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.

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

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

Form Us With Love democratise design for Ikea

What should I do if I can’t afford to buy a chair for £200? That’s a question that I naturally get asked a lot because I tend to write about design classics and products #madetolast…which, in turn, tends to cost more for quality materials.

So I set upon a challenge to find an affordable chair that you or I could afford with our modest budgets, given the high cost of living in London. I discovered this is easy enough to find, but difficult to fully endorse because the design is often compromised.

In walks Ikea, who was the last on my list for good design, who teamed up with Form Us With Love, a Stockholm-based design studio, whom, for almost ten years have put dialogue and relevance at their core.

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“Our collaborative objective was to find the perfect multi-purpose chair, easy to fall in love with and quick to maintain,” says Form Us With Love “using neat yet durable frames, a new collection of chairs and stools are presented, BIFMA tested* and sold at a remarkable price”.

*BIFMA is the not‐for-profit trade association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers. Since 1973, BIFMA has been the voice of the commercial furniture industry.

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And they certainly live up to the remarkable price tag…the chairs are £40 and the stools £100.

Janinge started out as a challenge – to create a chair that could handle the everyday wear and tear of a restaurant, yet be well-designed enough to take home. Form Us With Love needed to design for strength, durability and stability, as well as high quality and comfort. Thanks to close cooperation and team spirit, they managed to solve the equation of combining design, function and quality in the same chair – and at a low price.

“The great idea behind the Janinge collection is the democratization of design, to create a durable construction, based on the needs of both domestic and public environments” says Ikea.

Ikea’s UK press office told me that development of the chair started in 2011 and is produced in Italy. This was an interesting and encouraging sign that you can produce quality furniture at affordable prices within Europe. We all know that it is possible, but so rarely do we experience that these days.

Made from reinforced polypropylene plastic, the same material that Robin Day’s polyprop chair is made from, I am pleased to see some commitment from Ikea to change their production principles from incredibly unethical processes to promising change over the coming years.

“For many years we have worked with others to increase the supply of wood from responsibly managed forests. We are one of the founding members of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) and we now have 21 foresters working to ensure that all wood is sourced in compliance with our forestry standards and to increase the share of certified wood in our supply chain.”

This is a vast improvement on a previous statement whereby “the company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer.”

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Designer: Form Us With Love
Manufacturer: Ikea
Year: 2015
Price: £40-£100

Farrow & Ball: Decorating with Colour

This post has taken me some time to complete because I was working my way through the amazing book by Farrow & Ball that was recently sent to me by the publishers (thank you for that).

This book follows on from three books ‘Paint and Colour in Decoration’, ‘Living with Colour’ and ‘The Art of Colour’ which dealt with how colour can be used to create atmosphere, character and charm in any home, something which my regular readers will know is a subject I’m quite fond of. (See ‘Colour Theory‘). This book tackles the tricky subject of how to decorate your home with colour.

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For transient renters, such as me, the dull dirty-not-even-magnolia-anymore magnolia that adorns the walls of my apartment fill me with sadness, so I was delighted when our landlady allowed me to decorate one wall in the bedroom with Cook’s Blue from Farrow & Ball. Of course I wanted to go further, but one block of colour is enough to break up the greige.

As the authors state “a book to delight any home decorating enthusiast.” For those of you making assumptions that Farrow & Ball’s traditional paint colours and heritage work primarily in traditional homes will be pleasantly surprised by how many mid-Century and modern homes are represented in the book. I especially like the kitchen with burnt orange walls with white paint drips drawing attention to the height of the room.

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If you’re planning a Spring clean, then freshen those walls with some paint, and pick up this book for some great ideas of how colours work together in different interiors – I promise you will find something you like.

Farrow & Ball: Decorating with Colour
Price: £35

Decorex 2014, featured in Fiera magazine

Fiera magazine launches today, a magazine which has been in production since before the summer casting a critical eye over the past few months of design festivals. Issue One was successfully funded on Kickstarter and is now available to buy.

The magazine is a joint venture between confessions of a design geek’s Katie Treggiden and magCulture’s Jeremy Leslie. (Katie and Jeremy, it’s time to breath a sigh of relief).

