Exploring Eden with Nature Squared (Bethan Gray)
CEO of Bethan Gray Design, Massimo Gray, approached Katie Treggiden shortly before the launch of Exploring Eden at Milan Design Week in April 2019 seeking a copy platform that could be quickly repurposed for a number of different copy requirements. She reviewed all the pre-existing collateral, interviewed Bethan and Massimo, and wrote a ‘vision document’ that covered the ‘who, what, why, where and when’ of the launch. The copy for the press release, website, brochures, postcards and social media was all adapted from this one piece of writing, with Katie offering editing and proof-reading support as needed. All copy as submitted to the client.
When Paul Hoeve and Lay Koon Tan founded Nature Squared in 2001, it was with the express purpose of re-imagining sustainable natural materials – waste, by-products of other industries and fast-growing natural materials – and transforming them into beautiful surfaces fit for the pinnacle of the luxury market using master-craftsmanship and cutting-edge technologies. Exploring Eden is the first collection to come out of a new partnership between Nature Squared and award-winning British designer Bethan Gray. It brings Bethan’s passion for telling stories with craft and design together with almost two decades of living and breathing sustainability and social responsibility in natural materials.
‘Creating objects of outstanding beauty and quality is absolutely at the core of ensuring that the materials we work with are recognised and cherished,’ says Lay Koon Tan. ‘There is a groundswell of desire for change, and we hope that such recognition translates into greater acceptance of holistic sustainability and the importance of balancing the needs of the environment with social and economic health.’
Nature Squared’s 200 craftsmen have pioneered applications such as banana bark ceilings, eggshell bathtubs and feather dashboards and their surfaces appear in 92% of the world’s superyachts – yet they are virtually unknown. The Exploring Eden collection of furniture and accessories brings previously unseen materials, skills and techniques to the attention of a wider audience, enabling further stewardship of craftspeople in the Philippines and beyond.
‘The more we find a market for what we produce, the more we create a virtuous circle of jobs, appreciation for materials that are currently seen as waste, acceptance of sustainable practices, and self-belief in our people. In Bethan, we have found a like-minded partner and we are delighted to be working with her on this collection,’ says Lay Koon Tan.
The collaboration resonates with Bethan’s love of natural materials and her nurturing approach to craft, which involves enduring partnerships with master craftsmen and women based on mutual trust and respect.
‘I met co-founders Paul Hoeve and Lay Koon Tan by chance because we are both based at Great Western Studios in West London – it was a genuine water-cooler moment,’ says Bethan Gray. ‘I knew we were kindred spirits as soon as I heard their story and realised how passionate they were about nurturing craft. The opportunity to work with these incredible materials, and apply them to furniture for the first time, has been really exciting, especially as it will expand their reach and expand their stewardship of Filipino craftspeople.’
Bethan Gray and Nature Squared share a passion for exploration, experimentation and pushing the boundaries of possibility within natural materials and craft. Bethan immediately saw the potential in the skills and techniques of Nature Squared’s artisans, and spent time working alongside them to develop the Exploring Eden collection.
‘They know their materials so well that it has been a real joy to join them in their explorations and push the boundaries of what the materials can do in the context of a contemporary design,’ she says. ‘We were able to use the pen shells for this collection because of the hundreds of samples Nature Squared’s craftspeople had made in a bid to find a use for the black iridescent part of the shell that usually gets left behind.’
Bethan’s fresh perspective on these captivating materials coupled with her instinct for colour and texture, has resulted in a profusion of ideas, only the very beginning of which is represented in this first collection.
The Exploring Eden collection comprises ten key pieces including furniture such as armchairs, tables and shelving, perfectly complemented by accessories such as paperweights, bookends and bell jars – each one the outcome of Bethan’s explorations into the possibilities of these exciting materials.
