu Studio in Shanghai in 2014. The first collection was launched in Milan during the 2015 Salone del Mobile. Apartment Shanghai is an ideology predicated on contemporary values of the small but smart, reasonable but stylish and innovative. It is a petit lifestyle brand of fashionable, functional objects that can fit stylish small homes.

Apartment Shanghai is also an identity of authentic Chinese DNA encountering the future with modern design language. Products are made with premium materials in collaboration with Chinese craftsmen and manufacturers. Apartment Shanghai is also an artistic driven, autonomous brand focused on a humanistic ethos driven by customers’ own imagination as inspired by sensible design work.

The concept of stylish products for small homes is something I am becoming increasingly interested in as our major cities get busier and therefore more expensive, we live in smaller and smaller spaces. Coping with this change is something I believe we all need a helping hand with. But I digress.

Founded in New York City back in 2011 by Chinese Designer Hongchao Wang and Peng You, Benwu Studio is currently based on both New York and Shanghai with expertise and experience in luxury product, furniture and interior design. A studio to watch over the forthcoming years, as I believe this duo will produce even more great designs.

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Designer: Benwu Studio
Manufacturer: Benwu Studio
Year: 2014
Price: Unknown

SideStory’s cultural immersive experiences

This post, like so many, have been on my list for longer than I care to remember. Back in September 2015, I was invited on a tour of London Design Festival curated by Wallpaper* Interiors Editor-at-Large, Benjamin Kempton. He had put together a tour of locations during the festival for four of us to experience; cultural immersive experiences to educate and expand our knowledge of design in one of the largest cities in the world.

Having spent the week working, visiting, seeing, and of course drinking my way through the London Design Festival, part of me didn’t want to see anymore of it at the weekend, but how could I resist a guided tour with one of the best interiors experts when offered to me on a plate? Of course I accepted and joined my three other tourists.

Starting out at Wrong for Hay we had coffee and a seat in front of Richard Woods’ Trunk Vase. This is a brand that I admire for many reasons, but the main one has to be the price point; the festival is so often the playground for the wealthy, and whilst I involve myself in the festivities I cannot pretend to have the money to purchase anything I see. Wrong for Hay has changed this for me…yes, this vase is just £35.

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No time to rest, La Chance calling us upstairs at designjunction to look closely at the details of this French brand’s products. Placing their products on mirrored floors shows warts ‘n’ all, if there were any warts. They proudly show underneath a sofa or coffee table or whatever because the details do not stop on the surface but continue throughout, inside, outside, underneath and on top.

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Tools for Everyday Life from Northumbria University was a treat I had seen earlier in the week, but this time I could spend a little more time with the products. Showcasing a selection from their ICFF show earlier in the year, Northumbria didn’t fail to show their talents once again.

Benjamin may have some great contacts within the industry, but he’s not keeping them to himself. We were walked through the streets of Covent Garden landing at Aram to the exhibition of lighting designer Michael Anastassiades who joined our little group to explain his success, the highs and lows, and the detail in the simplicity. I have admired his work for some time, never met him, and pleased I did. He is a charming man with a great deal of interesting things to say.

We finished our tour with some refreshments at 19 Greek Street, a location I’m very familiar with. Filled with sustainable ideas from around the world without compromising on design integrity which is so often the case. I love discovering what ideas they have found and displayed so well in this terraced house in Soho. Ending the tour meeting SideStory cofounder Rachael Moloney helped to frame the day we had just been taken on, understanding fully the purpose of SideStory…to immerse ourselves fully in the cultural activities of London be that Art, Design, Fashion, Food and drink, Photography or even Street art.

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SideStory connects travellers, or locals, to a city’s local creative movers and shakers – the Insiders. SideStory was co-founded by Giovanni Donaldson, Rachael Moloney and Gord Ray. Using combined experiences at Virgin and Wallpaper*, they wanted to define a new category of travel, offering imaginative cultural experiences in a fresh and dynamic way. They believe it’s important to give back to the community we all share and to spark future creativity. SideStory therefore has a philanthropic aspect and a percentage of profits are donated to charitable organisations of their Insiders’ choice.

Experiences range from £200-£600
Available to book directly from sidestory.co

Samsung Serif. Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s television

Televisions. They are bloody ugly things, aren’t they. As a nation, we love tradition—in our houses, our furniture, the way we celebrate holidays—but for some reason we love contemporary when it comes to cars and technology. I’ve never quite understood how this translates in the minds of people but it’s where we are.

