Be it furniture in the Czech Republic or a sauna in Finland (of all places), we’ve sought out some gems.
Singapore’s Orchard shopping precinct is better known for swankier brands but there’s a new shop investing in local design. Natural light from wide windows bounces off the pistachio-green walls of K+, which is designed and operated by creative firm Kinetic. It aims to bridge the gap between homegrown talent and the market, while forging a decent place for designers and creatives to work. Freelancers sit at tidy timber desks and readers cosy up on a couch with novels. All items here are up for grabs, including Japanese-made porcelain wares from Supermama printed with quirky Singaporean motifs.
Inspired by bushy trees and lush foliage, the latest collection by Czech furniture brand Ton includes barstools and tables – all of which take their cue from the line’s winsome Leaf chair. “We thought about the seat and back as being like leaves hanging on branches,” says Gaia Giotti, co-founder of Eggs, the Florence-based studio behind the collection. Using moulded panels of beech or oak, the series brings a contemporary edge to the 155-year-old company’s mastery of steam-bent wood. “We tried to design a chair that was lightweight both physically and aesthetically,” adds Giotti.
LA-based Mattia Nuzzo chose a tight brief for the inventory of The Mark, his online design shop: 1960s to 1980s Italian furniture, lighting and accessories. We find out why that period is so revered.
Why do you think this design era still appeals?
Beginning in the 1960s, major advances in technology and manufacturing – coupled with a new freedom and optimism in the industry – allowed designers to develop personal aesthetic signatures. Today these futuristic forms have been softened by the patina of time, giving buyers an opportunity to own unique examples of exceptional craftsmanship.
You’re an LA-based start-up. Why focus on Italian design?
The prevalent design style here in Los Angeles is mid-century modernism, seeing as this was the place of genesis for so many of its most iconic designs. But there is also a wonderful openness to the unknown as the city is a melting pot of cultures and mindsets.
Does this period of Italian design still influence the market?
Manufacturers such as Cassina and Molteni have begun reissuing pieces from back catalogues so I’m hopeful we’ll be seeing a greater recognition of the role these designs played in laying the groundwork for the success of many of these companies.
Set on the Baltic shoreline of Helsinki’s former industrial district of Hernesaari, Löyly is perhaps the city’s finest-looking public sauna; owned by actor Jasper Pääkkonen and politician Antero Vartia, it was completed in May. Avanto Architects used timber strips made of converted waste wood to create the angular structure that presides over three stone saunas. There’s a staircase that leads to the sea for alfresco plunges; floor-to-ceiling windows and a wonderful terrace allow for refreshment; and a casual restaurant serves healthy Finnish fare, including reindeer dishes and meatballs.
“I have always loved small-object design, not ‘look at me’ elaborate design – everyday objects that work,” says Terri Winter, who is the founder of Australia’s design shop Top 3 By Design. Winter opened her first outlet in 2001 to carry a cannily slimmed-down (rather than piled-high) selection of products.
This showroom-and-shop in Richmond, Melbourne, is her fourth and roomiest location. On show is everything from lamps to stools, sideboards to water jugs, for an impressive list of more than 200 brands that mingles European heavyweights Gubi and Vitra alongside Australian up-and-comers such as Page Thirty Three and Sagitine.
Our top 3 buys:
1. Storage boxes by Sagitine
2. Stacking bowls by Sands Made
3. Copper plant pot with leather straps by Lightly
Started in 1936 just north of Copenhagen, Denmark’s Lyngby used to turn out almost a third of the Nordic nation’s production of porcelain; after closing between 1969 and 2012, the company has restarted production between Germany, Portugal and Poland. The elegant glass oblongs and squashed spheres of the Form collection take their silhouettes from the company’s 1960s designs but have been alluringly updated in smoky greys, pale blues and pastel pinks for their timely relaunch.
Oyyo reaches far and wide for inspiration: past collections have taken cues from the homes of Salvador Dalí, Charles Eames and the Bauhaus movement. Handwoven by craftsmen from India’s Rajasthan using organic cotton, the rugs incorporate a linen warp – a lengthwise weave – that nods to Scandi traditions.
These Portuguese architects have partnered to renovate and expand the archeological Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa in the small town of Santo Tirso, north of Porto. Once a guesthouse of the monastery of São Bento, the museum connects to the International Contemporary Sculpture Museum via a communal entrance – but modesty is the main characteristic the buildings share. Using mortar clay, granite and marble panels, the new structure’s exterior and interior are kept respectfully sparse.
There’s a whiff of Hans J Wegner’s 1940s Wishbone chair about this bentwood timber number from Charles Dedman. Made in a Coventry factory, the Turner Carver model is available in a choice of ash or oak. “I feel responsible for the pieces I create; every decision is scrutinised against my company values,” says Dedman.
The design world can appear consumed by detail: much fanfare over the reissue of a classic chair in a new hue of wool, or the triumphant launch of a new tile. Yet there are moments when the same crowd turn their hand to some of the most pressing and fundamental issues facing humanity.
The sentiment on show at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale vindicates the industry when it comes to accusations of creative myopia. Under a theme of “Reporting from the Front”, it is one of the most socially charged programmes in the lagoon’s history. Artistic director and Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena’s theme sets out to prove that good design, in its very essence, addresses quality of life. It is also bravely political, showing how some of Europe’s best designers and architects have addressed integration.
Germany has turned over its solid pavilion to the concept of the “open city”, removing any doors (and 48 tonnes of brick) to explore the idea of how urban areas welcome migrants. The installation also profiles 35 refugee-housing projects, from modular wooden structures to housing developments springing up around the country. It shows how design and invention but also beauty are still important, and indispensable at times of social crisis. Its pragmatic curators, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, have put together a database of real projects that show how the country’s design community is turning this unprecedented demographic and humanitarian challenge into an opportunity.
Similarly, Austria’s billet in the Giardini includes a photographic profile of three architectural and design teams who are converting empty spaces into refugee accommodation in Vienna. It shows how buildings are being customised to create privacy using clever design systems, such as Caramel Architekten’s use of umbrellas as partitions. Most of all, the biennale demonstrates how designers are cross-fertilising, with NGOs teaming up with designers and politicians. There is no reason why high-end outfit Eoos shouldn’t help convert a training facility into permanent digs for 600 asylum seekers using its innovative communal solutions and furniture systems.
Once brands and designers are free from their niche, collaboration can be powerful. Austria’s theme for the biennale, “Places for People”, is a reference to Bernard Rudofsky: a visionary curator at Moma in New York who himself was an émigré fleeing the Nazis. Rudofsky opined on sartorial codes and vernacular architecture with equal insight.
Breaking down barriers between luxury and the utilitarian can leave powerful legacies. The most innovative and beautiful design is derived from an urgent functionalism. The desire to create “people’s furniture” in 1940s-era Denmark, for instance, created the aesthetic we know and covet so much in our contemporary homes. Today’s great design minds should pursue social objectives as well as aesthetic and economic ones.