Amara Living, April 2015

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.

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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.”

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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.

The Guardian, April 2015

On Saturday 11th April, my first article for the Guardian was published in their Weekend Magazine – a report on the rising popularity of Scandinavian design. (All copy is as submitted.)

The New Scandi

With an appetite for innovation and a new generation of talent, the Scandinavians are coming – again. Katie Treggiden explores the rebirth of Nordic design.

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The New Scandi, Guardian, April 2015


With an appetite for innovation and a new generation of talent, the Scandinavians are coming – again. Katie Treggiden explores the rebirth of Nordic design.

Scandinavia is creeping into every corner of British life. First, it came through television in the shape of ‘Nordic noir’ – a new genre spawned by the likes of The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen. It entered our wardrobes, with Acne, & Other Stories and Cos all opening shops in the UK. Then Restaurant magazine ranked Copenhagen’s Noma ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ four times in five years, sparking a trend for all things fresh and foraged. Now Scandi style is finding its way into our living rooms.

Or rather, back into our living rooms. We’re all familiar with classic 1950s and 1960s Scandinavian chairs: Eero Aarnio’s Ball, Arne Jacobsen’s Egg, Eero Saarrinen’s Tulip… the list is long. But design fans are just as excited about the scene today as they were when the Egg chair first rolled off the production line 57 years ago. In February this year, more than 40,000 people visited the Stockholm Furniture Fair. So what drew them there?

Furniture from the Nordic nations has a quiet, understated aesthetic. Perhaps as a result of a cultural mindset that values the collective over the individual (Janteloven in Danish and Norwegian, Jantelagen in Swedish), Scandinavia has a flair for affordable functional furniture, made using natural materials and traditional craftsmanship.

“Scandinavian design has been on the radar in the UK for a while,” says Christina Schmidt, co-founder of Skandium, “at first among an initiated crowd of architects, designers, and aficionados, but increasingly with the public too.”

This growing interest is partly due to big-name brands rejuvenating their product lines – through pushing the possibilities of materials and technology, forming interesting collaborations, and reinterpreting their Scandinavian heritage for a contemporary audience.

Finnish glassware manufacturer Iittala, the brand behind Alvar Aalto’s 1936 Savoy vase, has launched Ruutu (from £79, Skandium), a collection of diamond-shaped vases, each of which takes seven craftsmen 24 hours to produce.

Meanwhile Marimekko has collaborated with Finnair, immersing passengers in Finnish design from the moment they leave the runway. Specially designed napkins, tableware, textiles and even aircraft livery reference the view of Finland’s unspoilt countryside below. (from £3.75, John Lewis)


Danish-British designer Ilse Crawford’s collection for Danish brand Georg Jensen (from £72, Skandium) was partly inspired by Nordic noir. “The combination of silver and yellow metals is very much part of Danish culture,” she says. “It was about bringing that together with something like The Bridge. It’s a shadowy world, so the ideaof having glowing moments in the shadows really appealed to me.”

And it’s not just the heritage brands making waves. Nordic countries now boast some of the best design schools in the world, such as the Bergen Academy of Art and Design in Norway, Finland’s Aalto University and Konstfack University in Sweden. Their investment in education (higher education is free in all three countries) is clearly paying off.

“Interest in Scandinavian design has grown due to a new wave of creative energy from young Nordic designers,” says Nina Bruun, designer and product developer for Muuto. “Their designs are novel and exciting and yet continue Scandinavian traditions: functional, honest and produced to the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship, combined with an egalitarian aim for affordability.”


The Danish brand’s latest release is the Fibre Chair. Designed by Copenhagen-based Iskos-Berlin, its typically Scandinavian pared-back form is made from a wood-fibre composite and is completely recyclable. (£229, Skandium)

The Form Chair by Simon Legald for Normann Copenhagen features classically Nordic curves, and yet challenges traditional construction. Initially conceived as Legald’s graduate project at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, it has taken three years and 20 prototypes to develop, and as a result of a new fixing system, the legs almost appear to grow out of the underside of the seat. (£162,


Young Danish brand Hay has opened a shop in Bath and a concession in London’s Liberty, and even created sub-brand Wrong for Hay in collaboration with UK designer Sebastian Wrong. Recent launches include a reversible patchwork bedspread by Danish studio All The Way to Paris and the Cloche Lamp by Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland. (Accessories from £5, Hay)

It may have taken half a century, but Scandinavian designers are finally taking on the legendary reputations of their predecessors, exploring, building upon and even challenging the conventions of their legacy. The newfound global appetite for their work is making it increasingly likely that, 50 years from now, the world will speak of a Legald or a Beller Fjetland in the same reverent tones currently reserved for a Saarinen or a Jacobsen.


The next generation: our pick of five Scandinavian studios making an impact.

1.    Färg & Blanche: Stockholm-based Fredrik Färg and Emma Marga Blanche’s experimental style, fusing fashion with furniture, has already seen their work produced by Swedish brands such as Gärsnäs, Zero and Design House Stockholm.