Some people love the up-to-the-minute tech but hate the look of modern appliances, opting to hide them away in tasteful cabinets, fooling nobody that this is a television-free household. Hidden so well, that all sofas and chairs are pointing towards this veneered mahogany cabinet with textured brass handles and wires coming out of the back.

Okay, I may be a little cruel here but the television has got to be one of the worst looking objects in our living rooms, and for no good reason. We have some incredible designers, who can take any object and make it fit in to our lives like we couldn’t live without it.

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Enter Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec who have exclusively partnered with Samsung to create the Serif TV—a television that rethinks the way we view its standing in our homes. Breaking away from our obsession with ultra-flat screens, the Bouroullec¹s studied both the object and its interaction with the space around it.

Erwan Bouroullec says “From the outset of designing Samsung Serif TV our aim was to craft an object that fused technology with our knowledge in furniture design and to create a solid presence that would sit naturally in any environment. We had the intuition that over the last few decades, screen design has been driven by developments in technology without much sense of our own culture and way of life; the design of Samsung Serif TV has been a conscious step away from this and forms a new form of technology that is dedicated to the domestic environment. Samsung Serif TV deploys shapes and colours that have broken away from the usual themes of masculine, cutting edge technology and extra-large size. Our TV is more subtle; it doesn’t exude power and is made to fit into the world we live in.”

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The development process was driven by numerous drawings, computer renders and a series of mock-ups in wood and clay. These mock-ups were a decisive step into the research before starting with the advanced prototypes in the second stage. Many ideas were explored, and step-by-step they arrived with Serif…a TV defined by a frame that outlines the screen.

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Viewed from the front, the Serif TV is defined by a single, seamless frame, one colour and one shape. In profile, it forms a clear capital ‘I’ shape, its slim body broadening to form a shelf-like surface at the top. The design means it can stand seamlessly in the home by resting on its own base. Its attachable legs allow it to be placed on the floor or the centre of the room, allowing its placement to be moved and manipulated to suit the situation.

A woven fabric panel slots into place to conceal the connectors on the back of the television, making it work in three dimensions and room positioning. The pattern of the fabric, designed to emulate the effect of curtain mode, is colour matched to the colour of the TV. Samsung Serif TV is available in three colours: ivory white, dark blue and red.

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Designer: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
Manufacturer: Samsung
Year: 2015
Price: From £499.00

Mirthe collection by Fabiaan Van Severen for Tribù

It’s incredibly rare for me to write about outdoor furniture, it generally doesn’t interest me. So I was really pleased to be taken to the Tribù head office in Belgium for a tour of their collection. I knew the company from trade shows and magazines, but hadn’t really focused much on their products. And thanks to Limblog Design Tour I was able to visit them.

The tour took an interesting route through the different materials and technology that the company has invested significant amounts of money in to developing. Soft, waterproof fabrics that can be left outside all year round, solid fabrics which deceive the eye in to thinking that they are soft and squishy (technical term), and weather-resistant metals and powder-coated furniture.

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My geek was on full show as we walked around the space, and then I got up close with a collection that particularly interested me. Off-white powder-coated aluminium tables, chairs and sofas designed by Fabiaan Van Severen, the Mirthe collection would be at home in any modernist home…elegant and timeless.

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What struck me about the design was the radius on the corner of all the pieces, with a sharp edge against the other angle, reminiscent of Dieter Rams 606 Universal Shelving System which is also available in off-white.

The chair looks like it has been designed from a single surface, in which the back legs move seamlessly up to the back. The table top has curved edges which gives the table a soft look. Very particular are the legs which are welded seamlessly in the length in an angle of 90° and are actually integrated in the table top.

The designer opted purposefully for aluminium for these outdoor furniture: robust, completely recyclable and ideal for outdoor use.

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Designer: Fabiaan Van Severen
Manufacturer: Tribù
Year: 2015
Price: Table from €3,180

Indera factory tour, Belgium

You may have guessed by now, I’m a bit of a furniture geek. I like seeing how it’s made, and even more so if it is made responsibly. So my eyes were wide open and my camera at hand when we were taken on a tour of the Indera factory recently as part of the Limblog Design Tour.

Indera is a relatively young company, but is part of a much larger business as it is within the Mecam group, makers of some respectful but oh-so-not-my-taste of furniture that you’d typically find in a retirement home. I’m probably being a little unfair, but it doesn’t light my fire to see the mechanism of a recliner chair… shudder.

