Wednesday. 1/6/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Laure Joliet

Whistle-stop tour

This week we step inside the newly completed studio of US firm Commune and pay a visit to an architecture exhibition in Melbourne. We also gear up for the summer holidays by talking hotel design with Tara Bernerd, before taking a well earned rest in a classic rattan chair. First, here’s Nolan Giles on design developments in London.

Opinion / Nolan Giles

London calling

With the launch of some of the multi-billion-pound Elizabeth line making the headlines in London last week, mayor Sadiq Khan’s announcement of a 42-strong line-up of “mayoral design advocates” flew under the radar. This is good news that should have garnered more media attention. For the next four years, architects including David Adjaye and David Chipperfield – alongside leaders at London’s top design firms, including Louisa Bowles of Hawkins Brown – will be given the opportunity to have their say on the shaping of the city’s built environment.

Khan has been in office for six years and is not associated with grand architectural or urban design achievements. In industry circles he’s perhaps best known as the mayor who pulled the plug on Thomas Heatherwick’s ill-fated Garden Bridge, an expensive grand projet backed by Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson. As controversial a figure as he is these days, Johnson is still better known than Khan for his urban design interventions in London. For example, Londoners still refer to the bicycles in the share scheme that was launched on his watch as “Boris bikes”. Though the legacy of the 2012 Olympics divides opinion, it at least creates a conversation about urbanism.

Khan’s new body for design development in London is a strong one and the city can gain a lot if these experts in their field are properly engaged. Last year the mayor announced plans to make the UK capital greener, more bike-friendly and more liveable. But with rising living costs and knock-on effects of Brexit to contend with, he’s facing an uphill battle. The hope is that he brings his new collaborators to the fore, while making a concerted effort to create a stronger brand for himself as an urban developer, even if not all of the results go his way.

The Project / Commune HQ, USA

Blank canvas

Los Angeles design firm Commune has created some outstanding residential and hospitality projects in its 18 years, with its fit-out of the Ace Hotel in Kyoto a leading light. What’s notable, however, is that every interior has a look and feel that’s very different from the next. So when the firm’s founders, Roman Alonso and Steven Johanknecht (pictured, on left, with Alonso), set about creating their new headquarters in Los Angeles, they wanted a space that wouldn’t have too much visual influence on the 20-strong team as they work.

Image: Laure Joliet
Image: Laure Joliet
Image: Laure Joliet

“It needed to be a good laboratory for starting from scratch – it’s a blank canvas, literally,” says Alonso, referring to the shoji-inspired sliding canvas walls that allow designers to pin up plans around them as a project takes shape. Douglas fir cabinetry brings a gentle warmth to the open studio, which has a view of MacArthur Park, and there are works dotted around by collaborators the firm has worked with over the years: Adam Pogue’s drapery, inspired by Korean pojagi, shrouds the front door, creating a soothing light. The new studio is housed in a Spanish colonial revival building, dating from 1924, which Commune has entirely restored into offices and studios at the behest of art patron Nicolas Berggruen. The firm will open its first standalone shop for its home accessories pieces on the ground floor in September – reason enough to pay a visit.

Design News / Milieu exhibition, Australia

Model city

Design-minded developer Milieu has a keen eye for collaborators. The Australian company has, over the course of its 10-year existence, worked with leading architecture studios, such as Fieldwork and Edition Office, to create some of Melbourne’s most covetable properties. To celebrate this decade of work, Milieu has turned to a different kind of partner, inviting local artists to create works for an exhibition in the gallery of its Otter Place development.

Image: Ben Clement
Image: Ben Clement
Image: Ben Clement

Curated by Marsha Golemac and the creative agency Studio Hi Ho, the show is called 2010-Onwards: A Decade of Creative Development and presents six small-scale architecture-inspired models made from materials ranging from glass to clay. “The outcome is a striking and creative reimagining of Milieu’s contribution to our city,” says Golemac. We think it’s also a beautiful show worth a visit for art and architecture enthusiasts alike.

