Wednesday. 10/2/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Make do and mend

One of the joys of living in London is the range of housing stock you can choose from when house-hunting – from Georgian townhouses in Bloomsbury to gritty converted warehouses in Dalston. Many buildings in the city have had a long life and have been repeatedly reimagined to meet the changing needs of residents. As a result, many have transformed from industrial to residential use, which, in sexy developer speak, means that they’ve been “adaptively reused”.

A recurring trend – based on my own house search in recent weeks – is that adaptive reuse in London largely sees developers stripping back and emptying structures, while leaving behind nooks and crannies (often where storage or machinery used to sit), thereby creating an abundance of inefficient and wasted space. It’s particularly disappointing given that there are some great examples of adaptive reuse in the city that make the most of such leftover room. Take architect Jonathan Tuckey’s own west London studio for instance, which is housed in a former pub. The existing cellar vaults here were difficult to access due to a low ceiling but by further carving them out, Tuckey was able to transform them into a print room, library and photography studio.

So why isn’t more being done at a residential level? Perhaps it’s because more of a premium isn’t placed on using these leftover spaces. There’s already demand for efficiency when it comes to lighting and heating – so why not include usable space in that equation too? We could challenge developers to build bespoke furniture, from shelves to seating, in difficult-to-use spots – cut-outs in remnant walls and between inconveniently placed structural uprights, for example – or even to take more drastic steps like Tuckey. If we want to find better ways of using our existing building stock, in London and in space-starved cities everywhere, then smart use of these odd shapes and leftover spaces will set us up for success.


Dream tea

“There are many people who are not familiar with Japanese culture,” says architect Rei Mitsui. “So it was more important to focus on comfort over the traditional structures of a tearoom.” His practice recently finalised a unique modern interpretation of a Japanese tearoom at the Portom International Hokkaido Hotel, which is based within New Chitose Airport in the north of Japan. After studying the design of tearooms for his master’s degree and working with timber under architect Shigeru Ban before launching his own firm in 2015, Tokyo-based Mitsui says that it was a dream brief to create this “accessible” tearoom in the northern Japanese city for domestic guests and tourists.

Mitsui exercised restraint with a simple setup that’s bathed in natural light, which is filtered through washi-screened windows. The non-traditional tea-drinking area has tables and chairs for seating as well as the customary tatami mats. Beyond the pared-back timber- and paper-laden interior sits a beautifully realised enclosed Japanese garden that transports guests imagination’s far away from the airport hotel into an altogether more natural place.


Hop to it

The business that makes one of the world’s most popular beers has a handsome new home designed by respected Danish firm CF Møller Architects. For the new Carlsberg headquarters, the challenge was to form a facility in the same urban area of Copenhagen that the brewing giant has operated in for the past two centuries.

Image: Adam Mørk
Image: Adam Mørk
Image: Adam Mørk

The result feels like a subtle intervention due to the HQ’s low-rise form, which meanders by a leafy park and over a stretch of road. With three wings stretching out from an inviting central glass atrium entrance area, the building aims to frame its surroundings rather than work against them. This is helped by its façade, which comes in a coating of earthy recycled copper, inspired by the large tanks the company uses to brew its famous frosty ones.


Built to last

Founded in 1967 by Kari Virtanen, Finnish furniture manufacturer Nikari has built a reputation for beautiful, timeless pieces. The company has brought to life designs from the likes of Alvar Aalto and Jasper Morrison through the precision carpentry for which it is famous. Jenni Roininen, its current creative director, is an accomplished Finnish designer in her own right and is continuing this legacy today. Here she shares her approach and explains why human knowledge is key to her process.

Nikari has a reputation for making timber furniture that stands the test of time. How is this ethos embedded in the way you make your products? Over time we have developed a deep knowledge of how to work with wood. No one person who has worked in the company for 50 years but there have been many generations of trainees – and visitors too – who have brought knowledge that stays with the next person in their role. There is a transfer of know-how that’s very important to how we make our products. It’s not something in the computer or software but in the people. So it’s very important that there is a continuation of people working and keeping this knowledge alive.