No, what I was interested in was the modern spin-off to this group, Indera, which employs the designs of internationally-renowned designers such as Benjamin Hubert, Fabiaan Van Severen and Bram Boo (whom we were also very pleased to meet on the final night), amongst others.

Indera may not yet be a household name in the UK, but it is no parochial business. It may be nestled in suburban Belgium, hidden from sight, but this is no reflection on the quality of design that comes out of the building. What struck me straight away was that the convex curved ceiling of the original building the group occupied originally was not the end to the tour. We went out the back and into a vast production facility that I have never seen before.

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I regularly see behind the scenes of furniture makers, but they typically work with suppliers in other countries, or even if they produce themselves it is unlikely to be outside the back door. With this setup, Indera brings raw material in one door and Benjamin Hubert’s Inlay sofa comes out the other end. Albeit, with the help of many, many, many skilled people.

By being out in the sticks, Indera can spread out and make sure they have the facilities for producing furniture in much larger quantities, storing materials in zones based upon the process undertaken in that building. From foam core, leather, fabric, wood, metal springs, and all manner of materials that go in to producing furniture, the efficiency of this production means that they can reduce the time for production but have no stock sitting waiting. This is every manufacturers dream situation and this unknown company has the right start to moving in to this tiny part of the furniture world.

I didn’t to focus much on their designs for this post, as I wanted to share the factory, so I leave it up to you to visit www.indera.be to view the collection and learn more about their designs. Modularity is very important to Indera, where every piece can be moved with ease, and no tools, something you rarely see in the higher end of design which favours large, static furniture. This philosophy, in my mind, ensures longevity as we move homes and can reconfigure easily allowing us to invest in expensive pieces of furniture that will work in any situation.

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Finally, before I leave, I’d like to thank Indera for showing us around their factory, and of course to the Limblog Design Tour organisers for inviting me and showing me this rare treat. I have Indera firmly on my radar now.

Eliminating excess. Kuppers & Wuytens designs Magis restaurant.

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of Limburg, Belgium to scout out some designers, makers and brands that haven’t yet crossed my path. There may be many more posts to come from this trip, but today I’m introducing you to Kuppers & Wuytens.

Jan Kuppers and Karen Wuytens are a duo with a talent of making leather the star of any piece they craft. Unfiltered and elegant, whether they are making bags, cardholders or the interior of a restaurant, their work eliminates excess and focuses on the raw materials.

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Photo courtesy of Magis

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Their work for restaurant Magis in Tongeren, Belgium is an example of this pure design ethos. Waxed oak, steel and leather combined in a simple palette to allow the food to be the star. As owners Dimitry Lysens and Aagje Moens tell us in the film below, the project started with a chair design for the restaurant, featuring a leather seat pad against the waxed oak. However, Kuppers & Wuytens wanted to take this a step further and created the interior concept for the restaurant with walls adorned with leather, and the table to complement the bespoke chair design.


Video courtesy of Comosie

Kuppers & Wuytens are like no other design duo I’ve met before; they are reserved and bashful about their talent, leaving it to the viewer to explain why it works, why it is good and how they experience it. Perhaps this is a Belgen trait, as was often inferred, and it is refreshing to experience first hand although it requires the viewer to understand design, to understand that frivolity is not necessary to market a product or to make it ‘good’.

With the Magis table, Kuppers & Wuytens reimagined the experience of the diner by adding a drawer underneath the oak tabletop filled with the cutlery required for each course and for diners afterwards. Why clutter the table with objects when you can eliminate excess, serve food on simple white plates and quietly shine a spotlight on what you are about to consume.

Tucking the chair under the table, nestling the legs neatly in to the cutouts of the steel base, providing a measurement across the restaurant for where each chair should sit in relation to the table.

Details like these are what make Kuppers & Wuytens good designers. Perhaps this is natural to them, perhaps they work hard to reduce noise, but whatever their approach might be it works beautifully.

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Photo courtesy of Renaat Nijs.
From left to right: Daniel Nelson (me), Karen Wuytens, Desirée Groenendal, Jan Kuppers, Sarah Van Peteghem, Em Fexeus and Ferry Voorneveld

During our studio visit with Kuppers & Wuytens we managed to get hands-on with the leather they use with their projects and make our own cardholders. Starting life stiff and untouched, regular use builds the patina that builds the character of the piece. This is true of all pieces by Kuppers & Wuytens including retaurant Magis which is made to last and age gracefully adding more warmth to the products created.

