BARBARA CHANDLER, DESIGN WRITER
Here in London we’ve survived death by design – but only just. The London Design Festival put on six major shows in ten days, not to mention all the smaller events. No wonder everyone in the design world – from makers to buyers, with the odd hack hanging on - was exhausted by the end of September. The venerable 100% Design attracted a creditable list of exhibitors under its new management of Media Ten. However the stands seemed uniformly corporate, making the whole a bit bland.
A good bench at a fair, by a bus stop or on a platform is always welcome. Which brings me to the Bench Years project which upmarket Established & Sons were flaunting in the Italianate John Madejski garden in the very centre of the V&A Museum.
E&S had asked ten designers to each create a bench from a different material – one for every year of the Festival so far. However one designer had chosen glass, which had shattered before arrival – could be a lesson there. I went back after lunch to see how the public were reacting to seats made variously from mosaic, cork, concrete, wood, shiny steel and so on.
The most popular was a very long wooden bench by Martino Gamper - one of my very favourite designers. His Infinity Bench was made in a workshop in Kent from "thermally-modified" hardwood (sponsored by the American Hardwood Export Council). Martino explained that sections (stained different colours and joined with hidden dowels) could make a bench of any length - and the back profile would retain its interesting shape. A bench made of Corian by designers Industrial Facility came in two parts, inspired by the plinths within the museum. The public took happily to this simple shape. However a gleaming silvery cylinder was less popular – “though perching keeps you upright,” observed a rather elegant lady.
Altogether a very interesting exercise – though the sturdy Victorian benches in the street outside are difficult to beat for comfort and good looks. I find metal benches rather nasty – they feel cold in winter, and too hot in summer. But wood is always good. On the Underground, the benches at Westminster are bizarrely partitioned into sections for around a person and three quarters – nobody ever squeezes up, so that wastes a lot of space. And Earls Court station hardly has any benches at all.
Read more at http://www.londondesignfestival.com/events/bench-years
Back at the V&A, we had more furniture inside, with versions of minimal white chairs popping up all over the place – but you were not allowed to sit on them, even when they were firmly on the floor. These were the concept of Nendo (Japanese designer Oki Sato) who believes in wonder and surprise – or “!” moments as he calls them. At Milan, I saw an equally minimal collection he created in all black. I find this severe right-angled monochrome extremely uninviting – though I did like the white chair floating amidst the V&A’s wonderful Dale Chihuly chandelier.
If truth be told, furniture around the rest of the Festival was serviceable enough but not terribly exciting. There is a plethora of “mid-century modern” stuff with slab cushions and wooden frames with splayed legs. Bloggers were raving about fashion designer Orla Kiely’s huge new furnishing collection (with its rich brown stains and flat abstract prints launched at DesignJunction in an abandoned Post Office Sorting Office). But they were obviously not old enough to remember the gloom of orange and brown first time round. My favourite pieces were the cupboards designed by Simon Moorhouse for his company Invisible City. Simon has a stunning eye for colour – the door/drawer fronts for each piece come in an exclusive mix of colours.
Never has lighting been so original and such fun.
LEDs are everywhere, saving energy but also enabling new slim-line shapes – like Jake Dyson’s infinitely adjustable CSYS lamp, which now comes in a floor standing version. I loved David Irwin’s neat little metal pendants. Sides are laser cut from a strip of extruded sheet metal – the shapes fit together so neatly there is no waste.
And my favourite product at the end of it all? Well, it’s a bit whimsical and I think rather poetic – a pair of large angel wing handles in a glowing golden finish from Philip Watts, whose tells me his new collection is themed around tattoos.
An interactive display in the V&A mirrored the theme – stand on a box, stretch out your arms and grow angel wings yourself.
Pictures by Barbara Chandler.
Barbara Chandler is a design writer and photographer. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her website to find out more. Her photography book, Love London, is out now.