Wednesday. 7/7/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Play fair

Summer has arrived and my inbox is suddenly full of invitations to events across Europe. From collectable-design showcase Nomad in St Moritz, which kicks off tomorrow, to September events in Vienna, Copenhagen and Stockholm, it’s safe to say that furniture-making, craft and industrial creativity are being experienced again in the format that suits them best: real-life, physical events.

One such fair that stands head and shoulders above the rest in the design calendar is Milan’s Salone del Mobile. Having been postponed from April, it will now take place from 5 to 10 September in a revised format. And while most fans, journalists and independent designers are simply pleased that it’s going ahead in 2021, this revision has caused a bit of a headache for many of the brands taking part.

For 60 years, Salone’s all-important trade fair component has been where producer-buyer relationships are forged and furniture deals to kit out the world’s biggest architecture projects are made. With this in mind, the politics of furniture brands maintaining prime positions in Salone’s sea of booths has always been chaotic. Success in this arena is seemingly only granted through years of loyalty to the event and rather large investments (upwards of €1m per year) on booths.

With Salone 2021 being a last-minute affair – and one that might be tricky for buyers from important markets such as Asia to attend – the old ways of organising its trade fair have been thrown out the window in favour of a new format brazenly dubbed Supersalone. It will take place at the same site but with a completely different layout. Italian architect Stefano Boeri is curating the event and is coming at it from something of a neutral perspective, not being a direct contributor to the furniture industry. Brands will pay to be there in a smaller set-up and the conversation around who goes where and why is becoming an increasingly difficult one.

As an objective spectator, it’s easier to take some positives from the scramble, which (as most Italian events tend to do) will inevitably shake itself out into an enjoyable experience. First, a temporary restructuring will hopefully breed a bit of creativity in a space that has felt fairly stagnant in recent years. It will also bring some energy to a trade event that’s increasingly overlooked in favour of more freewheeling Salone showcases in Milan. And finally, all the fuss being made about the new format, largely from the Italian players, leaves no doubt that furniture-making is one of the world’s most closely nurtured trades and an industry that will remain robust and full of creativity in the years to come.


Behind the screen

A former automotive workshop set among Victorian-era terraces in Sydney’s bustling inner-city neighbourhood of Paddington might be a surprising location for a contemporary Japanese-inspired residence. But for Matt Elkan, his aptly named Smash Repair House is right at home. Working with the existing light-industrial building, whose doors open directly onto the street, the designer turned to architecture in the Japanese capital as a precedent for his renovation.

“Houses in Tokyo seem to be able to exist so close to the public realm but also have such privacy,” says Elkan. “You can find yourself in a very private little garden or courtyard within meters of a busy public street. I felt that Smash Repair House needed to offer similar respite and relief within.”

Elkan designed the home around an internal courtyard which brings natural light and air across all three of the building’s levels. It’s a design move that complements the warm timber throughout the space and the careful spread of wooden battens on the ceilings, which help to absorb sound and create a calming acoustic environment. The result of this combination? Onsen-like tranquillity.


Bedding in

After more than a year of planting and preparation, Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra’s Oudolf Garten is now in full bloom. Designed by renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf, the garden at Vitra’s campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, will – literally – bring new life to the architecture park. Over the past year, about 30,000 plants have taken root there, each with specific requirements.

“To me, plants are personalities that I can use and arrange according to their appearance and behaviour,” says Oudolf. “Each one ‘performs’ in its own way but in the end an interesting play needs to emerge from it.” With the Vitra Campus already a cherished destination for design aficionados, this added green space looks likely to drive even more traffic to a beloved name in furniture.


