Brand Workshop (Helena Star)

Katie Treggiden worked with interior designer and stylist, Helena Star on a one-day brand workshop to help explore and articulate her studio’s vision, create a pen portrait of its target audience, understand her brand personality and define a tone of voice.

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‘It felt like such an indulgence to really spend time thinking about my brand, how I position myself and talk about my work, but this has been an essential step,’ said Helena. ‘My business has grown organically and without much planning, so to take a breath and really look at my offering and how I communicate has been really helpful.’

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‘Katie is passionate and warm and we had a lovely morning of coffee and chat with plenty of soul searching, mapping exercises, relevant TED Talks, vision boards and working out who my audience actually is,’ she adds.

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‘Katie is incredibly insightful and knowledgeable about the design world and understands my industry completely. She reminded me that design is a valuable service and I finally feel confident about talking about my offer and charging what I feel my time is worth. I came away feeling really inspired.’

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You can see more examples of Helena’s work here.

Store Store: A Piece of the Future (Viewpoint Magazine)

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Peering in through the window of STORE Store in London’s newest retail development, Coal Drops Yard, you’d be forgiven for wondering what on earth is going on inside. Having meandered through a predictable mix of too-cool-for-school high-end stores such as Tom Dixon, Aesop and Cos, you might be suddenly confronted with an array of oozy extruded plastic candlesticks or a bunch of 15–18-year-olds taking a crash course in glassmaking.

As arts education is squeezed from the syllabus at every level and young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are demonstrably less likely to take creative subjects even where they are offered, STORE is promoting access, openness and inclusivity in creative education. ‘There are many arguments supporting this, from the fact that the creative industries are a major contributor to the UK economy, to the impact the arts have on wider culture,’ says James Shaw, one of the designers behind STORE. ‘But one of the main things we are keen to work on is making sure that creative education is open to all, bringing in a diverse range of voices.’

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The project evolved from an opportunity offered to some young artists, architects and designers in 2011. ‘We were asked to take over Store Street for the Bloomsbury Festival and decided to create 20 installations to retell the story of Icarus,’ explains founding member Kevin Green. ‘We invited more than 40 architects and artists to work together on each installation and subsequently, we were given an old warehouse on Alfred Place for two years. We held lectures, workshops and readings, as well as a residency programme, an architectural summer school, and a large Arts Council-funded art show.’

Over the eight years that followed, the loose association of artists, architects and designers that coalesced around Alfred Place and subsequent venues across London, formalised into community-interest company STORE. It now comprises three core elements: an educational programme of art and architecture courses; a wide-ranging programme of public events and exhibitions; and a socially engaged design practice. All of these are driven by a passion for encouraging London-based students from low-income backgrounds to think about pursuing creative subjects at higher-education level. ‘I was lucky enough to have an amazing art school education, which was extremely nourishing, mind-opening and really formed the basis for my entire practice today,’ says Shaw. ‘But I came in at the tail-end of university being affordable. In each of my courses – foundation, degree and then masters – my year group was the last not to be paying large fees. I got the last taste of the freedom to follow my choices without having to worry about debt. Today’s young people not only have to weigh up the monetary value of an education that shouldn’t be valued in monetary terms, but also face the fact that arts courses are being massively squeezed in schools across the UK.’

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STORE’s efforts to address this situation include exhibitions, one-day workshops, after-school clubs for local state schools – and summer schools in London, Warsaw, Hong Kong and Athens. These collaborative design and construction projects enable young people to actively engage with the dynamics of lively urban sites – testing ideas through drawing, modelling, prototyping and performance, before creating ambitious public installations and events.

And then there is STORE Store. Described by The Guardian’s Rowan Moore as an ‘Instagrammable visual hit… [designed] to soak up some of the surplus value sloshing around the credit-card accounts of the modern well-heeled urbanite,’ Coal Drops Yard isn’t the obvious place to house a design shop populated with objects designed and made by after-school-club students with royalties donated to good causes. But the venture is underwritten by property developer Argent and making space for such initiatives was always part of the plan: ‘Part of the original vision for Coal Drops Yard was that it be a place where things are made as well as sold,’ says Argent’s Vickie Hayward. ‘I saw a stool James Shaw had made with some of the STORE students and it was one of those moments when I knew immediately that we would be working together. STORE’s designers are using processes that are pushing material and making forward, and it is an amazing privilege for Coal Drops Yard to provide a home for that. It’s like having a tiny piece of the future onsite.’

 STORE Store making a saddle cover workshop, Coal Drops Yard, King's Cross

There are now 29 artists, designers and architects involved in running STORE and the challenges of co-ordinating such a large group of people – and such a wide range of activities – are surmounted at a monthly dinner. ‘It’s not easy,’ laughs Green. ‘We have always done everything in our spare time; we spend our weekends running the various programmes and spend most evenings in the workshop making and prototyping things. Different people take ownership of different projects, and over the years, we have slowly found – and are still finding – a way to organise such a large group so everyone can have their autonomy, but with moments where we all move forward together.’

