Wednesday. 2/3/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Look sharp

A new playground in Bangkok that’s reviving public space and a retail concept that pays tribute to Bally’s curling boots. Plus: Australian broadcaster Tim Ross on mid-century design and new outdoor furniture from Denmark (pictured). First: Nolan Giles on hotel design.

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Staying the course

For many, 2022 will be the year in which business travel returns but for some of us, it never went away. And, at the hands of the pandemic and hotel operators who were never quite sure how to deal with it, I’ve endured some design horrors on my journeys since 2020. Bugbears include QR-code menus in dimly lit hotel bars that never stood a chance of working and having to “glove up” to scoop my morning muesli when serving-spoons suddenly became seen as the biggest potential virus transmitter in busy breakfast rooms. But even before the pandemic, my gripes were growing with hotel design, particularly within those hotels that used the term “design” to brand their offerings.

But with fewer reservations and time to think about a refresh and rejuvenation, I’m hoping that hoteliers have reconsidered what design means to them and their venues. And, just in case they haven’t, I’ve created a five-point thought-starter to help them get their interiors up to scratch in time for a busy and successful year ahead.

1. Lead with your light switches
Nothing beats a simple-to-use lighting scheme. A hotel room is basically a good, glorified bedroom and nobody wants an iPad to turn on (or off) the lights.

2. Hero water pressure
This is maybe the least sustainably minded matter on the agenda (sorry; I try to make up for it on point four). But a shower that spouts steamy water at power can blast a weary traveller into a blissful state before a business dinner and offers the warmest welcome one can have to a new city.

3. If confused, go cosy
Hoteliers, you’ve made the first correct decision and hired a professional interior designer, so please make the second correct step and veto any of their proposals that feel a touch too conceptual for your venue’s spruce-up. When it comes to creating a place in which people want to sleep, cosy and comfortable will always win over an ambitious space-age styling idea or any concept involving leopard-print.

4. Banish mini plastic bottles
This one’s pretty straightforward: it’s 2022, stop damaging the planet with these puny shampoo containers. We know that most of you are not refilling them.

5. Bring us back together
This one is a biggie. Your public spaces provide the heart and soul of your venue – particularly now – so make them good ones. People want to meet, mingle and maybe do other things that happen in hotels late at night. So please don’t kill the vibe by over-lighting these areas, over-blasting them with lounge music or stinking them out with a room fragrance that the leopard-print-loving designer said would add to the ambience.

The Project / Choduk Playground, Thailand

Child’s play

Bangkok’s Art4d is a magazine that champions Thai design. When its editors were approached by building product company SCG D’Cor to promote the latter’s wares, rather than simply offering advertising pages, the publication proposed collaborating on a design. “We wanted to develop a social responsibility project with them to enhance a community,” says Kamolthip Kimaree, managing director of Art4d.

Image: art4d/Ketsiree Wongwan
Image: art4d/Ketsiree Wongwan

Together, based on independent research, they selected Bangkok’s Choduk neighbourhood for an intervention. With the help of 24 young volunteer designers, they worked with two local design studios and residents in community workshops to envision a new play space for the area.

Made in part using SCG D’Cor’s cement, the resulting playground features gentle curves, with a combination of play equipment and benches creating an inviting environment for people of all ages. “Both adults and children can share their experiences,” says Kimaree. However, it’s not just this multi-generational use that should be celebrated, she says, but the fact that the community contributed to the project. “[It has created] a harmonious relationship between design, society and the city.”

Design News / Bally pop-up shops, Switzerland

On the ice

Bally has been linked with the sport of curling ever since its boots were used by the Swiss team at the 1956 Olympics. To celebrate this relationship, the luxury brand has now dedicated a portion of its St Moritz shop to the iconic winter shoe.

Milan-based studio Without Production has temporarily reworked the ground floor of Bally’s outpost on Via Maistra to include displays featuring curling boots hanging from carabiners and pastel blue, foam walls reminiscent of ice blocks. Customers can also stop by the new made-to-order service area, where shoes can be personalised with a range of different materials, soles and zips.

The Alpine village is the second stop for the brand’s pop-up curling boot tour, which started in Stockholm in November and will travel to other mountainous locations in Europe across the ski season. We’d encourage people to stop by and pick up a pair of boots for a safer stroll on icy city streets.,

Words with… / Tim Ross, Australia

Forward thinking

A radio and television host by trade, Tim Ross is also an expert on mid-century architecture – a passion that he’s channelled into several books and television programmes. But his coverage doesn’t stop there: the broadcaster has even performed modernism-inspired stand-up shows in famous mid-century buildings around the globe, including Palm Springs’ Hotel Lautner. For a recent episode of Monocle On Design, we asked for Ross’ reflections on his favourite architectural style.