Not many restaurants consider this life of their interior, which is precisely why these designers are quietly brilliant.

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Lenovo’s wristwatch hinge / YOGA 3 Pro

Technology is not often made to last, however with the speed at which we upgrade, and upgrade, and upgrade our tech toys it almost seems irrelevant to make these products last the course. This was precisely my thinking when I arrived at the Lenovo computer launch event back in October, there primarily because I want to understand and communicate the fringes of design that I rarely read about or cover on my blog…computer design.

Stop yawning for a moment and let me explain. Every industry at one stage or another goes through a process of realising that good design is more than what is on the surface, more than gloss or frosting on the cake, but good design helps a product to be better at what it does and better at making our lives easier.

The tech industry has been going through this change aligning itself with fashion and other design disciplines to make products sit seamlessly in to our lives. And why not, my phone is probably my most used accessory, and my laptop is the second. My Roku comes a close third. Right now, I am sitting in my room with my laptop and Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, watching Netflix whilst I type blog posts. My phone is within arms reach too.

So is it right for these products to be alien to the rest of my life? I think not, they should integrate or even more my life should integrate with them. So it is time that design became good when it comes to my tech.

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Back to October, when Dilip Bhatia, vice president of design and marketing at PC Group Lenovo introduced their thinest laptop, and most importantly an altogether better designed laptop in to their collection, the Lenovo YOGA 3 Pro. Ignoring the blah, blah of Intel this, and JBL that (all of which is relevant if you are interested in such things), my eyes went straight for their ‘Watchband Hinge’ with more than 800 pieces of steel and aluminium.

“Each YOGA 3 Pro hinge is hand assembled, just like watchbands on premium watches, and every piece is designed to seamlessly interlock with one another in order to provide smooth movement unlike anything else currently on the market. Lenovo engineers redesigned the original YOGA hinge so that it now provides the same degree of flexibility and flatness seen in metallic watch bands. Instead of two focus points, there are now six.”

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Lenovo took some time to explain the hinge design in more detail…

“Inspired by watch makers, our designer team wanted to create a unique hinge that is as timeless and durable as watchbands found on premium watches. Despite being made of metal, watch makers are able to craft an incredibly stable product with a fluid movement and we’ve successfully incorporated this experience into a laptop.

“Consumers told us they prioritise thin and light features, so we challenged ourselves to continue to shave millimetres off the design – and to do that, we created the new watchband hinge. Constructed from steel and aluminium, the new hinge provides the same degree of flexibility and flatness of a metallic watchband due to its six flexion points.

“Every design element used to create the YOGA 3 Pro is aimed at producing a thinner and lighter product. By using higher quality materials, such as steel and aluminium rather than plastic and smaller components, we’ve been able to reduce the overall size and weight of our latest YOGA laptop making it the thinnest convertible on the market.”

So whilst I will still upgrade my technology every few years to make use of the latest advances, I want to be sure that the products I choose are well-considered and fit for purpose, or dare I say it ‘made to last’ in the physical sense. They are part of my everyday life and need to work for me and with me. From what I have seen of the Lenovo products I have been using for some time, they have been advancing these ideas at a rapid rate, pushing the possibilities of what can be achieved so that the products can greatly improve our daily interaction with technology.

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YOGA 3 Pro: Lenovo
Manufacturer: Lenovo
Year: 2014
Price: From £999.99

Jed Armchair by David Irwin for Habitat

Following on from my last post ‘My Jed Armchair from Habitat‘, I wanted to explore the design of the chair in more detail. And by chance, have an opportunity to speak to David Irwin about his chair design.

David exhibited at the student graduate show New Designers in 2007 with the 3D Design course from Northumbria University. His design of the Jed Armchair was so well-received that he was awarded the prestigious ‘Peter Walker Award for Innovation in Furniture Design’.

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At the same time head of furniture at Habitat Bethan Gray selected the armchair to be included in the new collection for the high-street brand. Incidentally, Bethan chose this nine years after she had exhibited at the show herself scooping up Habitat’s Furniture Design Award for her Interlock Flat Pack/modular Storage System.

David explained “Bethan saw the chair at New Designers 2007 and that’s when I first met her. She was head of the design department at Habitat at that point and asked if I wanted to license the design of the chair to Habitat. I said yes!