Nature Squared was founded to create new value for sustainable natural materials that are currently either waste- or by-products of other industries or simply fast-growing enough to be entirely self-replenishing; transforming them with master-craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. In keeping with Bethan’s love of seashells and feathers, she has chosen pearl, abalone, capiz, pen and scallop shells for her first collection – along with goose and pheasant feathers.
‘The iridescence found in nature is absolutely unique. My colour palette has always been inspired by natural materials, so this is a really exciting opportunity to work with something completely new and yet absolutely aligned with my practice,’ says Bethan.
The exotic but plentiful shells used across the collection are sourced from Filipino fishing communities with on-going conservation projects while the British goose and pheasant feathers come from birds that have been sustainably processed for food. These are perfect examples of Nature Squared’s commitment to traceability throughout the supply chain.
Known for pushing the boundaries of craft techniques, Bethan Gray has the expertise to deftly combine materials, resulting in products and spaces that are tactile and engaging. Her work has always been characterised by bold, confident patterns inspired by the shapes she sees in the natural world – the graphic patterns in this collection are not just inspired by, but also created by, natural materials.
‘The scallop shells are graphic in themselves. When they are laid flat and infilled with black [eco-resin?], the natural pink pattern they create is really beautiful,’ says Bethan. ‘The capiz shell is usually used in circles, but by arranging it in a grid, not only is it a more efficient use of the material, but you get this striking modern pattern made from a side of the shell you don’t usually see.’
Bethan’s refined colour palette, developed over a number of years, is inspired by her love of travel, photography and culture and informed by the natural materials she works with.
‘In every piece in the collection, we’ve tried to keep things as simple as possible so the naturally occurring patterns and colours can really shine,’ says Bethan. ‘Putting matte black next to shiny, iridescent pearl really highlights it – and the black iridescence found in the base of the pen shells was a revelation. It is like a black rainbow and comes from the part of the shells that is usually discarded. I’ve never worked with iridescence before, so to find it in natural materials is really exciting. It’s added a whole new dimension to my colour palette.’
Each material comes with its own story – of its environment and its community. Bethan’s instinct for creating combinations that work has resulted in a distinctive colour palette that weaves a continuous narrative across the collection.
Bethan Gray’s ancestors went on an incredible journey across continents – Bethan has since visited many of the places they passed through, inspired by a love of art, travel and culture. Today, Bethan’s expertise lies in bringing contemporary relevance to the traditional techniques from these regions – keeping both cultural narratives and craft skills alive. Established in 2008, Bethan Gray Designs creates best-selling collections of hand-crafted furniture and home accessories for global retailers and brands, such as Lane Crawford, EJ Victor, Living Edge, The Odd Piece, Liberty and Harrods. The studio’s work features extensively in global media; has been recognised with four Elle Decoration British Design Awards; and is regularly exhibited in London, Milan, Paris and New York. Working within equal partnerships built on mutual trust and respect is at the heart of Bethan’s creative practice. By collaborating with master craftspeople and bringing contemporary relevance to their work, she is able to connect them to new commercial markets all over the world, celebrating and preserving their skills in her furniture and home accessories.
Nature Squared transforms sustainable and abundant natural materials, such as eggshell, seeds, bark, seashells, precious stones, exotic leathers and feathers, into unique surfaces and luxury objects using centuries-old craft techniques enhanced with today’s ingenuity and technical innovation. Employing 200 master craftsmen, Nature Squared has elevated heritage craft to heirloom quality and today, their surfaces can be found in 92% of the world’s super yachts. With almost 20 years’ experience in sustainability and social responsibility, they are now expanding from their bespoke roots into furniture and accessories, to make their work accessible to a wider audience and promote the compatibility of such skills and quality with environmental, cultural and social stewardship.
Bethan Gray and Nature Squared share a common commitment to natural materials, nurturing craft and sustainability and this is just the beginning of a long-term collaboration.
Photography: Bethan Gray and Nature Squared.
All copy is reproduced here as it was supplied by Katie Treggiden to the client or publication.