Wednesday. 14/4/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Break the cycle

For a few years of my childhood, weekend afternoons involved being dragged from show home to show home by my parents who, while in the process of building a holiday home, were seeking inspiration. Although I despised it then, I’m now grateful for having been made to visit. These show homes, replete with plastic fruit, steeled my resolve to never live in a place that feels so manufactured.

That’s why I had an intense flashback when a friend sent me pictures of a display home that they visited last week. The residence in question was part of an installation at Melbourne’s NGV Triennial, which runs until 18 April. Swiss architecture firm BTVV created an Alice in Wonderland-like amalgamation of 1,000 Melbourne apartments, and the resulting house’s features are bland and wildly distorted: toilets are enormous, while the open-plan living area narrows to a vanishing point. Sound familiar? It’s an adaptation of the Golden Lion-winning effort that BTVV produced at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture. In both instances, the intention isn’t to criticise architects but rather to challenge visitors to question whether they want to fuel the cycle of boring and poor-quality construction by buying such places.

It reminded me of the responsibility we have as design enthusiasts to visit exhibitions like this and to take our friends and children. For these events to have a far-reaching impact, it’s important that everyone – not just the design-savvy – visit and learn from them. We all have a part to play in championing good design and the more we expose others to it, the better our buildings will become.


Strong foundations

Retrofitting the interior of a building by a revered architect is intimidating unless, it seems, you’re the in-house design team at Boffi De Padova. Led by creative director Chiara Tombari, the Italian furniture group’s new west London showroom opened in a David Chipperfield-designed building this week. It’s a space that complements both the architect’s work and the group’s world-renowned wares.

“We were respectful of the DNA of the building, with a focus on maintaining the architectural fabric,” says Steven Salt, Boffi's managing director in the UK. “So our design work was more a question of curating the space to showcase all of these amazing products in an interesting way.”

Image: Andrew Urwin
Image: Andrew Urwin
Image: Andrew Urwin

With bespoke kitchen installations and furniture by Boffi and De Padova respectively, as well as pieces from all of the other brands and partnerships under the company’s umbrella (Time & Style, MAU Studio and ADL) spread across the showroom’s three floors, it’s a job well done. The result is a space that feels more like a home than a showroom – somewhere that, in Salt’s words, “You’d visit to feel inspired by what you see.”


Art movement

With the international contemporary art market currently booming in the South Korean capital, the Berlin-based König Galerie has opened a new space in Seoul – an ambitiously designed olive branch to the city’s discerning buyers.

Image: Dirk Weiblen
Image: Dirk Weiblen

Integrated into the fifth floor and rooftop garden of MCM Haus, a minimalist masterpiece of a building originally designed by architectural practice Neri & Hu, the gallery’s first exhibition works harmoniously with the site. This can be best appreciated on the rooftop garden, where a selection of sculptures from the likes of Poland’s Alicja Kwade and Austria’s Erwin Wurm are framed elegantly by a wood-lined terrace.


Under the influence

Having earned his stripes working for artistic practice Fredrikson Stallard and the Saatchi Gallery in London, Portuguese designer Hugo Passos now splits his time between Porto and Copenhagen. It’s a lifestyle that’s left him well-placed to produce Portuguese-made furniture with Nordic design firms. Here he tells us about the importance of working closely with your manufacturers and how naïvety plays a role in his design process.

Does working closely with makers on the factory floor influence your design work?
Yes, of course. It’s good to have a partner who can help you realise how to get things done and who understands what problems you are facing. It’s very important to have direct contact with how things are made. But I also believe that it’s nice to have a certain naïvety about things. Seeing something completely different can spark and create an idea. Sometimes I’m in a factory and they’re so used to making a certain piece or using a certain technology that for them it’s mundane and they don’t see any interest in it. Sometimes that can be fantastic for us designers; it inspires us to encourage them to flip it into something interesting or new.

Can you give us an example of when this naïvety might have crept into your work to create an amazing result?
The biggest example was the recent stone table with Danish design house Fredericia [pictured], which was an update of a wooden one we made in 2016. The wooden one had a carved top, which creates this slim profile and we just thought, “Oh, we’ll do the same thing in marble.” But when we went to the factories they were so surprised because it had never been done before; you’re not supposed to work marble in that way but we did. If we had been knowledgeable and worked with stone in the past we would have never thought that this was feasible. So in the end this successful design came from us being naïve about the material properties and the techniques to work it.

Have you become an advocate for what can be achieved in terms of making in Portugal?
When there is something that I feel could be done in Portugal, I usually suggest it. The marble table, for instance, was a very natural thing to suggest because we have great quarries in Portugal. It’s also easier for me to control it and achieve better results – plus it’s nice to be close to the industry and the people producing your work. It also brings more knowledge and promotes an exchange between cultures.

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


Age of enlightenment

This rounded desk light is so timeless that nobody is sure when it was made. Experts disagree on whether French mid-century master Jacques Adnet designed it in the 1930s or 1950s but there is no doubt that the sleek and well-proportioned lamp is truly something to covet for the home office.

Fashioned from nickel-plated brass, the design’s combination of art deco forms with a modernist sensibility summarises Adnet’s work. From 1928 to 1960 he was director of Compagnie des Arts Français, employing the likes of Charlotte Perriand and ushering in a new era of decorative design. After the Second World War, he collaborated with Hermès and even furnished the French president’s private quarters at the Élysée Palace. Adnet’s splendid career, which defined the aesthetic of a cultural golden age, only adds to this lovely light’s potential to illuminate even the gloomiest office.


Simpler time

As we advocate in the new spring issue of Monocle’s sister publication Konfekt, Båge & Söner is a brand rightly encouraging us to banish smartphones from the bedside table by replacing them with its handsome clocks. Designed and assembled by hand in the company’s Stockholm workshop, these timepieces are equipped with a small ambient light and a simple brass snooze button.

Every piece is crafted from brass and encased in vegetable-tanned leather sourced from Sweden’s Tärnsjö tannery. “My big inspiration is my grandmother’s travel alarm clock, a model that was very much in fashion in the 1940s and 1950s,” says founder Lisen Båge. Designed to match multiple interior design styles, the clocks come in four colourways, including forest green, rhodium grey and our favourite: the dashing red, white and blue French Kiss model.


Looking good

While the idea of sustainable design tends to evoke images of a certain eco-aesthetic, this handsome book published by Switzerland’s Triest Verlag proves that it isn’t necessarily the case. Designed by Italian Federico Barbon, it artfully summarises the results of Aesthetics of Sustainability, a research project led by École cantonale d’art de Lausanne.

To bring to life a series of 14 case studies involving the development of materials made from textile waste, recycled paper, rubber granulate and vegetable fibres, the book is uniquely printed on resource-saving paper made from algae and kiwi peels. It’s an enlightening resource for publishers and designers, as well as an educational tool for consumers. The tactile pages of this book prove that high-quality printed matter can be both sustainably and aesthetically sound.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00