The elegant form of this chair takes its cue from utilitarian Danish Design. To make busy lives a little easier, foam seat cushions are upholstered in an easy-clean cotton mix fabric. They can be removed easily thanks to a buttoned epaulette and passant detail, which loops around and through the chair legs.

Habitat were kind enough to offer me two of these armchairs which I have always shown such a keen interest in, having liked David Irwin’s work for other brands such as deadgood and Juniper, and having blogged about his products before.

The idea is very simple, and highly successful for the few elements it contains. With a simple raw-oak finish and a base cushion which can be removed, the chair is immediately simpler than others on the market with practicalities built in from the start. Easy to get through doors, to maintain and taking up less space in the living room, the Jed armchair is ideal for my small apartment.

Sadly my room is not quite as sophisticated as I’d like you all to believe, but Jed does fit in well with my Vitsœ shelving, monochrome prints and collection of design books, because it continues the same principle I try to find within everything that comes in to our home… made to last. Not just by materials and production-quality but of design too, it must function and not defined by passing trends in order to appeal as much in 20 years time as it does today. I believe these chairs do and that’s exactly why I have them in my home.

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Designer: David Irwin
Manufacturer: Habitat
Year: 2007
Price: £295.00

My Jed Armchair from Habitat

I do get to work with some fantastic brands, and lately has been one long-established great British brand… Habitat. Opened in 1964 by Sir Terence Conran, this store was ground-breaking for UK home retail, with the introduction of ideas such as the duvet, or the chicken brick. Not new ideas per se, but new to the UK. His mission to democratise design, bringing well-designed products to the masses by keeping prices more affordable than many other ‘designer’ products.

This idea continues today, and my recent sofas & armchairs delivery from Habitat (thank you Habitat) shows exactly this idea… well-designed products at affordable prices. This chair was designed by David Irwin in 2007 and has been in production at Habitat since then. I can certainly say that it is comfortable, and perfect for the smaller apartment and very lightweight. At only £295.00 this is a great lounge chair and perfect if you want to add some great design to your living room.

When Habitat asked me to think about products that I would put with this chair, I dug deep in to my Pinterest boards and usual haunts for objects that match more ethos of ‘made to last’ and ideal to join the Jed Armchair.

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1. Jed Armchair by David Irwin for Habitat, £295.00

2. Partying Pig Screen Print by Ham, £32.00

3. Type 75 mini desk lamp by Anglepoise, £105.00

4. Key Side Table by GamFratesi for Hem, £123.88

5. Turned Pigeon by Lars Beller Fjetland for Hem, £32.00

6. Knurled Rug by Deadgood Studio, £1,000.00

7. Max 365 Calendar by Massimo Vignelli, £54.00

8. Orbit Pendant One by Workstead, £699.00

9. Large Cubes Cushion Square by Another Country, £125.00

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Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin for Umbra Shift

It was just over seven years ago that I first saw the Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin, and have never completely forgotten about it. It was when I first began really reading blogs, and considering starting my own. I used to be an avid reader of Treehugger post some really interesting design articles.

Philippe’s chair was one of those posts. Although I was never sold on the idea that I would hang my clothes over the chair but I did like that it could hang in a hallway as an object until required for use.

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I went looking for this chair to buy when I was in the market for folding chairs, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Fast forward to ICFF 2015 and the Hanger Chair is now available through Umbra Shift, an extension of Umbra that focuses on contemporary influences in the design community.

One thing that originally caught my eye about the chair was how the storing of the chair was built in to the design, and something which I would be keen to display at home. It was a clever idea that I hadn’t seen in a folding chair before and still haven’t.

When the Umbra press team dropped this release in to my inbox over the weekend I immediately spotted the chair, recognised Malouin’s name and thought, at last it is available. The only downside for me is the price…£230 puts it out of my reach and many others for a chair that could become a default for the new affordable folding chair. Even so, it’s a great chair and I’m sure it will do well.

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Canadian-born Philippe Malouin holds a bachelor’s degree in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven. He set up his London studio in 2009 and is also the director of Post-Office, the architectural and interiors design practice. His diverse portfolio includes tables, rugs, chairs, lights, art objects and installations. Philippe has won the W Hotels ‘Designer of the Future’ Award and Wallpaper Magazine’s ‘Best Use of Material’ Award.