“Every year cities all over the world showcase their best new furniture and product design at dedicated fairs, design weeks and festivals. Whether you’re a designer, a buyer, a journalist, a student, or simply a design enthusiast, you’d love to be at every fair, meeting new designers and unearthing new trends for yourself. Fiera will make you feel as if you were.”

I was asked to report on Decorex during the London Design Festival to feature within the magazine’s round-up of shows. I pulled together the full feature below…

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Referring to themselves as uncommon goods, A Rum Fellow showed their collection with justified pride at this year’s Decorex design show. Taking their Guatemalan-made homewares and upholstered pieces in to the Richmond tent was a wise move as these products are perfectly formed for the interiors market. Founder Caroline talked me through the concept from the individual panels, which are made and then joined to create upholstery for their furniture pieces. There are 15 intricate tapestry panels on the sofa, each panel is woven by a different artisan taking 4 weeks to produce. If you were searching for something special you need look no further than A Rum Fellow.

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I was first introduced to Adam Nathaniel Furman’s work via Dezeen, in particular his Babelle collection of minions, or as the rest of us would call them…semi-Porcelain and 3D-printed stoneware objects. Exhibited as part of the genius Future Heritage stage within the second tent, Adam’s work joins my collection of the top 10 pieces from Decorex, most of which appear to be from journalist Corinne Julius’s curation. This work might not be ‘new’ in the truest sense, but I’m reminded every time that I see them that this man has a lot to offer, and if I fast-forward in to the future, no doubt we will see a lot more of Adam’s mind pour in to the kiln or printer.

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Discovering Amy Jayne Hughes’s ceramic treasures, inspired by the late 17th and 18th Century Objets d’art from the Royal Sèvres Factory, was a real treat for the eye. Part of the Future Heritage exhibit, West Yorkshire-born Amy takes the concept of the formal and lavishly decorated objets, but with her edition stripped back to highlight the natural surface with each piece establishing a new dialogue between form and decoration.

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In their second year at Decorex, Bert Frank showed pieces from their collection alongside the new bullet-like drop pendant with its barrel shape spun brass metal case directing this soft pool of light directly on to the area below. Bert Frank continue to produce great quality pieces for the domestic market but with an understated glamour, akin to the designs of the 1930s which would look great on their own or adorning the walls and ceilings of a restaurant or bar. This is one design duo to keep a close eye on.

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Daybed’s appear to be a popular addition to any self-respecting furniture company these days. It is impossible to swing a canvas tote bag without hitting two or three daybeds within a show such as Decorex, and I assume this is because we are all taking daytime rests to relieve the suffering of having to work. I would hazard a guess that the day bed is so popular because it allows a designer to show pattern and texture on a wide, uninterrupted surface with bolsters to add shapes, in Bethan Laura Wood’s design she has used triangular shaped bolsters, which cross the lines of the day bed. Bethan has worked with applique techniques to create an intensely patterned daybed in a rainbow of bright colours inspired by the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico.

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Brixton-based Eley Kishimoto are no strangers to the interiors world, but when it comes to making products for the home they have not ventured fully in to this space. Launching their first wallpaper collection at Decorex was a bold and rewarding move as the duo, better known for their fashion textiles, were received so well that they picked up the ‘Best New Exhibitor’ award for their intense display of brightly-coloured and detailed wall coverings. We’re told that this is the first collection with more to come, which may bring with it an exciting new British design-house for the interiors space.

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It has been some time since we saw Jennie Moncur’s work exhibited at a show such as Decorex, so it was a delight to see some old favourites alongside new tapestries shown as part of Corinne Julius’s Future Heritage collection. Jennie’s work is a window in to a world of colour and pattern with her more recent work taking on more delicate colours and patterns compared to the darker, more obstructed views she was working with in previous years. Weaving very strong graphic shapes is a lengthy task as the composition relies upon the regimented order of the block colours of the yarn.

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Polyethylene, Teflon and Aluminium are not the usual materials that makers dash to when approaching a new forming process, and especially when the result is to become a vessel. “The emphasis of this exploration is on the unexpected but beautiful outcomes achieved from applying heat and pressure on the otherwise mundane plastic bag” explains Joe Bradford about his work on display at Future Heritage within Decorex. By forming the layers of the container and heating the material, fuses the layers and makes the object begin to move and shape in to the crumpled result. What we’re left with is a colourful and fascinating vase, which tells a new story about the plastic it was made from.