Image: Rachel Kara

Why do you think modernism and mid-century design still have such a hold over people today?
When I think back to the houses that fascinated me as a kid, it was always those that tended to be modern. It was the late 1970s and I would look at these buildings from the 1950s and think that they were the most contemporary thing I’d ever seen in my life. A lot of people can relate to that; it’s a common thread for those who come to see my shows. There’s a romance to modernism and a pull that this architecture can have on you.

What can designers today learn from its ethos?
It was about taking the best of what was going on at that moment in time and allowing it to propel you forward. It was not about looking at or replicating the past. If people start replicating buildings from the 1950s just because they like the style, or build pastiche versions of Palm Springs homes that aren’t in the desert, then that can be peculiar.

So how should we build houses and buildings today that take cues from modernism but don’t border on pastiche?
You can do it without putting pink flamingos on your lawn or parking a Studebaker out the front. Instead, there’s a lesson best explained with a music analogy. Many bands say that they want to go analogue to sound like The Beatles. I’m an analogue kind of guy and I understand that. But if you watch the recent Beatles documentary Get Back, you see that they used every piece of technology they could possibly find. If they had had more than eight channels to record on, they would have chosen to be far from an analogue band. The same applies to the great architects; they will always be looking forward, not backwards, and be excited about the next project. Sometimes people think that some of the great modernists’ later work disappoints, when things got a little funky for the purists in the 1980s. But those buildings are still beautiful. In fact, they might be even more beautiful than earlier works because they were evolving with the times.

From the archive / Noguchi Rudder table, USA

In ship shape

Though many of Isamu Noguchi’s works were designed more than 70 years ago, his reissued pieces remain bestsellers. Among them are the Akari paper lamps and the glass-topped Noguchi table, which has hardly been out of production since it was designed for Herman Miller in 1948. With the resurgent interest in the Japanese-American artist’s oeuvre, thanks to a recent retrospective at the Barbican in London, now would be a great time for makers to diversify the offering of his designs.

Our pick would be Noguchi’s Rudder table from 1944, designed soon after he started collaborating with Herman Miller. Here, a birch veneer tabletop is balanced on two hairpin legs and a wooden fin inspired by a ship’s steering rudder. The sculptural design is still available from Herman Miller as a low coffee table but the higher version, which was perfect as a writing desk, is no longer available. If the popularity of Noguchi’s other works are anything to go by, a reissued Rudder desk would easily find a place in plenty of studies and kitchens today.

Around the house / Balcony Collection, Denmark

Outside chance

French industrial design duo Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec have collaborated with Danish interior firm Hay to release a new line of outdoor furniture. Available online and in Hay shops, the Balcony Collection is part of a creative partnership spanning several seasons, which brings entirely new additions to the Scandinavian brand’s range.

Image: HAY/Bouroullec/SCP

These powder-coated steel stools, benches, tables and stackable chairs can withstand snow in February, an unexpected May downpour or the burning sun of an August day, making them perfect for all climates. The wide range of colours available also means that they’re ideal for almost any outdoor space; iron-red versions can brighten city balconies, while deep green allows the furniture to blend into lavish countryside gardens.

The angular designs are mellowed by round, laser-cut holes on seats and tabletops, which make the pieces sturdy by allowing their weight to be evenly distributed. For extra comfort during an outdoor lunch (or a much-needed afternoon nap), Hay has also created complementary outdoor cushions that are soft but durable enough to survive any weather condition.,,

In The Picture / Son of a Tailor, Denmark

To a T

Chocolate normally doesn’t mix well with a T-shirt. But this hasn’t stopped Danish clothing company Son of a Tailor, which is known for its sustainably minded basics, from working with the Netherlands’ Tony’s Chocolonely on a series of chocolate bars. The aim of the collaboration? To bring awareness to the importance of transparent supply chains in both industries.

The wrapper was designed by Son of a Tailor’s in-house team and features crisp, white paper (in stark contrast to the colourful wrappers Tony’s is known for). Dashed lines run vertically and horizontally across the design, referencing the chalk marks that tailors leave on garments.

The brands’ logos sit in the middle of the bar, with Son of a Tailor in a bright cyan blue and Tony’s Chocolonely in a subtle, almost-transparent grey. Above the logos are five key points that summarise the brands’ commitment to transparency. Workers who make Son of a Tailor’s clothing are also celebrated, with a dedication featuring an individual’s name, on each of the bars.


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