Artisanal Approaches

It’s always a treat to start the New Year with the winter edition of Maison & Objet in Paris. This time around, I was particularly delighted by an artisanal and less industrialized approach to making and design. Sebastian Conran from the U.K. unveiled his Gifu Collection, a project that evolves a cross-cultural collaboration between his own studio and the traditional artisans of the Gifu prefecture in Japan. Show attendees seemed captivated by an array of finely wrought products encompassing ceramics, furniture, paper lanterns and more.

In the same vein, London-based Polish designer Marcin Rusak introduced his Flora collection, a compelling selection of pieces comprising lamps, screens and tables. Based on the conceptual strength and beauty of his work, he was chosen as one of six individuals/teams represented in Maison & Objet’s Rising Talents – a laudable program that nurtures and showcases emerging designers. Rusak is the son and grandson of commercial flower-growers, and references this personal history by casting a broad selection of coloured blooms in black resin. The results are deeply evocative, recalling William Morris’s intricate wallpaper patterns, the dark mysteries of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish flower paintings, and also the Romantic floral motifs present in the collections of Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. But Rusak’s innovative approach and research into materials, process and the notion of ephemerality is itself fascinating and yields some intriguing results. For the screens, cast slabs are sliced into strips and reassembled – often randomly – to reveal a disjointed sequencing of botanical cross-sections; the effect can be dizzying.

Alongside Rusak in this select group of Rising Talents was the delightful Azusa Murakami and her equally winsome husband Alexander Groves, who operate professionally and creatively as Studio SWINE – an acronym for Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers. The name of their enterprise could not be more accurate, describing a scope so broad, ambitious and thoughtful that their meteoric ascent is of no surprise. With resourcefulness and self-sufficiency, the pair journey around the world, addressing global concerns of sustainability and issues of historical and political significance. Two of their projects detailed in this report illustrate this boundless enthusiasm and commitment to research and design.

From Gyres to Tires (Studio SWINE – Gyrecraft, Fordlandia)

Architecturally trained Azusa Murakami met her artist husband Alexander Groves while both were pursuing an MA in Product Design at London’s Royal College of Art: their complementary creative backgrounds propel them on global travels in search of inspiration: São Paulo, Shanghai, and an expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. Here, the Studio SWINE duo sailed 1,000 nautical miles collecting plastic flotsam and jetsam from the North Atlantic Gyre, transforming the debris into decorative sculptural objects through a solar extruder they designed and built themselves. Sold as luxury items at Selfridges, these five different sculptures are made from the unique assortment of plastics sourced from the five major ocean gyres. A more recent initiative is an exhibition and book project entitled Fordlandia, inspired by the short-lived Brazilian community established by American automobile giant Henry Ford in the 1920s to procure rubber from the rainforest for the manufacture of tires. In seeking to reinterpret the production ideals of Fordlandia, Studio SWINE make use of ebonite, a very hard and dense vulcanized rubber that can be processed like wood – utilizing a sustainable forest product rather than relying on the endangered hardwoods that are still favoured by many designers. Guided by the Tropical Modernism movement of 1950s Brazil, the pieces in the collection include an armchair and a lounge chair: ebonite forms the gracefully curving structure of each, combined with sustainably sourced rainforest materials such as woven cane, rubber sheet and fish leather.

Flower Power (Marcin Rusak – Flora)

London-based Marcin Rusak applies material innovation to his Flora series of beautifully moody objects for the home: lamps, tables and screens feature a profusion of flowers encased in dark resin. The cast slabs are then sliced and reassembled into screens or cut into cylinders to form the lamp bases. The effect of cutting through the resin results in a fossilized or subtly veined finish characteristic of stone, but with an otherworldly depth and luminosity.

Good Dresser (Ligne Roset – Entrèves)

Venerated French designer Marie Christine Dorner has conceived of the Entrèves dresser for Ligne Roset, introducing a refreshingly flexible storage system premised on modularity. Entrèves can be arranged in a multitude of ways: side by side with the curved edges at the outer corners and vice versa, or back to back for accessibility from opposite directions. With all sides perfectly finished, there is no bad angle. The dresser is finished with one of three options: smoked oak or cherry veneer, and lacquer in a choice of satin white, argile, plomb and bleu nuit.

Toy Story (Ligne Roset – Vivienne)

Vivienne by Marie-Aurore Stiker-Metral for Ligne Roset comprises a pleasing assembly of colours, textures and materials, resulting in a playful chair that reflects the designer’s experience of growing up in a toy shop. Distinctly articulated components of wood, metal and fabric are evident: solid beech legs stained anthracite or red are complemented by a bronze or lead-coloured perforated steel back, and a high-resilience polyurethane foam seat cushion comes with a removable cover in any number of colours.

