Wednesday. 6/10/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Comment / Nolan Giles

Start them young

“Six apprentices!” I exclaimed in a recent conversation with Henry Tadros, brand director of British furniture brand L Ercolani, after hearing about his new recruits. Today, bringing on six young people to work in a factory and learn the art of making furniture in the UK is a feat worth getting excited about. It’s still a far cry from years past, however. Only as far back as the 1980s, Ercol (the sister company of newly formed L Ercolani) and a name synonymous with British furniture making, had 25 apprentices at a time, learning their trade.

Over the years multiple factors have led to a decline of furniture manufacturing in the UK, one of them being a de-emphasising of apprenticeship programmes nationally. Thankfully, Ercol and L Ercolani are independent family-run brands with cultures based on empowering people to make great products – and they are both forging on and securing staff. By making apprenticeship programmes a priority today, they’re setting themselves up for success. Other British furniture brands, however, still struggle to get the right people in the door.

This is an issue mirrored in the furniture factories of Italy, which are typically based in rural locations. Young people in such towns often can’t wait to flee as soon as possible to study, travel or work in hospitality in bigger cities. Touring Italian production hubs and surveying the high average age of employees, I often ask the company owners how they are getting fresh blood into the factory. The usual reply relates to the credibility of their brand and how some sons and daughters of workers still follow in their parents footsteps. But most of these managers say that it’s tough to recruit young manufacturing talent.

It’s a strange thing to think about, especially when recalling my time at high school, where boisterous kids would fight to be the first to use the jigsaw and those who were gifted with their hands would emphatically create wooden wonders. This was Australia, however, where “tradies” (professional carpenters, electricians, builders, etc) are respected alongside the apprenticeship programmes that empower their work. But I can’t imagine that the mood is that different in woodworking classes in European schools today. I’m now based in Switzerland and I’m inspired to see a comprehensive apprentice culture at work here. Many countries would do well to learn from this.

Apprenticeships bring work and education together in a practical way. By simply putting those same children who were excited about wielding a saw at school into a furniture factory at age 15 or 16 to see whether they like that too, young people and manufacturers can set themselves up for success. It’s hardly rocket science and, looking at the Swiss economy, it’s a concept that clearly works.

The Project / ‘Needle in a Haystack’, Copenhagen

Worth the search

Cecilie Manz is one of Denmark’s most versatile and acclaimed industrial designers, having collaborated with Danish design titans such as Bang + Olufsen, Fritz Hansen and Georg Jensen, and created products ranging in scale from cutlery to bathtubs.

Image: Cecilie Manz Studio
Image: Cecilie Manz Studio

To mark the latest of her many awards, from the Danish National Bank’s Jubilee Fund, the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen is staging a major retrospective of Manz’s career. The exhibition features two of her key projects: the Workshop chair she designed for Copenhagen’s Muuto and the launch of a very large new collection of ceramics made in Arita, Japan.

As you might expect from a painstaking, iterative designer who has shunned the conventions of her era, it’s a retrospective with a difference: a thorough, deep delve into how Manz works, which the designer herself is curating. “I want to show the process of a design; everything – not just the nice models but also the boring, messy stuff,” says Manz. “The exhibition is called Needle in a Haystack because that is how the process is for me: a long search, discursive, with lots of detours.”

Design News / ‘Das Haus’ exhibition, Germany

A house united

Das Haus celebrates the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Andreas Murkudis concept shop and German furniture firm E15. The exhibition, hosted by Andreas Murkudis at his Berlin shop, has been jointly put together by the brands and is curated by E15’s co-founder Philipp Mainzer and art director Farah Ebrahimi. “E15 was one of the first brands in my assortment and I would like to celebrate [that],” says Murkudis. The exhibition, which runs until May 2022, features some of E15’s most inventive creations by designers including Copenhagen’s David Thulstrup and Germany’s Stefan Diez. Delivered with finesse in the busy setting in Berlin’s Potsdam neighbourhood, Das Haus is a celebration of longevity that is well worth checking out.