It seems that the ways in which furniture companies work with materials are just as important as where they get them from. How does this work for Nikari?
Of course. In the beginning, it’s about sourcing the right kind of material from certified forests. But it’s also how you make it. We have very skilful and educated staff who cut the timber in a way that’s best for the project but also allows for leftovers to be put to the side and used for smaller products. For example, we have the December chair designed by Jasper Morrison and Wataru Kumano, with armrests totally made out of leftover pieces from bigger projects like table-making. Another challenge for designers is to keep in mind things such as wood thickness: if your wood is 40mm thick, there is no reason for you to design something 45mm thick, because you’d need to use glue or cut from thicker materials. This is the designer’s way to affect how much is wasted.

What does designing for longevity mean to you?
For me personally, designing to last is, of course, about the making process. But mainly it is about considering the user’s perspective. If you have a chair, for example, which is comfortable to sit on, is beautiful, has a timeless design that doesn’t rely on trends and can be renovated and have its upholstery changed, you will probably like it for a long time. If it’s a good design sold by a good brand, you will appreciate the product, which means that if you want to get rid of it, you’ll sell it on not just throw it away. So it needs to be long-lasting in terms of durability, potential for renovation and its looks. If one of these three things is missing, it’s not worth making.

To hear the full interview, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.


Spin the black circle

Mario Bellini, who is famed for his curvaceous 1970 B&B Italia Camaleonda sofa, tends to have taken a smile-raising approach to design over his long and respected career. The Italian’s creations in the 1960s and the early 1970s, possibly his finest work, reflected the social optimism of the time and his passion for playful homes.

With a soundtrack in mind for the house parties – or at least garden soirées – that we’re planning for the more sociable months ahead, we see Bellini’s cheerful portable record player as the perfect companion to get us swinging again. Designed for Italian company Minerva in 1968, it features a distinctive handbag-like silhouette, elegant rounded shape and built-in speakers. In a striking bright red, the GA45 Pop was the portable piece of music-playing kit for those funky young hosts who were keen to move the action around the house and keep it going deep into the night.


Bowled over

It might sound surprising but, for design-conscious customers, finding a good coffee mug at a fair price in London and other creative capitals is not as easy as you might think. At least this was the gap in the market that Monoware founders Daniel Baer and Jassim Ahmad aimed to fill with their handsome ceramics, all of which are made in Portugal. Judging by the firm’s order books since its launch last September, it appears that their hunch was correct. Yet designing ceramic cups, jugs and crockery that offer an aesthetic allure, durability and ease of production is no simple task.

To help, the pair enlisted British designer Ian McIntyre, whose experience includes revamping the British Brown Betty teapot into an award-winning new product in 2018. “If you don’t do something distinctive, you don’t have something worth putting to market,” says Ahmad of the iterative design process that saw the trio fussing for weeks over making their mugs feel just right in the hand. The outcome is a collection of pieces that, when viewed side on, reference classical crockery but, when observed from above, cleverly offer a cleaner, more modern appeal.

Image: The Swiss Post AG


First-class design

Whether it’s beautifying billboards or getting the kerning just right on a company logotype, Swiss graphic designers are sticklers for detail. So when asked to design two eye-catching postage stamps to mark the 30th anniversary of Swiss Post’s two-speed service, Bern-based graphic designer Gerhard Blättler took to the task with gusto.

The new stamps, which can be used from next month, highlight the delivery options with ease and grace. Blättler’s A-Post stamp – for next-working-day deliveries – comes in vivid, bright tones to emphasise liveliness and urgency. The standard-service B-Post stamp, by contrast, has a cooler palette that encourages patience. To lend weight to the commemorative designs, Blättler has made the characters themselves the heroes, turning the most fundamental of signifiers – A and B – into miniature works of art.


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