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Designer: Philippe Malouin
Manufacturer: Umbra Shift
Year: 2015
Price: £230.00

David Irwin’s TOR chair for Dare Studio

There are certain characteristics in design which help us to place when and where a chair, table or lamp was designed. As our knowledge and experience of design develops the global influences filter in to design like a big melting pot of style.

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When David Irwin first presented the designs for TOR, a new chair for British design house Dare Studio, I was struck by its sophisticated lines, the understated glamour and clean silhouette he designed in to this stacking chair. Dare Studio are well known for producing products with hand-crafted heritage and for using contemporary manufacturing methods.

This chair, the first design by David Irwin for Dare Studio, would not be out of place in cultured surrounds of Claridges Suite or the Orient Express. Yet it has the modernist charm and graceful curves of contemporary Danish design that transcends it to an avant-garde building in the City.

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As with all David Irwin products, there is a practical element to the design to allow it to move beyond a single application. With an inset seat, you can stack the chair making it ideal for contract use in restaurants or conference seating, and home use where space may be at a premium. Where most practical stacking chairs may suit that purpose, TOR’s simple clean lines put it alongside the likes of Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair, yet as practical as Robin Day’s Polyprop chair.

Now for the science bit; a refined solid wood frame wraps around a formed seat. Slender in form, the TOR chair is ideal for modern residential and commercial spaces. The solid timber frame is available in colour lacquered beech or in oiled American black walnut / white oak. The chair is available with and without arms. An optional upholstered seat, with beautiful fabrics or your own material.

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Designer: David Irwin
Manufacturer: Dare Studio
Year: 2015
Price: £TBC

Cherner Chair by Norman Cherner, 1958

I fell in love with a chair, fell in love once and almost completely. Her name, if I may apply a gender, is Cherner. A chair designed in 1958 by the lesser-known mid-Century designer, Norman Cherner.

Norman Cherner was a pioneer in molded plywood who studied and taught at the Columbia University Fine Arts Department and was an instructor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1947 to 1949. In both of these institutions he explored the Bauhaus movement, embarking on a lifetime exploration of multidisciplinary design, from furniture, shelving, glassware, lighting and even toys to his pioneering work in low-cost prefabricated housing.

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His legacy is distilled into a chair which has become so iconic, but few know the name of the designer but many will say they have seen the elegant bent shapes of the chair’s arms. He designed the chair for Plycraft, a manufacturing company in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Plycraft’s owner explained to Norman Cherner that the chair had been scrapped, however continued to produce it under his own name, claiming himself as the designer. (Why I oughta!)

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The chair rose to fame, when it appeared in Norman Rockwell’s 1961 painting “The Artist at Work” on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Cherner sued Plycraft who agreed to pay Cherner royalties, however the chair line ceased production in the early 1970s, after which the Cherner chair was rarely seen anywhere but galleries, museums and the living rooms of few lucky collectors.

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This all changed in 1999, when Cherner’s sons Benjamin and Thomas formed the Cherner Chair Company to revive the designs and produce them as their father originally intended. The repeated success of chairs inspired Benjamin, an architect and designer in his own right, to create a coordinating table, the Cherner Table (2004).

For the past 16 years, the Cherner Chair Company has continued to produce these chairs bringing this design back to life and into our homes once more. It’s a great tail of how a fantastic design can disappear from view and potentially disappear forever into the archives. Thankfully, for us, Norman’s sons saw better than to let this happen allowing the chair to take its place in history.

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References:
Cherner Chair Company
Design Within Reach
Apartment Therapy: Quick history of the Cherner Chair

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Designer: Norman Cherner
Manufacturer: Cherner Chair
Year: 1958
Price: £1,230

Cardboard furniture. An affordable way to furnish your home.

In 1972 (yes, it’s going to be one of those stories), there was a little revolution in furniture when the architect Frank O. Gehry created a side chair made from sixty layers of corrugated cardboard held together by hidden screws with fibreboard edging.

I’m sure there were examples of cardboard furniture before 1972, but this chair reached the public domain like no other and continues to sell today.

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The sculptural form of the Wiggle Side Chair makes it stand out. Although surprisingly simple in appearance, it is constructed with the consummate skill of an architect, making it not only very comfortable but also durable and robust. It’s said that it can hold thousands of pounds, which is testament to the strength of corrugated cardboard.