And moving forward they are. Not satisfied with their already impressive achievements, the artists, designers and architects behind STORE – like so many of their generation – want to bring about positive social change and have big plans for more ways they can leverage the platform they have developed to do so. ‘We are ambitious about what the organisation can do,’ says Shaw. ‘We strongly believe in promoting arts education to all and promoting skills in art and design and we would love to continue our engagement in the public realm. We have lots of big ideas, from setting up a permanent school, to building a rural centre for the teaching of making skills.’ Right now, STORE might only represent a tiny piece of the future, but if things continue at this pace, it’s a piece that is only going to grow.

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Photography: Alexander Coggin for Viewpoint Magazine.

NA meets: Jan Christian Vestre, Street Furniture Designer (Norwegian Arts)

If you happen to be standing in the plaza outside New York’s United Nations Headquarters this summer – or for that matter if you’re in the vicinity of Oslo City Hall from September onwards – you’ll spot a curious smile-shaped aluminium bench. Take a seat and you might find yourself and your fellow sitters sliding towards its centre and each other. You might even find yourself striking up a conversation. For third-generation CEO of Vestre, Jan Christian Vestre, this is what public seating is all about.

Vestre was just 25 when his father Jan Vestre passed away and the young law student suddenly found himself at the helm of the family business his grandfather, Johannes Vestre, had established in 1947. Now, at just 32, he has grown the business by more than 75%, made furniture for Times Square, and has just manufactured The Best Weapon in collaboration with architecture practice Snøhetta – a symbol of diplomacy and a tribute to Nobel Peace Prize laureates to be unveiled in New York on 18 July – Nelson Mandela Day. We sat down to talk about the uncompromising attitude that has driven this success…

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Tell me about your grandfather.

After Norway was liberated from German occupation, my grandfather established Vestre in an old war hut as part of the push to rebuild the country. My grandfather’s motto was “Everything is possible for the Lord Almighty and a mechanic” and he started out simply: park benches, playground equipment, exercise machines and even an automated fishcake-making machine… we don’t make those anymore!

You became managing director at just 25 – how did it feel to take on so much responsibility at such a young age?

My father got sick and passed away in just a few months. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about joining Vestre, in fact, my father and I hadn’t really discussed the future of the company, but I quickly understood that I had two options: I could recruit somebody outside the family with more experience, or I could step up and learn all there was to know about design, manufacturing, sales and marketing pretty quickly. I am very happy that, with the support of my talented, enthusiastic, and creative colleagues, I chose the latter.

What was your approach – and what advice would you give to other young leaders?

The first thing we did was to create a strategy – where are were, where we wanted to go, and what we needed to do to get there. It was about thinking bold, and then taking it step by step; building on our existing strengths and improving where we could. My advice is to follow your heart, listen and learn, give people freedom, and set the creativity and innovation in your organisation free. I have never defined myself as a ‘boss’, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to lead, motivate and support my team – that’s what I do best.

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You’ve said you don’t care about profit. Explain…

Of course, we have to make money, but it’s wrong to only care about profit. Short-term profit hunting is the main reason we are facing the climate crisis and the rich are getting richer while 800 million people face extreme poverty. Private companies have to ask themselves how they can contribute to a fairer and more sustainable future, and sometimes do things just because they are right, even if they are not profitable. And when we do make money, we have to be more willing to share it. I am very proud that Vestre donates 10% of our bottom line every year to support sustainable projects around the world.

What’s the relationship between quality, sustainability and the circular economy?

The most important thing we can do to fight the climate crisis is to stop producing throw away-products. It is not difficult – some of the first benches we ever installed in the 1950s – even in the harsh conditions of the west coast of Norway – are still in use. It’s not sustainable to produce waste and it is actually more expensive to keep buying new than to choose durability and quality. Our ‘Vestre Vison Zero’ initiative means that we aim to produce zero products without a perpetual life. Correct maintenance and bringing furniture back to our factory every few decades for refurbishment means our products can live forever and be enjoyed by generations to come.

You want to become the world’s most sustainable furniture manufacturer – how will you achieve that?

We have already integrated nine of the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into our business philosophy. We produce our own energy from solar panels, our factory is fossil-free, and we offset our remaining emissions. We have implemented the latest generation bio-fuel and will electrify all our logistics. We are one of the first companies in Europe to be ordering the Tesla Semi, the world’s first fully electric articulated truck. We use the most environmentally friendly materials available – Nordic steel produces 30% less CO2 emissions than the global average and our wood comes from the world’s most sustainable forests. Our products come with a lifetime guarantee against rust and a 15-year warranty on wood and paint.