Phenomenal (Bomma – Phenomena)

Czech lighting brand Bomma upholds its country’s reputation for high-quality glass production in the unveiling of DECHEM studio’s Phenomena collection of translucent/transparent tinted and hand-blown crystal pendant lamps. Phenomena is available in three shapes – capsule, cone and sphere (in two sizes), and in four colours – mint green, smoke grey, ferrari red and flamingo pink respectively. Alternatively, a clear crystal finish with finely cut geometric patterns may be requested. Stainless steel fittings come in either a silver or gold finish.

Ringmaster (Woud – Annular)

New Danish design brand Would showcased the Annular pendant lamp by Canada’s own M-S-D-S Studio, a multidisciplinary design practice led by Jonathan Sabine and Jessica Nakanishi. Surprisingly, the light source does not emanate from the centre of the pendant, but emits diffusely via a concealed ring of LEDs tucked in the space between two nested aluminum cones. Annular is available in white, black, nude and mint.

Serenity Now (Zaha Hadid – Serenity, Duo)

The late great Zaha Hadid was an indefatigable force in the architectural world, also turning her talents to the design of objects such as furniture, tableware and home accessories. Amongst the selections at M&O were the Serenity platter and the twisting, interlocking Duo salt and pepper grinders – articulating Hadid’s characteristically expressive and organic formal vocabulary. All pieces are fabricated in stainless steel; the Serenity series comes in two sizes and is available in silver, gold and black.

Double Vision (cc-tapis – Visioni)

Produced by cc-tapis, the Visioni graphic carpet by prolific Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola was introduced in two new colours at M&O. Her architectural training is evident in the orthogonal perspective lines of the carpet’s boldly graphic composition, and pleasing muted shades enhance the 3D effect. A textile blend of Himalayan wool and pure silk is handknotted in Nepal to the highest standard: 125,000 knots per square metre.

Branching Out (La Chance – Borghese)

The Borghese series by French designer Noé Duchaufour Lawrance for La Chance comprises a coffee table and a sofa inspired by the stone pines of the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome. Matte black steel forms the structure of both pieces, branching off to support the three solid oak surfaces of the table, and the seat and back cushions of the sofa. The tabletop is available in either a natural or stained black finish. High-density polyurethane foam sofa components can be upholstered in a wide variety of shades – either as a single-colour scheme or as a combination of four colours.

Seeing Red (Mini Archi – Variable)

Designed by the Belgian architect team of Ana Maia and Laurent Maes who operate under the brand name Mini Archi, Variable is a beautifully sculptural and highly functional low table that morphs into an infinite variety of configurations through its three overlapping leaves that pivot around a shaft. Manufactured in Portugal, the table is a dynamic sculptural object that invites interaction: the 3mm-thick red lacquered and origami-folded sheet metal can be manipulated into a form suitable for any number of purposes.

Objectified (Object Studio – Ribbon, S)

Founded by Thomas Vaughan, London-based Object Studio combines traditional wood-crafting techniques with cutting-edge digital methods of industrial design and manufacture. Recalling the compelling contours of British sculptor Henry Moore’s masterful figure studies, the S and Ribbon Chairs are stunningly gorgeous objects that move far beyond the functional definition of furniture. Both chairs come in a variety of timber options: oak, fumed oak, maple, ash, American black walnut and cherry. Matte, satin and gloss finishes can be specified, and stains are available upon request.

How Dare You? (Dare Studio – Katakana)

Founded by Sean Dare, Britain’s Dare Studio presents the Katakana collection. The desk and chair are compelling examples of a refined design sensibility evident in their streamlined proportions and elegantly splayed legs. Both pieces come in solid American black walnut or white oak with a hard-wearing wax oil finish. The leather-topped desk is equipped with two leather-lined drawers and two A4paper storage recesses, along with a central storage area with cable-management facilities. The accompanying chair can be upholstered with leather, fabric or the customer’s own material.

A Stable of Tables (Porada – Fritz)

Italian company Porada unveils designer C. Ballabio’s charming Fritz side tables in five different shapes. Matte black metal legs meet the ground with elegantly brushed brass feet; tabletops with a high-sided rim are crafted from solid canaletta walnut. Tops can be specified with a glossy lacquered finish in four different colours.

Cross-Cultural Collaboration (Sebastian Conran – Gifu Collection)

British design veteran Sebastian Conran introduced the extensive Gifu Collection at M&O, the result of an ongoing collaboration with 10 specialized artisans in the Gifu region of Japan. With an emphasis on combining traditional Japanese craftsmanship with Conran’s contemporary design ethos, the collection includes over 50 items made from traditional materials. Here, the Kinka lanterns by Asano-Shoten are constructed from white ash and mulberry paper, and incorporate digital technology via a battery-operated LED light source – a safer and healthier option than candles that were traditionally used. Fine Japanese porcelain serveware also establishes its place in the collection: the sublimely pure, white forms of pitchers, cups and bowls by Kaneko-Kohyo Pottery are given textural variation through an irregularly faceted surface.