Furniture goes rough, rogue and rebellious in the hands of these five maverick designers who are setting futuristic trends in interior décor by refusing to be `normal’
BY NABANITA DUTT
Being different has got to be the first rule in the fashion black book, because haute couture has been ditching `wearability’ in favor of futuristic design for a long time. It is only very recently, that a handful of prodigiously talented furniture makers have managed to gain instant celebrity by ditching `usability’ in their own trade for similar aesthetic considerations.
Maarten Baas is one such talent that speedily comes to mind. Collection after collection, this Holland-based designer has wowed and worried his audience with multi-purposed re-imaginings of both junk and classics, taking the genre of Eco Moderne on a bold, new adventure. Chairs don’t just become bookshelves in Maarten Baas’ head. They get flattened, covered in clay, burned and set to shiver at a magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter Scale. And you know what? The design and art world cannot get enough of these tortured pieces.
The man doesn’t do greatest hits. He doesn’t choose beauty over ugliness either. He scavenges for inspiration in recycle bins and trash cans, and what he creates thereafter, shocks, awes and rearranges all our pre-conceived notions about artistry in furniture design.
Here’s a quick run-down of the most celebrated collections in Maarten Baas’ young career that’s exceptional, experimental and Eco Moderne at its very best.
HEY, CHAIR, BE A BOOKSHELF SERIES
+ In a bizarre example of multifunctionality, Maarten Baas created the `Hey, Chair…’ series with rejected, old furniture from second-hand shops that he stuck together with polyester coating. The Hey, Chair pieces are one-of-a-kind, and do a great job of holding books, decorative items — and even you, if you want to sit on them. Maarten’s reputation as a surreal, Eco Moderne designer was established with this range, from which he springboarded to more fantastical, extraordinary projects.
THE SMOKE SERIES
+ He sets furniture aflame, and calls the charred remains `Smoke’. Layers of epoxy coating gives a rich, velvet finish, sealing the calculated fire damage on this signature style of customizing existing tables and chairs. Maarten’s Smoke series finds pride of place, and endless press mentions, at Ian Schrager’s tony Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan where a Smoke billiard table sits in the lobby and each room has its very own piece of charred Maarten genius. You can shop this series at the Dutch label Moooi.
THE CLAY SERIES
+ Synthetic clay is tamped onto a skeleton of metal and massaged into shape by hand without use of any mold, making each item a unique piece of art. The conscious imperfection in the Clay collection is heightened with the spontaneous kindergarten joy of using bright, childlike colors. A second series was developed – or underdeveloped, as it were – from this one, called Plain Clay, in which Maarten retained fingerprints on the surface to amp up its organic, artisanal appeal.
+ A naïf collection of furniture pieces constructed from hand-sawn steel, that have been given awkward, doll-house fantasy shapes. Maarten has used miniature foam/cardboard models for inspiration and not worried about conformity or geometry as he re-imagined them into Sculpt — a usable range of topsy-turvy furniture.
As far as the London-based architect/product designer was concerned, it was her projects that challenged lazy minds with space age renditions of buildings and products that were the inevitable next step in design evolution. Ask her detractors however, and they will tell you it was her abrasive personality, caustic tongue and ruthless ambition that provoked endless controversy, ill-feeling and professional dispute.
Whichever side of the Great Zaha Hadid Debate you may be on, it is hard to deny the Iraqi-born diva’s architectural genius. Her death in March 2016 has certainly taken away one of the world’s fiercest female architect and designer who thumbed her nose at the world and dared her clients to dream. “There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?” she used to say, as she floated buildings in the air, and created magnificent artscapes that defied imagination with light, steel and concrete.
Some say she was “unbuildable”. But the fact that she had won the Pritzker Prize – the architect’s Oscar – and several other such prestigious accolades in her high-profile career prove that that certainly couldn’t have been true. Zaha had her finger in more than 950 projects in 44 countries and her portfolio included Chanel’s Mobile Art Pavilion, China’s Guangzhou Opera House and London’s Aquatic Center to name just a few.