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NewspaperWood was the unique collaboration between Dutch supercyclers Mieke Meijer and ViJ5, who put together the first NewspaperWood collection. The collection was presented in the AutoOfficina courtyard in Ventura Lambrate during Milan Design Week 2011.

I saw these pieces again at 19 Greek Street in London, where they were part of a sustainable collection of furniture and artistic pieces. The NewspaperWood is created when newspaper is pressed with glue to form a solid object. After slicing through the paper, the newspaper created a grain reminiscent of the wood they originally came from.

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But wait a minute, this post is about affordable furniture and both of these are terrible examples of affordability within cardboard design. Of course, which leads me on to some great examples of where the same cardboard and paper construction have been considered for an affordable market, which so rarely sees the results of innovation.

Karton, who designed the cardboard bed above created an affordable and very practical design for bedroom furniture. The Paperpedic Bed is a system of cleverly folded paper panels which connect to form an incredibly strong and beautiful cardboard bed base.

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A favourite desk of mine happens to cost just £149, and yes that is one of the main reasons why I like it, because this sturdy desk is no poor substitute for a metal or wood desk, but a genuinely strong and well designed product, with the attention to detail I expect from a more expensive product.

A cardboard desk that is contemporary, attractive, easy to lift and move about, and will do a good five years of hard labour, after which you can take it to the recycling centre. That’s the thinking behind Flute Office’s FlutePRO desk, which has won a FIRA Innovation Award.

If you are furnishing an office and dash to Ikea to see what you can pick up, it would be worth considering how desks such as Flute can fit into your environment, making it easier to move offices around, customisable to brand colours and recyclable when they have lived a good life.

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It might have struck you that this blog is about ‘made to last’ products and cardboard furniture is hardly made for this purpose. You would be correct, many of the products have a lifespan less than their usual competitors, however there are times when this furniture may be used for temporary periods of time, or indeed that you foresee an end to their life so choose inexpensive, poor-quality furniture that you “don’t mind throwing away” because it costs little.

Which brings me back round to ‘made to last’, where by recyclable furniture can continue it’s life later after it has served its purpose to you, without harm to the earth’s resources and without the intense production methods. I would advocate considering the lifespan of the product you will buy, and whether you can reduce your impact on the planet by choosing to buy a great-quality cardboard product over a poor-quality metal or wood product.

Where to buy:
Desks from £149, Storage from £79 at Flute Office
Wiggle Side Chair, £655 at Aram
Cardboard Bed, AUD $299 at Karton
Newspaper Wood, available from various stores via Vij5

Further resources:
EcoFloots Cardboard Furniture
Smart Deco Furniture

Ribbon by Claire Norcross at Homebase

Recently I’ve been reminding myself to talk about products ‘made to last’ although not just from the luxury variety, which I am guilty as charged for having done on many, many occasions. Not that there is something wrong with featuring luxury products…I do only talk about products I would buy if I had the space by saving up to invest in a piece I know I would really love.

So when I was invited by Homebase to take a look at the products they had in their store and choose a product to write about I was naturally excited to use this as a great opportunity to show that good design, and design made to last, is not for the elite but for everyone. And with Homebase being part of a high-street retail group incorporating Argos and Habitat, democratic design should be at the forefront to their design agenda.

With the wise move to bring Habitat products to Homebase stores all over the country, the reach of this democratic design has vastly grown bringing with it some great pieces of contemporary design that are proving they can stand the test of time.

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Designed back in 2004, when Manolo Blahnik famously designed the sell-out shoehorn for the retailer, former in-house lighting designer for Habitat, Claire Norcross took pen to paper to create the Ribbon light – an award-winning Ribbon sculptural metal table lamp.

“‘Design Classic’ is an over-used phrase in this industry, but I expect it to be associated with the work of Claire Norcross for a long time to come.”
Sir Terence Conran

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Claire Norcross was inspired by the shapes that are created when a ribbon is in movement, the form of the Ribbon lamp was developed through an exploration of origami and paper crafts which is evident when you look at the shapes she has formed to add structure to something so simple and elegant.

Best known for the range of designs produced whilst head of lighting at Habitat, including Ribbon which received the ‘Best in Lighting’ award from Elle Decoration magazine in 2006, Claire Norcross uses a range of materials and lighting technologies to create designs that are inspired by the natural world. In 2009, she was selected for the prestigious Jerwood Contemporary Makers Exhibition.

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Designer: Claire Norcross
Manufacturer: Habitat
Year: 2004
Price: £160.00, available from Homebase