Not the usual suspects

This year’s Ambiente left no doubt that consumption is “in,” with some 4,688 exhibitors presenting their latest products from the fields of furniture and home accessories. Being a consumer-products trade show, it was not surprising to see a lot of clones jamming the aisles at Messe Frankfurt – products with little new to offer other than minor variations of tried-and-tested clichés. But a closer inspection unveiled an inspiring collection of upstarts tucked between the clones. These experimental, forward-looking and often-surprising visionaries are rebuffing Chinese mass-production and globalism trends and instead heralding a return to creativity, craftsmanship and local manufacturing. 

1-Catching flock

Lina Patsiou is more than just a little fascinated by materials and production processes. The talented designer from London has been experimenting with the possibilities offered by the technique of flocking: a nylon fibre that can be sprayed on practically any surface. One result is her Fiberland creation, a chair upholstered with flock fibre residue accumulating on the frame while sitting in a flock-spraying booth during other applications.

 2-On nature’s time

The Clock Circle, designed by Studio Kuadra for the Italian company Progetti, is a linear clock completely covered in a natural, moss-type lichen that can be used indoors, even in rooms without natural light. The moss itself is the proprietary invention of another Italian firm, Verde Profilo.

3-On the job

Not a single tree was felled in order to make Bauholz Design furniture. Instead, the German firm only uses planks reclaimed from scaffolding used in construction projects around the country. Every single plank is different in colour and surface texture, and all show different traces of use; therefore every piece of furniture, from desks to tables to seating, is custom-built and no two are the same.

4-The sound of fun

German product designer Meike Harde is making a career out of exploring different possibilities for upholstery construction and with Zieharsofika (a rough interpretation would be “Sofaccordion”) translates the aesthetic of a controlled arrangement of folds into a larger dimension using three simple components – conventional rubber foam mats, elastic bands and wooden stools.

5-Porous boundary

French industrial designer Geraldine Husson uses micro-architectures to create seating hybrids that have shed all formal constraints. The multi-functional poufs, whose elastic material adapts to the shape of each individual user and
sinuously flows around them, both impressed and concerned passersby at Ambiente, who weren’t sure what to make of this polymorphic creation.

6-A place to rethink

Under the premise of  “recycle, reuse, rethink,” Portuguese furniture designer Margarida Valente transforms the paraphernalia of everyday life into new products – for example the Wow Chair, made of multi-coloured hair ties (another version, called the Bubble chair, uses 7,000 shower scrunchies). “The transformation of materials in order to reuse them and to give them new purpose is nowadays as necessary as it is responsible and creative,” she says.

7-Delicacies for the eye 

In the mind of Raili Keiv, if industry and tradition got together over a few beers, it would inevitably descend into an argument with an unclear winner. This is evident in the delicate, classical crockery the young designer from Estonia found at flea markets and then combined with the obtuse building material concrete, thus turning a field of tension into new forms and functions.

8-Unadulterated nature

In German, the word “ehrlich” means honest and straightforward, and this coat rack by O-Living is true to its name. Its character as a branch from a tamarind tree on a base made of shell-bearing limestone is refreshingly lacking in pretension, yet still eye-catching and purposeful.

9-East meets West

JIA, whose name is derived from the Chinese word for “home,” is a young firm that despite being from Taiwan is bucking the Asian stereotype of copycatting Western products, and instead tries to fuse Eastern and Western cultures in products that create a modern language of Chinese contemporary design. Its stoneware Steam Poacher, designed by Office for Product Design and winner of the fair’s own Design Plus competition, is a simple yet clever solution that honours one of the most iconic and essential cooking techniques in the Chinese culinary lexicon.

10-Traditions rethought 

For several years, Junjie Zhang, the brains behind the new brand Sozen, has been researching and experimenting with different techniques with the most ubiquitous of Chinese materials: bamboo. The results are the first line of vases and lights, such as Tree (shown), that integrate bamboo and everyday products like porcelain in an elegant, almost Zen-like harmony.