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At the core of Michael Eden’s project is the ceramic container, an object primarily used since clay was first made durable for the storing, holding, and mixing of materials useful to man. “Three-dimensional printing allows the customisation of objects, and gives me the creative freedom to do things impossible with the wheel and clay” explains Michael on why the time-honoured tradition of using ceramic to make these decorative items is something he has moved on from to embrace the new technology we’re now able to use. This would explain why so many museums and galleries are taking pieces from Michael in to their permanent collections, as this is a historic moment, which may lead to seeing more of this process used or a short period by which we must remember new materials reigniting our interest in decorative accessories. Either way, I’m sure that Michael’s work will continue to innovate and excite many customers.

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Neha Lad walked me through the intricate manner in which she has created her woven fabrics to explain how she has taken junkyard copper telephone wire to intertwine with discarded paper to create a beautifully elegant but cleverly recycled textiles which, to an extent, up-cycle old products in to a new piece fit for the homes of the rich and glamourous. Her techniques create a sumptuous material, which can be changed to patinate the material as the copper wire changes in colour.

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In the four short years that Richard Brendon has been operating his design studio, he has created products with Patternity and Fortnum & Mason as well as being stocked in some of the world’s best boutiques and department stores. It is no surprise to see during the London Design Festival that Richard has introduced a new collection, Speck, which highlights the imperfections within the processes of firing ceramic. The red dot would traditionally be applied to the imperfections to highlight troubled areas, and with Richard’s latest design he celebrates this imperfection and creates a completely unique piece by integrating the highlighters. Richard never fails to create a stir, and he certainly continued this at Decorex.

The Nàdurra Dram Chair by Gareth Neal

I’m lucky enough that my work gives me regular visits to some of London’s finest emporiums and on one such visit I spotted a whisky drinking chair that demanded my attention.

New & exclusive to The New Craftsmen is the ‘Dram Chair’ by Gareth Neal, inspired by The Glenlivet Nàdurra – a connoisseurial whisky crafted in small batches using traditional techniques.

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I do love whisky, catching the taste of it during my years bartending in five-star hotels, being shown the best way to drink it depending on whether it is single or blended. Tip: adding water to any single malt changes the composition of the spirit and unlocks more flavours and aromas. Yum.

And lest not forget how confused people are by the spelling of whisky, or whiskey, which differs geographically. As a rule, American and Irish prefer ‘whiskey’ and the Scots, Canadians and the rest of the world’s single malt makers prefer ‘whisky’. This originated during the 19th century. Around 1870, for exportation to America, the Irish distillers wanted to differentiate their product from the poorer Scotch whisky, thus they added the ‘e’ to mark the crucial distinction. It’s easy to remember… there’s no ‘e’ in Scotland.

Where was I, oh yes, this marvellous chair. Intended for relaxation and enjoying a ‘dram’ of whisky, expertly hand-crafted by Gareth Neal to imaginatively capture the spirit of Nàdurra (meaning “natural” in Gaelic) in both function and form.

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Gareth Neal spent time up at the distillery meeting the producers of the whisky and gaining a detailed understanding of the production process. The wide open landscape, the huge copper stills and the passion of the makers, all inspired and informed the final design.

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The chair is formed from the oak which is crucial to the maturation of the prestigious single malt whisky. A dram can be nestled comfortably on the chair’s arm while the back and seat are made from a single hide of oak bark tanned leather, skilfully cut and fitted to the oak frame. Copper rivets, mirroring the copper stills used in the whisky production process, provide a subtle flash of highly contemporary detailing. Each chair will be marked and numbered, not only reflecting the uniqueness of the piece but also the growing value and demand for Gareth Neal’s exciting and original approach to contemporary furniture making.

The original design is on display at The New Craftsmen store in Mayfair, from 14th October 2014 through to 24th December 2014, after which time it takes up residence at The Glenlivet Distillery in Scotland. A limited number of chairs can be commissioned to order, with orders open only to those who have registered as Guardians of The Glenlivet.

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Manufacturer: The New Craftsmen
Designer: Gareth Neal
Year: 2014
Price: £6,200