The one grand `failure’ that haunted her career was the Opera House in Cardiff, Wales, where locals took a personal dislike to Zaha and agitated to get her off the project. To be a woman architect and that too a successful one, to be of `foreign’ origin and then to dare challenge conventional design wisdom are handicaps that always counted against Zaha. And yet, she was constantly meeting Welsh people on the streets who come up to her to apologize for the shameful treatment she received on the Cardiff project in 1995, and express regret that the amazing opera house never got built.
While Bodmin Magazine loves admiring strong women and cutting-edge architecture, our interest in Zaha Hadid was not on account of her building talent. We were wowed by Zaha’s furniture pieces and spellbound by the neofuturistc footwear we’d like to try on at least once. We’ve chosen 6 of our favorite Zaha Hadid products that flaunt the notion of constructive freedom and challenge us to visualize life outside the established parameters of time-space reality.
LIQUID GLACIAL TABLE (for David Gill Galleries, 2012)
+ Acrylic resin resembles ice caught in mid-melt with water flowing down the legs of the Liquid Glacial table. Its flat surface comes alive with the illusion of ripples, cross-currents, and light refracting organically across the top. Incredible!
MOON SYSTEM SOFA (B&B Italia, 2007)
+ Modular seating evolved into the Moon sofa system in which each element is a module on its own, affording greater flexibility and comfort. The Moon’s design is a cohesive visualization of functional furniture as sculptural art.
TELA SHELVING (For CITCO, 2014)
+ Made of nero assoluto granite with architectural curves and cantilevers, the Tela Shelving looks deceptively light and airy. This dichotomy creates artistic tension between solidness of the material and ambitious, dynamic design.
LACOSTE SHOES (For Lacoste, 2008-2009)
+ Limited edition production of just 1000 pairs, constructed using fluid grids that wrap around the foot and adjust to the natural undulations of the body. A less complex version of this design was later developed for Lacoste with 10,000 pairs.
ICONE BAG (For Louis Vuitton, 2006)
+ Zaha Hadid’s Icone version of the legendary LV Bucket Bag in which the functionality of the accessory as a container is reiterated, along with amazing three-dimensional surface treatment. The bag even comes with its own display stands.
MELISSA SHOES (For Melissa, 2008)
+ Molded plastic shoes for the Brazilian eco footwear brand – they even make vegan shoes! – that reek of Zaha Hadid styling with strips and cutouts in all angles of geometry. Aesthetically, the Melissa shoes have a soul of art. Has anybody worn them?
A product of Ibiza in its high-hippie era, Eugeni Quitllet carries a sort of Catalan-inspired surrealism in his heart. The 42-year-old designer talks of inspiration as a combination of “Gaudi’s wild, organic forms and Mies van der Rohe’s spare radicalism” – fired by his own perception of Utopia as he creates futuristic products ranging from the much-feted Bum Bum hollowed furniture collection for Vondom to plastic forks, trays and spoons for Air France’s Economy Class meal service.
Eugeni Quitllet rebels against the idea that objects should have a pre-conceived form. His creative flow washes away all boundaries of shape and structure until inanimate products become viable, changeable and organic – much like a living human form.
His definition of limitless design often disregards material and function, like the watch he gave Philippe Starck as a gift in 2001, with no hands but a hole in the center. That fateful meeting in Formentera, Balearic Islands with the French design legend resulted in a 10-year-long partnership during which Eugeni and Philippe “cool-laborated”, as he calls it, on a plethora of products like sneakers for Puma, the Masters Chair and the Magic Hole seating series for Kartell.
Bodmin Magazine curates 8 projects from Eugeni Quitllet signatures that look to the future with complete artistic exemption and a large dose of irreverent, Spaniard humor.
SILK (With Kartell, 2012)
+ Plastic softens like delicate, free-floating silk in this sparely designed, single-mold, transparent polycarbonate Silk chair.
MASTERS CHAIR (With Kartell, 2010)
+ The Masters Chair is a voluptuous hybrid of 3 iconic chair designs – the 7 Series, Tulip and the Eiffel Chair – created by Eugeni in collaboration with Philippe Starck. Selected for Compasso d’Oro 2014.
LIGHT AIR TABLE LAMP (With Kartell, 2013)
+ Like a conjurer’s illusion the Light Air table lamp seems to levitate in defiance of gravity inside a rectangular structure of transparent plastic.