Words with... / Tara Bernerd, UK

Material world

Tara Bernerd established her namesake design studio 20 years ago. Over the ensuing decades, the British interior designer has become known for creating outstanding hospitality spaces across the globe, from The Hari in Hong Kong to London’s Kimpton Fitzroy and the newly completed Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale (see Monocle issue 152). While carrying the hallmarks of a Tara Bernerd & Partners project, all of the firm’s hotels are imbued with a strong sense of place and individuality. To learn more about this approach to design, we caught up with Bernerd for Monocle On Design.

Image: Tom Ross

How do you approach a new hospitality project?
Every project is approached individually, so there is a new story for each one. We always start with floorplans, so that we know how we’re going to move around the space. From there, we will start to work on what we call the DNA of a project – the personality of the hotel. To do this, we might draw on the work of local artisans and look at nearby people, objects or places that have inspired us. We then take all those inspirations and slowly, they help us form a story. And from this story, we’re led to the choice of finishes, flooring and furniture, so that everything has a sense of coming from somewhere. It’s not about theming but ensuring that there is a distinct personality behind every project.

How do you ensure that a space doesn’t feel thematic?
I believe that people want to feel that a place or a hotel belongs and fits in with its surroundings, whether you’re in Hong Kong or Istanbul. So there’s a sense of approaching it a little like you would design a home. In a home, even though you would probably draw on local craftspeople and materials, it doesn't mean that everything else has to be. Personally, I might throw in a mid-century chair that has no attachment to where I live but I would pair it with a fabric on a cushion from a local craftsperson. This approach makes all the difference because what you’re doing is seasoning a space with characterful pieces.

What are some key ingredients in ensuring that a project stands the test of time?
You can see across the history of design that some materials, such as timber and stone, are timeless. When I explain my work to my nieces and nephews, I always tell them to imagine a doll’s house and what it would be like if you shook all the items out of it; my work is what you’re left with. And that work has to feel considered and timeless, and not just for effect. If you do a gleaming shining wall, for example, it might feel trendy but not stand up to the test of time.

For more from Bernerd, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From The Archive / Rattan P3 Easy Chair, Italy

Easy does it

Walk into any high-quality vintage shop in Berlin, Paris or Stockholm, and you’re likely to come across a rattan lounge chair in this style. While some are the work of Ikea (its rattan Hestra chair is highly collectable), we’re particularly enamoured with those by Peruvian-Italian architect Tito Agnoli. His number, the P3 Easy chair, was designed in 1964 and produced by Pierantonio Bonacina, a wicker furniture-maker near Como.

Illustration: Anje Jager

A homely and handsome lounger, it’s equally at home in a living room or on a sunny terrace. With this in mind, it’s a shame that Bonacina – which still manufactures many of its mid-century pieces, including a daybed version of the P3 – hasn’t reissued this delightful design. With summer just around the corner, we think it’s high time for a revival.

Around The House / Nanimarquina, Spain

Cutting a rug

Image: Albert Font

Spanish designer Jaime Hayon brings a free-spiritedness to the handcrafted rugs that he helps create for Nanimarquina. The latest effort in his long-term collaboration with the Barcelona-based brand is called Troupe and uses a traditional hand-tufting technique to plot out an imaginative, contemporary design across the piece. While the surreal execution is quirky, Hayon’s whimsical splashes of fun harmonise with the top-quality manufacturing of the rug, forming something instantly timeless that works in myriad environments.

In The Picture / Speak Up For Antarctica Now

Polar posters

Taking place in Berlin right now is the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). It’s an event that rarely receives much publicity, despite its fundamental role in deciding the future of this icy part of the world. That’s why Unless, a non-profit, design-led think-tank that conducts research on climate change, has launched Speak Up for Antarctica Now, an initiative that gives a voice to the continent. Alongside organising various petitions, the campaign involves plastering Berlin with eye-catching posters by Milan’s Studio Vedèt.)

Image: Louis de Belle
Image: Louis de Belle

The designs are strikingly simple, with bold geometric blocks of text that carry messages about the imminent threats posed by the environmental neglect of Antarctica. “It is urgent that we demand accountability from the ATCM delegates to protect Antarctica,” says Giulia Foscari, architect and founder of Unless. We couldn’t agree more – and commissioning smart graphic design is the right way to go about it.;


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00