Wednesday. 22/12/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design

With Christmas just around the corner, our special edition of the Monocle Minute on Design celebrates in style. From a few last-minute gift ideas to a new retailer in Finland worth visiting at any time of the year, enjoy our guide to the season. But first, Nolan Giles on the passing of architect Richard Rogers.

Comment / Nolan Giles

Shoulders of a giant

After interviewing the late British architect Richard Rogers a few years ago – he was then 84 – I left equally in awe of his sprightliness and good humour as the impressive body of work we discussed. High up in the skyscraper affectionately dubbed “the Cheese Grater” by Londoners, Rogers, wearing a bright-yellow jumper, energetically traversed the floors of his global firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. From the lofty heights of the tower, officially titled the Leadenhall and completed by the firm in 2014, he pointed out his architectural works across the British capital, as well as those of his contemporaries. “There are a few ghastly buildings but overall it looks terrific,” he told me of London, a city whose urban fabric he can take some credit for helping to improve over the past half-century.

The buildings that define his home city, in which he passed away on 18 December, include the Millennium Dome, now the O2 Arena. Rogers designed this exhibition centre, which was controversial for its cost but is iconic for its form, for a temporary purpose; however, it ended up becoming a permanent fixture on the Thames. He also has the 1986 Lloyd’s building to his name – a gleaming, steel-clad tower in the city’s finance district. It’s an architectural anomaly in a sea of built monotony, featuring external elevators that creep up and down the side of the building, attracting the gaze of passers-by at all times of the day. The eye-catching work became London’s youngest-ever Grade-I-listed building in 2011 and a vertical representation of the hi-tech architecture style he pioneered.

These projects, alongside the Pompidou Centre in Paris that Rogers designed with Italian architect Renzo Piano, tended to harmonise in form with the personality of the designer. Rogers' buildings tell the story of a high-spirited dreamer with little qualms about thinking outside the box. And this was what hi-tech architecture was all about: liberating the forgotten inner workings of a building, exposing lift shafts, air vents and so on, and spotlighting them by painting them with broad brushstrokes of colour.

Architects tend to be a serious bunch who do serious work but serious buildings such as the Pompidou Centre and the Lloyd’s building are also fun and lively – a reflection of the man behind them. Judging by the outpouring of fond stories and memories about Rogers from the international design and building communities, the architect with whom I was lucky enough to spend a day carried his charisma with him throughout a long and fruitful career.

The Project / Johanna Gullichsen flagship shop, Helsinki

Glowing praise

The warm lighting of Johanna Gullichsen’s new shop glows through the large windows of Helsinki’s Lasipalatsi, a 1936 building that is considered to be one of the city’s landmarks. In the busy pre-Christmas shopping rush the shop’s inviting sense of intimacy accentuates Gullichsen’s elegant and colourful designs, which range from blankets to pillow cases and fabrics. The interiors have been carefully crafted to match the building’s original aesthetic and pay homage to classic Finnish style. The round ceiling lights are mid-1930s originals by Paavo Tynell; the wooden tables and shelves were custom-made by the shop’s previous occupant, Finnish design brand Iittala. Gullichsen also brought in her own interior elements, such as a table and chairs by Finnish brand Nikari.

Image: Juho Kuva
Image: Juho Kuva
Image: Juho Kuva

“This is a deeply personal space for me,” says Gullichsen. Lasipalatsi’s functionalist design and architecture match her design philosophy of making durable, timeless products with an understated yet playful spirit. She grew up surrounded by the architecture and design of the Finnish golden era; her grandmother Maire Gullichsen lived in the Alvar Aalto-designed Villa Mairea and founded the Finnish heritage brand Artek. Yet Gullichsen’s textile studio, founded in 1989, has its own distinct style and features graphic patterns and textures that set it apart from other Finnish brands. “I have been inspired by abstract art, which lends my designs a style that some see as African, others as Nordic,” she says.

The newly opened shop, which focuses on ready-made products such as purses, bags and cushions, is full of gift ideas. Gullichsen developed an exclusive collection called Twin that is only sold in the Lasipalatsi store. Monocle recommends products featuring her best-selling Normandie pattern, such as the blue shopping bag or the black vanity case. The linen bath towel and the Gaia wool blanket are also perfect presents for the chillier months.

Christmas shopping 1 / Pierre Yovanovitch items, France

Object lessons

French design dynamo Pierre Yovanovitch can turn his hand to anything from furniture and lighting to ambitious interior design. With his inspirations ranging from Alice in Wonderland to 17th-century French architecture, his design nous is understandably much sought after. To bring a little of his charm and charisma into your home this Christmas, look to the selection of objects that he has curated from a number of design greats. Works include a bronze catch-all tray by Italian postwar artist Esa Fedrigolli and a mid-century table lamp by Tommi Parzinger. The pieces prove that Yovanovitch’s eye for home accessories is refined, unpretentious and just on the right side of playful.

Christmas shopping 02 / Teixidors cushions, Spain

Soft spot

If you’re of the belief that the festive season is all about getting comfortable by the fire, artfully scattered floor cushions are a must. Barcelona-based textile brand Teixidors has crafted the splendid Zabu Thor, a fringed, merino-wool floor cushion that is both smart and inviting.

Its grey threads and visible specks of natural wool are part of the brand’s charm. Teixidors prides itself on using only organic materials and highlighting their origin. The wool, sourced from a small farm in Provence, is combed, spun and woven by hand, while the filling is hemp covered in cotton, which means that the cushion is certain to retain its shape.

Christmas shopping 03 / Zanat Dom plates, Bosnia

Carving a niche

Timber specialist Zanat is increasingly catching the attention of the world’s top designers as coveted collaborators and these plates demonstrate why. Designed by Italy’s Michele De Lucchi, the decorative pieces, hand-carved by master Bosnian artisans onto a rare hardwood, exemplify honest materiality and the power of craft.

These are qualities that have attracted designers such as De Lucchi and others, including Ilse Crawford, who in turn are bolstering the brand’s catalogue. And for the customer? A Dom plate would be an ideal centrepiece for a Christmas table or a perfect gift for someone with an empty spot for some exceptional craftwork on their wall.

Christmas shopping 04 / ‘Furoshiki’, UK

That’s a wrap

Furoshiki is a Japanese wrapping technique of which we at Monocle are particularly fond, for both its neatness and its novel use of a reusable fabric that also becomes part of the gift. We’re equally enamoured by this new book by London-based Japanese interior architect Tomoko Kakita.

It provides a beautifully designed deep dive into mastering this form of fabric wrapping, which Japanese gift-givers have been practicing for more than 1,000 years. With instructions on how to wrap bouquets, bottles and even more oddly shaped items, this book has the power to transform you into the perfect present-wrapper this Christmas.

From the archive / Saara Hopea glasses, Finland

Heart of glass

When Saara Hopea designed these glasses in 1951, Finland was still a poor, war-torn country. Working at Nuutajärvi glass factory, then under the directorship of Kaj Franck, the young designer knew that they needed to be space-saving and practical – hence their stackable form, which allows them to work just as well as water or cocktail glasses (though the smaller version should be reserved for schnapps). But she was adamant that these everyday objects should be beautifully coloured.

Illustration: Anje Jager

The glasses quickly found their way into many Finns’ homes and in 1954 they snapped up a silver medal at the Milan Triennial, where the small, Nordic country’s designers had become a sensation three years earlier. Today Finland’s burgeoning design industry is world-renowned and the old Nuutajärvi glassworks, while no longer making Hopea’s cheerful design, are still fired up by local artisans. It’s a success story well worth lifting a glass to at the holiday table. Kippis.


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