I was recently commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to write a series of four essays for their microsite, charting the progress of a project called the Invisible Store of Happiness, an installation for Clerkenwell Design Week by furniture designer Sebastian Cox and sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon. This is the third essay entitled Marking. (All copy is as supplied.)
I was recently commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to write a series of four essays for their microsite, charting the progress of a project called the Invisible Store of Happiness, an installation for Clerkenwell Design Week by furniture designer Sebastian Cox and sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon. This is the second essay, entitled Designing (all copy as supplied):
Amara Living commissioned me to write a trend report from Milan Design Week 2015, which appeared on their blog alongside insights from 2 Lovely Gays, Kate Wales and Gerard McGuickin. (All copy as supplied.)
Eat, play… love Milan.
400,000 people and 2,000 brands flocked to Milan for the 54th edition of Salone del Mobile and the design festival that has grown up around it. “The resourceful design entrepreneur in the modern age is now committed not just to the creation of an artefact, but also to the communication, contextualisation and commercialisation of their ideas,” said Tom Dixon in the run up to the fair.
For many, that “communication, contextualisation and commercialisation” meant entertaining the crowds, who are increasingly in Milan to be inspired by new trends and enjoy some time away from the office, rather than on serious buying missions. Dixon took over an abandoned theatre in Milan and put on a gig with newly formed rock band Rough, starring on bass, accompanied Fab co-founder Bradford Shellhammer on vocals.
Nearby in the opulent setting of the grand hall of Palazzo Serbelloni, London-based designer Philippe Malouin had designed an 8-piece swing-set using Caesarstone’s 2015 surface designs. A lot of visitors had a lot of fun and it was possibly the most instagrammed event of the year.
The theme for the 2015 Milan Expo, starting on 01 May 2015, is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” so inevitably food was on everybody’s mind. The city’s design museum, Triennale di Milano kicked things off which an exhibition entitled Arts & Foods – Rituals since 1851. And another exhibition in the San Gregorio district entitled On An Empty Stomach examined hunger and lack in every sense – Fasted by Studio Dessuant Bone was a highlight.
Amongst all the glitz and glamour, there were designers trying to use design to solve some of the world’s bigger problems. A key theme amongst these was the use of waste as a resource. Studio Joa Herrenknecht and Studio Nienke Hogvliet both presented products made from salmon skin leather – a by-product of the food industry. ReTree by Philipp Kaefer is a project moulding furniture from waste wood chippings, while the Marble Ways table by Eleonora Dal Farra & Andrea Forti for Alcarol is made from the discarded wooden blocks used to cut marble on in quarries – an interesting twist on last year’s marble trend.
And finally, there is a really interesting move towards embracing imperfection. The Japanese call it Wabi-sabi and have celebrated it for centuries. It seems that the West is just catching on. RIVA 1920 were showing a table that made a feature of the usually discarded ‘sapwood’, while EY captured the imperfections of Ebony bark in resin. “Ebony is a popular wood used for high-end furniture, however its bark is disposed of – its irregular shape making it hard to use,” said the designers. “We use resin to fill the irregularities of the wooden pieces, transforming them into objects that are both unpredictably beautiful and functional for everyday life.”
For the 400,000 visitors to Milan Design Week, there was work to make them smile, to entertain them and to provide instagram-fodder aplenty. But in amongst all of that, there was also work to make them think, to make them question their assumptions and hopefully to inspire them for another year.
I was recently commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to write a series of four essays for their microsite, charting the progress of a project called the Invisible Store of Happiness, an installation for Clerkenwell Design Week by furniture designer Sebastian Cox and sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon.
This is the first essay, entitled Thinking (all copy as supplied):
Furniture designer Sebastian Cox is passionate about English coppiced hazel. So he’s perhaps not the obvious choice for the American Export Hardwood Council (AHEC)’s installation for Clerkenwell Design Week. But then AHEC aren’t known for making obvious choices. Their installation for the 2013 London Design Festival – designed by dRMM as an investigation into the structural properties of hardwood – was an Escher-inspired Endless Stair.
What excites Cox about coppiced hazel is its sustainability. Coppicing involves felling trees every 14 years. They regrow and, as long as they are coppiced, will never die of old age. But it’s also about giving value to an underused resource. One fourteenth of the wood is cut every year, so there are always trees at every stage of regrowth. British woodlands were managed in this way for thousands of years, so whole ecosystems of plants, insects and birds evolved to live in these unique habitats. A decline in coppicing due to the falling value of the timber is threatening these species. “My motivation is putting money back into the woods by making objects that people want to buy,” said Cox.
Having worked as a maker for Benchmark on AHEC’s Out of the Woods project in 2012, Cox was one of ten young designers asked to take part in AHEC’s Wish List project for the 2014 London Design Festival. He was commissioned to make a ‘cocoon-like desk’ for Sir Terence Conran. First, he needed to be convinced of the environmental impact of importing wood. It turns out that the carbon footprint of moving wood 6,000 miles by ship is equivalent to moving it 600 miles by road, so sourcing wood from the East coast of America is comparable to getting it from Scotland. Given that Europe will never be self-sufficient in hardwood, even with declines in manufacturing, it made sense. And the American hardwood forests are so vast that the timber used for the entire Wishlist project was replaced in less than two seconds. The next thing Cox wanted to know was which timbers are currently underused. Design is subject to trends like anything else, but when it comes to wood it’s important to use what nature provides. The current fashion for white oak and walnut is resulting in imbalanced demand. Cox chose to work with red oak and cherry and made Conran’s desk with a carbon footprint one third that of an iPhone 6.
The challenge for the Clerkenwell Design Week installation is to raise the profile of maple and cherry, both beautiful and yet under appreciated American hardwoods, and to create a three-dimensional form to communicate the environmental benefits of using them. To meet this challenge, Cox is collaborating with artist Laura Ellen Bacon, known for abstract willow sculptures – another surprising choice. The two couldn’t be more different, illustrated by the fact that Cox draws with a 2H pencil for accuracy, while Bacon sketches with a 6B for complete freedom, but as David Venables AHEC’s European Director explains, “She turns the whole thing on its head – she comes at this from a completely different angle, but with the same passion.” AHEC want to challenge perceptions of hardwood, both as a material and as a sustainable and growing resource. With an installation in one of Clerkenwell Design Week’s most important locations – the archway at the Order of Saint John – created by two such passionate and interesting designers, it’s difficult to see how they can fail.