In the zone

Currently under construction, London’s Design District is a collection of 16 commercial buildings that will soon count architects, artists and industrial and graphic designers among its tenants. Billing itself as a dedicated space for designers’ studios and offices, its ambition is to become the beating heart of the city’s famous creative industry. Overseeing this charge is Helen Arvanitakis, the Design District’s director, who has previously worked as a consultant for creative firms across the capital and managed British designer Tom Dixon’s studio. To find out more about how she plans to support the industry, we caught up with Arvanitakis for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Why is this new district significant for London?
As far as I’m aware, it’s one of the first times that a development of this size has been purposefully designed for people in the creative industries. At the moment you can point to certain areas in London and say, “Well, Shoreditch has a lot of creative businesses and so do pockets of Hackney.” But there are also a lot of other businesses in those areas. What’s different in the Design District is that it’s only people in the creative industries. There’s a real benefit that comes from being surrounded by your colleagues, your inspiration, your help network and all of the things that you get from being around other creatives.

So the benefit is in the proximity to other designers?
Yes and we’re working really hard to construct ways to enable all of the tenants to be able to communicate with each other and lean on one another. For instance, if there’s a tenant that has a small recording studio that creates podcasts or music recordings and there’s someone else who might need that service but would normally just get on Google and find a random studio, now they’ll have each other on their doorstep. It means that they can actually sit down with each other and discuss how it works and how to get the best from it. It also means that they can pop back to their own space and go back and forth from the studio. The value of that sort of interaction with businesses that are right there with you will be incredible.

What about the actual architecture and buildings? How do they support creative pursuits?
Having a space that is dedicated to creative pursuits will allow designers to do their best work. As an example, we’ve made sure we have really good natural light that’s not from south-facing windows, so that there’s no glare.

To hear more about London Design District, listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’.


Easy and breezy

As the northern hemisphere summer enters its peak, we’ve noted a lack of fans that not only keep you cool but look the part too. This 1970s stunner by Milanese architect and designer Marco Zanuso puts today’s nondescript designs to shame. The blades of the all-red Ariante are tucked in a stylish plastic casing. The compact design is also practical for those needing to beat the heat at the office desk.

There’s also a symbolic cause for reintroducing the Ariante. Zanuso can be regarded as one of the founding fathers of Italian industrial design and popularised the use of basic materials such as plastic. But like other members of the Italian modern movement, almost all of his work in production today is luxury furniture. An affordable reissue of the Ariante would honour Zanuso’s laudable legacy of helping to make good design a part of daily life for all.


Sitting straight

Danish furniture company Form & Refine’s new chair is a celebration of simple but effective design. Sculptural, ergonomic and stackable, it’s both stylish and timeless – an homage to the principles of slow design and slow living.

According to the chair’s designers, Jonas Herman Pedersen and Helle Herman Mortensen of Ry’s Herman Studio, time is an essential commodity when it comes to crafting furniture that not only looks good but also serves its purpose. “We wanted to create a chair that radiates quality,” says Pedersen. “The backrest had to be at an angle that works for people of all shapes and sizes. That took many attempts and countless tests.”

Made with sustainably sourced wood, the Blueprint is available in various finishes and materials from white oiled oak to black-painted ash. Even those living in smaller spaces can pick up multiple pieces, due to their clever design.


Fashion pages

As readers know, Monocle rarely misses a newsprint launch and at last week’s Pitti Immagine Uomo menswear fashion event in Florence, we discovered a unique project harnessing the power of our favourite communication medium. Alongside a menswear collection that debuted at the festival, Johannesburg-based designer Thebe Magugu produced a newspaper that went far beyond serving as mere promotion for his colourful, 1970s-inflected clothes. “I worked with 20 South African journalists in collaboration with the Daily Maverick, a leading newspaper, looking at the idea of corruption and those who oppose it, a theme that influenced my collection,” says Magugu, who presented his work at Pitti through a theatrical installation highlighting the bravery of whistleblowers in South Africa.

With in-depth reporting and infographics on topics such as state capture and how one wealthy family can drastically influence a nation’s economy, the newspaper offers a fascinating (and beautifully designed) insight into Magugu’s home country and the topics that he and other young South Africans are concerned about.


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