2.    Pettersen Hein: A collaboration between Danish designer Lea Hein and Norwegian artist Magnus Pettersen, Pettersen Hein makes sculptural furniture and accessories with a Modernist aesthetic.

3.    Morten & Jonas: These two Norwegian designers met at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design before establishing their studio in 2011. Their Bake Me a Cake table lamp for Northern Lighting is made by inmates at Bergen prison as part of Norway’s pioneering approach to rehabilitation.

4.    Note Design Studio: Note is a Stockholm-based design collective working across architecture, interiors, products, and graphic design. Already producing for the likes of Menu, Ex.t and Mitlab, their style is decidedly Scandinavian, and yet distinctively their own.

5.    Anderssen & Voll: Norwegian design duo Torbjørn Anderssen and Espen Voll focus on domestic objects. Their work has a Nordic warmth and tactility, combining understated forms with bold colours.

Making, American Hardwood Export Council, April, 2015

All copy as provided to the brand.

They say it takes a village, and despite Sebastian Cox and Laura Ellen Bacon being the lead designers on the Invisible Store of Happiness project, they’re by no means the only people making it happen.

“Everybody ready?” Cox asks. “Ready” replies Jo Weaden. “Ready,” says George Mead. “Ready,” yell Becky McGowan, Kate Finlay and Jack Huberry in unison. “Laura?” he prompts. “Ready,” she replies.

Cox pops open a small door and pulls a 2.4m length of steaming hot cherry wood onto his shoulder, moving quickly towards his team. Together they position it into the jig. “One, two, three,” says Cox and they bend the now pliable wood around a specially made form. Within a matter of seconds G-clamps are holding it in place as it starts to cool.

These lengths of steam-bent cherry wood, linked together with 11 different scarf joints, will form the horizontal structure of the installation AHEC have commissioned Cox and Bacon to make for the archway at the Order of Saint John during Clerkenwell Design Week. They will be fixed to uprights using simple mortise and tenon joints.

Keen to work with whatever the forest provided, the designers didn’t know what they would be getting until the wood arrived. “It was hugely exciting,” said Cox. “None of it is FAS [first and second] grade wood, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just aesthetic – it’s about standardising materials, but why would you want wood to look uniform? It’s a plant. To see these flecks, cells and knots is massively exciting. I never expected it to look like this.” Four end panels will showcase the hardwood in all its flawed beauty – knots, cracks and sap wood in the cherry and the rippled growth-lines of the ‘curly’ maple.

The timber is cut into straight lengths on a table saw, then planed and ‘thicknessed,’ resulting in consistent lengths with sides at 90 degrees to each other. It takes two weeks just to produce the raw material the team are working with. And every time a machine is switched on, so is a stopwatch. Data sheets list the amount of CO2 used by each machine per hour, enabling the team to calculate the total carbon cost of the project. “I can’t wait to meet the AHEC lifecycle analysis team to review the data,” says Cox, visibly excited.

The timber for the interior ‘swathes’ is cut using a spindle-moulder and a stack of spinning circular blades. Slots are cut parallel to the length of the timber, resulting in pliable wooden ribbons attached to the uncut end.

The ribbons are soaked in water to mimic the green wood traditionally used for steam bending, and steamed to make them flexible enough to shape by hand. “They’re really nice, and coincidentally feel quite similar to the willow I often work with,” says Bacon. The wood will be attached to the frame with a mortise and tenon joint at one end and anchored into slots in the structure at the other. “I want to twist and flex each one as much as I can without breaking it,” she says. “Some won’t bend very far at all and some will bend much further – creating a real sense of volume and movement.”

The installation will be built in the workshop, before being divided into three pieces for transport to Clerkenwell, where it will be reassembled.

“Seb, can we try a really long one?” Weaden asks eagerly, returning to the steam bending. “Yes, why not,” comes the reply and they’re off again. It really does take a village.

This essay was written as a series of four for the American Hardwood Export Council. You can read all four essays here. 

Under a Northern Sky, April 2015

In April, I took part in a project run by creative writing organisation 26, as an editor of pieces of creative writing inspired by a train route and Nick Drake.

“We gave 26 writers from the name of a station on the long route between Newcastle and Glasgow and the title of a Nick Drake song,” explain 26. “These two elements became the inspiration for a creative piece. We didn’t set a form but asked that each piece should be able to be read aloud in under 3 minutes and 44 seconds – the duration of Nick Drake’s Northern Sky – which gave us the project title.

On finding there were actually 27 stations on route, we added another writer, and an introduction, to create a collection of 28 pieces.

On 25 April, a selection of the writers got together to take the actual railway journey and performed all the pieces plus the introduction, as they travelled along the route.

Nick Drake was a singer songwriter whose work failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, but who has since earned wide recognition. He died from an overdose of anti-depressants in November 1974, when he was 26 years old.”

I edited six of the pieces of writing, giving feedback to the writers to help them meet that brief. Find out more about the project here.