DIN-AMIC ASSIETTES (with IPI, 2012)
+ Din-Amic Assiettes is a stackable, modular collection of tableware that belies its mass retail status with a high design value that creates an artistic paradox.
SHINE (With Kartell, 2013)
+ Shine is a collection of PMMA transparent plastic vases that transcends the fragility of crystal with incredible light fracturing properties.
MAGIC HOLE (With Kartell, 2010)
AIRPLANE TABLEWARE (For Air France, 2013)
+ Eco-designed, plastic tableware for meal service in Air France’s Economy Cabin. Aerodynamically designed to resemble an airplane.
ELLE ARMCHAIR (With Alias, 2013)
+ The slight forward inclination of its base gives the Elle armchair a lazy, sensuality that heightens its underscore of a clean, modern design.
There wasn’t a whole lot of art involved in the process of steam bending. Making wood strips pliable with wet heat was a technique used in building ships, weapons, some sports goods and musical equipment. The technique is now obsolete, and the last time anyone thought about steam-bending was when 19th Century cabinet-maker Michael Thonet created the iconic No. 14 Coffee Shop Chair.
Tom Raffield, British furniture and lighting designer from Cornwall, discovered steam-bending when he was enrolled at the Falmouth College of Arts. Though the young sustainable design student had never worked with wood, he felt a deep soul connection with the process and his imagination took him to places where wood strips could be bend into 3-dimensional shapes with steam heat. The technique however, had its limitations, so Raffield experimented with his vision until he created the Bag Technique, which allowed him to heat small sections of the wood, giving him enough time to shape that particular area before moving on to the next one. Using the Bag Technique, steam bending could – and did – become art furniture and lighting.
Raffield’s first project – the Chaise Longue – was a feat of incredibly bent English oak wood that was a drama of aesthetics and yet was comfortable to lean back on. The Arc Chair, the Loop Chair and a gallery of lighting and other furniture pieces followed, but the Chaise Longue, Raffield’s `coming out’ project, remains his personal favorite.
Today, he lives close to his raw material – in Helston, a rural patch of Cornwall where trees are plentiful and nature’s creative assistance echoes in the whispering winds blowing off the Cober river. “I think the main reason I fell in love with wood is that every piece is different,” says Raffield. “You have to pick the right one with straight grains, making sure the knots are not in places where a tight bend is going to be.” It’s less about reading the basic specs off a checklist and more to do with making a spiritual connection with a living material that’s likely to split and break in less empathetic hands.
“When I finish a piece, sand it, rub oil and wax, there is great mental satisfaction in knowing the wood came from a tree that I personally selected. That I have another 100 pieces of that tree still waiting for me and each will be slightly different,” says Raffield. “It’s such a great, creative process – and part of the reason why I will never ever be bored working with wood.”
It’s as if a candy store has magnified itself with the blessings of Willy Wonka in a 7-year-old’s happiest dream. Licorice Allsorts have inflated themselves into candy-layered stools. A sponge cake-wrapped Arctic Roll is masquerading as an ottoman. Ice-cream Fingers have grown into a bench covered with delicious sugar sprinkles. Look at them, sit on them, but don’t bite because these sweet treats are furniture pieces created by Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Matthias Borowski for his ongoing project in contextual design called `The Importance Of The Obvious’.
Transformation of matter – the most obvious, tangible thing on the planet — is Borowski’s subject of contemplation, and he believes food to be one of the most fascinating ways that matter changes itself from one form to another.
It is interesting how his choice of candy as a theme actually causes pause for thought, instead of trivializing the study of matter transformation. The furniture appeals to all five senses, as Borowski says, and the impact is so unexpected and so complete, there are absolutely no pre-set ideas to hinder that progression of thought.
Repurposing confectionery was also Borowski’s creative journey towards understanding `material’ as an end in itself. “Ask the material what it wants to be,” is Borowski’s premise, as he believes material is the starting point of an object, and not the other way around.
During his experiments in making fake nougat, jelly and sugary effects, he discovered plastic was his chief material as it could be reciped to mimic a candy. “There are so many artificial additives in candy, I thought plastic was a very apt raw material for the project,” he says. Resin and wood made perfect nougat, and transparent colored resin made hard-boiled sweets.