Words with… / Andrew McMullan, UK

Green lights

Though Andrew McMullan’s practice is based in London, much of his architecture can be found beyond the green belt in the English countryside. His latest project, Preston Farm, is a co-working space in a former dairy in Kent. Within easy commuting distance of the capital, the space, which is now in development stage, will cater to the needs of the modern worker while also featuring communal areas to grow food and allow people to come together. To find out more about the project, as well as the challenges and opportunities associated with practising in rural areas, we caught up with McMullan for this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Design’.

While the project is intended to attract workers looking for a rural location, it still gives back to the local community. How?
We started with a series of workshops with community groups and hosted events to engage with people and understand what they needed. Our client had their own strong view on the types of tenants they wanted to attract but they also recognised the lovely blend of character and personality that already existed. So the community space that we designed for them has the potential to be a hub for residents and the wider business community, whether they have space on the farm as a tenant or not. In effect, it has a kind of dual role as a new village hall for the area.

So the intention is to have the building and architecture serving multiple needs at once?
Yes. We talk about “flexibility” a lot. It’s a slightly nebulous term and is overused to some extent. Ultimately you still need a strong vision and framework to give a project a sense of identity but flexibility is important. It’s important that it’s incorporated into architecture and design and specifically in master plans and new build frameworks to enable choices to be made in the long term. In our practice that has manifested in construction techniques that we’re now using in a rural housing project in Yorkshire: we have a structural insulated panel system made of components that can be replicated again and again so a huge number of variations can be made when creating space. It recognises that everyone lives in a very different way. As such, we’re allowing homes to evolve around lifestyles, as opposed to the other way around, which is quite typical of today’s mass housebuilding.

You’re based in London but a lot of your work takes place beyond the city. Does the countryside offer untapped potential for architects?
I think it’s just overlooked. We’re trying to find problems that need solutions and the affordability of housing in rural areas is up to five times better than in cities, while access to good employment space is also more difficult.

To hear more from Andrew Mcmullan listen to this week’s edition of ‘Monocle on Design’.

From The Archive / Kartell KD29 table light, Italy

Beaming with delight

Few collaborations summarise 1960s design as well as the one between Kartell and Joe Colombo. Over his 10-year career, the Milanese designer created many of the brand’s icons, including a wheeled storage system and one of the first chairs made entirely from plastic. But while the Boby trolley by B-line and Universale chair have become staples of Kartell’s catalogue, Colombo’s series of lighting for the company is limited to being spotted at auctions today – and only if you’re lucky.

Illustration: Anje Jagerr

This colourful plastic desk lamp is just one of several models by Colombo that feature a futuristic – but very 1960s – spheroid light. Some were stackable but the KD29 has a solid foot that doubles as a storage tray. With one holder for pens and two for other miscellanea, the light makes for a highly practical addition to the nightstand. And yes, the base resembles a smiley face, so it’d be a cheerful one at that.

Around the Home / Nikari Frame table, Finland

Built to last

Respected British architectural designer John Pawson designed the Frame table for his own family farmhouse in the Cotswolds, so this piece quite naturally feels homely. Produced in Finland by timber specialists Nikari, it comes in either sustainably grown solid ash or oak, and is treated with a natural wood-oil mix.

The result is a durable design that is easy to maintain and pleasing to the touch. Made using traditional joinery methods, it’s built to become a much-loved family heirloom to be passed down through the generations.

In The Picture / ‘Signs’, Japan

Symbol hit

No major development or commercial complex in Japan is complete these days without its own set of pictograms to guide visitors to essential facilities. Designer Shigeichiro Takeuchi thought it would be interesting to come up with a stylish pictogram system that would be available to anyone. So he worked with Japanese home goods brand Moheim, an offshoot of a plastics manufacturer, to create Signs, a series of 13 simple pictograms that can be attached to walls and doors with adhesive tape.

Originally he envisaged his signs in small guesthouses and cafés but he quickly discovered that homeowners liked them too. The white, black and grey acrylic options have just been joined by a wooden version in either white oak or dark walnut, carefully cut to make the most of the grain. “Just one sign can improve a space,” he says. “It seems to be small but it plays a very big role.”


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