Wednesday. 29/9/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Welcome guests

One of the joys of attending a design festival is when you stumble on a pop-up workspace that’s been established for the duration of the event in an unexpected part of the city. These are often architecture firms or furniture designers utilising an empty space in a mixed-use neighbourhood, offering a jolt of design in the middle of more typical residential and retail settings.

One such recent pop-up was Bench Studio’s temporary space in Islington, part of the London Design Festival. Established by Monocle-alumni Benjamin Bill and his colleague Charlie Haslam in 2019, Bench ditched its usual workshop digs elsewhere in north London for a week of work from a shopfront off Upper Street. Here, passersby stopped and lingered, watching the duo working, before popping in to look at their sketches and technical drawings. Bill tells us that it was a hit for both designers and Islington residents. “We chatted to people who live locally and didn’t have a particular interest in design, while also having a conversation with some Icelandic ceramicists about a potential collaboration,” he says. Neither would have occurred at Bench’s usual workshop, tucked away in an industrial neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city.

Which begs the question: why wait until a festival before hosting designers in our bustling mixed-use neighbourhoods? At Monocle we’ve long championed mixing light industry with residential and retail, and what I witnessed at Bench shows the potential for it to be a permanent hit. Designers would be wise to look for shopfront spaces in which to set up – they’re good for enhancing the public’s appreciation of a studio’s work and good for business too. Time to sign that lease?

The project / Ángela Apartment, Spain

Island of calm

Spanish architecture practice Francesc Rifé Studio’s latest project in Ibiza combines modern design and Mediterranean tradition. Located on the western side of the island, the duplex is surrounded by nature. “As with many of our projects, the idea is to achieve the most with the least,” says Francesc Rifé, the studio’s founder and principal designer. “We wanted a minimalist design that could also breathe the same air as the island.”

Image: Javier Márquez
Image: Javier Márquez
Image: Javier Márquez
Image: Javier Márquez

With a brief from the owners to give the building a clean minimalism without “renouncing the spirit of a Mediterranean lifestyle” Rifé deployed colours and materials with care: a tasteful pale oak adds a luxurious sense of warmth to the interiors. Heat-beating shades of white were used to manage the light that floods the interiors and terrace but also to match the vernacular of the island.

Design news / Hagius Gym, Germany

Fit for purpose

Occupying a 120-year-old former post office, Berlin-based fitness centre Hagius Gym is not your average workout space. Designed for German brothers and entrepreneurs Nicolas and Timothy Hagius by architecture firm Gonzalez Haase AAS – known for its work in concept retail spaces – the gym offers a unique take on what an athletic setting should look and feel like.

Image: Robert Rieger
Image: Robert Rieger
Image: Robert Rieger

“We asked the architects to design a space that would give guests a sense of being disconnected from their everyday life during their workout,” says Nicolas, noting that the tranquil atmosphere this design creates allows gym-goers to better focus on their exercise. “We consciously chose natural materials such as wood and linen for their lively character and to contrast with the more reduced interior,” he says.

Words with... / Deborah Spencer, London

Growing awareness

Curator Deborah Spencer is best known for launching Designjunction, a London-based trade show that connects leading furniture brands with renowned architects, interior designers and buyers. But it’s her latest showcase, Planted, that’s turning heads. The furniture show, which put down roots in King’s Cross for three days last week, is a celebration of best-in-class brands that blend craftsmanship and an environmentally conscious edge. To find out more, we paid a visit to Planted to ask Spencer about the concept – and her take on biophilic design.

Tell us about the idea behind Planted.
Planted is about showcasing the brands of today that will improve our tomorrow. For many years, I ran a big interior design show called Designjunction. It was great but it used to produce waste on an epic scale without consequences, which made me think that there had to be a more sustainable way of producing events in the future. So Planted was founded, which is all about showcasing brands that place nature and sustainability at the core of their business, with zero waste going to landfills. So everything from the tent structure that we’ve built, which comes from a carbon-neutral company, to the carpet laid on the floor is fully recyclable and circular.

The show took place at outdoor locations in King’s Cross. Why?
The show – and these brands – are built on the principles of biophilic design, which is really about tapping into man’s innate need to connect with the natural environment. By connecting with nature you feel more productive, active and creative, and your concentration increases. So all of these brands are thinking about biophilia and a love of nature. Take [furniture makers] Benchmark, whose whole collection is designed around wellness and increasing productivity. The materials it uses are natural and non-toxic. Every single brand is considering the environment here.

What do you hope for those who attended to take away from the experience?
There are a lot of people I’ve spoken to who don’t really understand what biophilic design is. So we hope that people understood it by the end of the show; we wanted people to come here, learn and educate themselves. We ran a programme of talks, which focused on what biophilic design is and biophilic cities are, and how to rewild and increase biodiversity in cities. So there’s an educational and inspirational part to the show. After the event we’re continuing that conversation too – over the past year we’ve been talking about how good design, architecture and nature can combine to create cleaner, greener, healthier spaces.

To hear more from Deborah Spencer about Planted listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

From the archive / Jean Prouvé school desk

Class of its own

After the Second World War, some French schoolchildren returning to their classrooms were fortunate enough to sit down at shiny new desks designed by Jean Prouvé. Mass-produced at the time from oak and enamelled steel, the sturdy tables were balanced on elegant pointed legs and had a practical built-in shelf for storing pencil cases, handouts and books.

Cleverly, the desks offered a reduced manufacturing footprint when produced at scale as they were made with two spots for seating and working rather than one. It was an affordable design done with a tasteful eye and one that would be useful in the modern classroom for other reasons. With teachers often finding it tough getting children to collaborate, plonking two of them down at a shared desk like this would mean that they’d quickly have to learn to share space and interact with one another. And surrounding smart young minds with smart furniture might potentially have the power to inspire the next Prouvé.

Around The Home / 10 Years Later, SCP

Decade in the making

London-based furniture producer and retailer SCP has introduced this new timber furniture collection in collaboration with Japan's Ishinomaki Laboratory. The series features designs from an A-list cast of largely British talent, including Matthew Hilton, and combined efforts from partners Ilse Crawford and Oscar Peña, and Sam Hecht and Kim Colin. The collection, Ten Years Later, marks the 10th anniversary of Ishinomaki Laboratory’s establishment in Japan by architect Keiji Ashizawa to aid in the recovery from the 2011 tsunami.

As with all pieces released under the Ishinomaki banner, the designers had to work within set guidelines, taking into consideration the machinery and tools available, while using materials efficiently to minimise waste. “What I liked about the project was the restrictions,” says designer Jon Harrison, who created the Stoop Step Stool for the project, using creativity and thriftiness. “I really liked the fact that I had to work on certain sections.”

Novel graphics / ‘Tasmin Johnson: Spaces for Living’

What’s on the inside

It was perhaps inevitable that interior designer Tasmin Johnson would end up creating beautiful spaces that blend European heritage with contemporary Australian sensibilities. Why? Well, from the age of four, the Melbourne-born, Sydney-based designer was taken on buying trips across Europe with her antique-dealing parents. These travels, combined with an education in fashion design, laid the foundation for Johnson to develop a practice that sees her combine pieces from across decades and continents in a way that feels natural and understated.

Her approach is captured in the new book Tasmin Johnson: Spaces for Living. Published by Rizzoli New York and edited by Fiona Daniels, it tells the stories behind 13 of Johnson’s interior furnishing projects, sharing ideas and inspiration. The standout? The renovation of her sister’s home on Tivoli Road in Melbourne, where antiques, such as a Pierre Jeanneret Kangaroo chair, are paired with contemporary works, including photography by Tom Ramsay.


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