Wednesday. 22/9/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


Sense of space

If a novice asked me to explain good design to them, I would start by pointing them in the direction of Ilse Crawford’s portfolio. Just before she stepped up to receive the prestigious London Design Medal this week, the British founder of Studioilse was introduced by celebrated artist and set designer Es Devlin. Devlin explained that on a miserable trip home from Asia she had stepped into Hong Kong airport’s Studioilse-designed Cathay Pacific business lounge and was instantly transported into a physically and emotionally enriching environment – and out of the funk that she was in.

This is what good design can do and what Crawford has specialised in over a successful career in interior and product design, after founding the 1990s’ interiors bible Elle Decoration in 1989. Crawford and her team can take almost any environment and turn it into what she describes as a “frame for life”. From using daylight and natural materials to form a welcoming dining hall that empowers the poor and needy at the Refettorio Felix kitchen in London, through to providing the perfect spot of respite for bleary-eyed business travellers in Hong Kong, Crawford creates environments that are empathetic to our needs. Through soothing materials, unfussy design and a sharp eye for colour, they stimulate the senses in the best possible way.

The work is worthy but also stays within the restraints of the building budgets that tend to flow into a space’s architectural shell, with quality interior design being considered by some a nice addition but not a necessary one. This medal win demonstrates that this is not the case. It’s a reminder to developers – and to us all – that paying more attention to the frames we want to live in pays off.


Acts of resistance

A previously unheralded moment in design is getting the attention it deserves thanks to a new exhibition in Madrid. At José de la Mano Gallery, the fine work of modernist designers and artists created under the oppressive Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco has been curated in the exhibition Formas Industriales. “This was a movement in the mid-century to fight against the grey colour of the environment; to fight against the dictatorship,” says Alfonso Arbolí of creative agency Cano Estudio, which created the pared-back scenography presenting works spanning from 1950 to 1970.

What’s consistent through the pieces is a sense of joy and creativity that, when they were designed, aimed to promote hope among the Spanish people during a dark political time. While some works are one-offs, others shown here were widely produced: one item featured is a pioneering flat-packable timber chair that was distributed in a manner José de la Mano describes as akin to an “early Spanish Ikea”. “We are just at the beginning,” he adds, noting a concerted effort in Spain at the moment to recognise this influential period. “They were a small group of designers and artists but they wanted to change things in Spain at that time. This deserves our attention today.”


Up to date

A new conversion of a classic Kyoto shop-house for A-Poc Able Issey Miyake, a sub-brand of the major Japanese label, seamlessly blends tradition and innovation. The shop was designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, whose recent work includes the design of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic torches, and the aim was to create a space that felt sleek and futuristic but still held on to tradition.

The design is stripped back to its most essential elements, with aluminium railings adding a fresh feel to the interior. And though it’s not what you’d expect to see in this context, the juxtaposition is purposeful, expressing Issey Miyake’s brand identity fusing new technology with traditional craft techniques.


After the tradition

A photographer by trade, Thomas Ibsen swapped his camera for a sketchbook in 2014 when he founded design company Please Wait to be Seated. Based in Copenhagen, the brand works with emerging designers from Denmark and across the globe with the ambition of creating timeless pieces that later become design classics. We caught up with Ibsen while he showcased his new releases during the recent 3 Days of Design festival in the Danish capital, for this week’s episode of Monocle on Design.

Danish design seems to have exploded on the global scene in recent years. Tell us about your experience. I don’t know if it’s an explosion or not but something has happened over the past 10 years. Especially in the past two years, so many new and up-and-coming Danish design companies have emerged; there’s so much talent at the moment. Of course, there was an era between the 1950s and 1970s when many heritage Danish designs were produced but it’s so nice to see that there are fresh ideas coming from young, talented people. And there are also producers who want to bring these designs to the market and to the world.

How do you balance your Danish heritage with work from international designers for Please Wait to be Seated? I don’t really care where designers come from. If they are nice people and we get along, and they make good things, then I’m open to working together. It has been very satisfying to work with people from other countries and cultures – we have designers from South Korea, Japan, Portugal, the UK and, of course, Denmark. Working with designers from all over the world brings something new into this Scandinavian design heritage and that is very important. I grew up in Denmark and my father worked at Fritz Hansen, so I have Danish design in my blood. It’s for this reason that I can pick things from elsewhere to mix with our design tradition.

How does this international perspective infuse into Danish design work?
At Please Wait to be Seated, I try to find the essential characteristics of designs that have become classics in Scandinavia and study their details. So everything that I do for our collection is based on an understanding of designs that were done in the 1950s and 1960s that I have investigated. Basically we work by taking something with a classical visual effect and we introduce a layer of contemporary design on top. I don’t want to invent something that has never been seen before, I just want to take the best of the best and weave our own thread into it.

To hear more from Thomas Ibsen, listen to this week’s ‘Monocle on Design’.

Image: Anje Jager


If you have leafed through our recently published The Monocle Book of Homes, you will have been left with no doubt that we are great advocates of large-format, richly illustrated publications. But we wouldn’t agree that their best resting place is atop a coffee table, where books tend to end up rarely opened and in the way. Thankfully, we’ve found a design that strikes just the right balance between an organised storage unit and a deserving display for your tomes.

This vintage Swedish timber shelf from the 1940s, affectionately dubbed the Book Crib, was designed in the small town of Värnamo by Bruno Matthson, a fifth-generation craftsman who pioneered the country’s modernist movement. Standing on elegant, lightly curved legs, it comfortably carries even larger books, displaying the spines at just the right angle for anyone lounging on a sofa nearby.


Quiet beauty

Belgian furniture and homeware brand Valerie Objects’s Silent chair – its latest collaboration with Lausanne-based studio Big Game – proves that beauty often lies in simplicity. With all the noise surrounding us in the world at present, Big Game designers Augustin Scott de Martinville, Grégoire Jeanmonod and Elric Petit have aimed to create an object that evokes silence.

Taking the classic church pew as a starting point, the design’s handsome lines are a celebration of visual quietness, with a dash of contemporary minimalism thrown in the mix. Appearances aside, comfort and function were also key areas of concern for Big Game: slight curves on the back of the frame means that the silent chair is more than just nice to look at. There’s also a version with an armrest.


Celebration time

We have Greece on our minds this week at Monocle as we gear up to kick off our Quality of Life Conference in Athens. Just in time, we’ve spotted these special-edition Swatch watches that we’re keen to get our hands on – if we’re lucky to secure one of the 200 issued, that is.

Image: Emmanuelle Lubaki
Image: Emmanuelle Lubaki
Image: Emmanuelle Lubaki

Commissioned by Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to celebrate 200 years of independence, designer Yorgo Tloupas of Yorgo & Co has tastefully deployed the blue and white of the Greek flag on this striped number. It is a part of a broader collection of design commissions to mark the anniversary, which also includes custom Hermès scarves. We’re quickly learning that the Greeks know how to celebrate in style.


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