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Why does sustainability matter to you so much?

I am not driven by the desire to be rich and famous, but by the belief that we can use design and green manufacturing to create a better world. I ask myself every day how Vestre can contribute. I understand that we are not the biggest company in the world and we don’t have as much impact as huge organisations, but I still believe that everybody can save the world – a little. Some people find that naïve, but I don’t care, because I know we are right. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something. When more companies understand this, we will create an extremely powerful and global movement for positive change. That’s my ultimate goal in life.

Why are the public spaces and social meeting places you make furniture for so important?

In a few years’ time there will be nine billion people on the planet and 70% of them will live in cities, which means we must learn to share space and resources more equitably. People are moving from one country to another, either because they want to or because they have to. I respect that countries’ immigration policies are a political issue, but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that we are living in more diverse societies than ever before. It is never a good idea to categorise people as ‘us’ and ‘them’ – people are people and should be treated as such. The best way to deal with the alarming tendencies towards antagonism and conflict is to invest in public communal areas. Let people share life stories and ideas; let them eat together, play together, and get to know each other. That’s how we create a sense of community and belonging.

There is a trend in public spaces towards so-called ‘hostile architecture’ – what’s your take on these sorts of interventions? 

I hate hostile design and we refuse to do it. If a community has got homeless people sleeping in parks at night, it is not the role of designers and architects to keep the most vulnerable members of society away. I believe in democratic design, and it is simply not democratic to have spikes in cities. That’s why we say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to projects that involve our products with hostile add-ons. I encourage more brands and designers to stand up for what they know is right – don’t let powerful people offload their problems on to you.

What does the future hold, for you and for Vestre? 

I hope Vestre will continue to grow and that we will be able to contribute to social meeting places throughout the world. And I hope that we will be recognised as the world’s most sustainable furniture brand. We work very hard to achieve both. Personally, I am optimistic and enjoying that journey. As long as I feel that I can make a difference, I will keep going.

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You can also read this story on the Norwegian Arts website

Blique by Nobis (Design Milk)

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Stockholm’s Blique by Nobis is so new, you can still smell the freshly laid carpets – and yet it respects its history. The hotel is an imaginative adaptation of a building that was part-warehouse, designed for Philips by iconic Swedish designer Sigurd Lewerentz in the 1930s, and part 1990s office block by Alenius-Silverhielm-Åhlund. “The project has been a balancing act between preserving the existing and daring to challenge it,” says Kajsa Johanson, an architect at Wingårdhs – the firm behind the hotel. “The result is a raw and honest, but at the same time sharp, interior – one that is respectful of history but also looks to the future.”

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The original béton-brut concrete remains and the raw, industrial ambience it creates is complemented by the matte black ironwork and exposed services in the ceiling space. Designer furniture, much of it by Carl Hansen & Sön, in warm, natural materials such as wood and leather, provide a gentler counter-point, resulting in a balanced colour palette dominated by soft grey tones with elements of buff, black, and brown. “We have developed a common method for how we approach the buildings [Nobis have] chosen to establish themselves in,” says Helena Toresson, an interior designer at Wingårdhs who also worked on Miss Clara and Nobis Copenhagen. “The point of departure is always the building’s history and its distinctive character in combination with the casual elegance and the warmth that Nobis wants their hotels to exude.”

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Located within the Swedish capital’s gallery district with one foot in the traditional artistic neighborhood of Vasastaden and the other in vibrant, up-and-coming Hagastaden, Blique by Nobis features a rotating curation of artworks on loan from a local art dealer. Current works include a selection of photographic works by Jeff Koons.

Emphasis has been placed on communal spaces for meetings and socializing that are open to all, with a focus on architecture, design, art, music, and food. A large, open lobby at the heart of the building features a bar, serving coffee during the day and cocktails at night, surrounded by comfortable seating and co-working spaces. At the top of the building is a roof garden with spectacular views over Stockholm, taking in both the old town and the high rises of the newer part of the city. A fully glazed restaurant enables diners to enjoy the view even in the cold Swedish winters. At the bottom of the hotel is a courtyard and adjacent restaurant and kitchen serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a Scandi-Asian fusion theme.

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The same shuttered concrete found in the social spaces is also carried through to the guest rooms, some of which feature kitchenettes and dining areas perfect for longer stays.

A modular storage system made of black wrought iron makes it possible to decorate the room with personal belongings. The wall-to-wall terrazzo in the bathrooms is both bang on-trend and a welcome pop of indulgence in an otherwise restrained scheme. The black pipework, faucets, and shower mixers keep it sharp.

Something tells me that Sigurd Lewerentz would have approved.

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You can read this article on the Design Milk website. Photography: Andr Pihl and Bruno Erhs.