Wednesday 1 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 1/3/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Lukas Zander

Paying close attention

A book that caught our eye this week celebrates the unheralded and often ignored elements of street architecture, from bollards to benches. And it’s the same attention to detail that we’ve employed in compiling the rest of this edition of The Monocle Minute On Design. Among our finds are the design brands moving to upstate New York, an archival basket proving that it’s hip to be square and a smart new carafe and glasses set from Hay. We begin with a report from the Euroshop retail show in Düsseldorf.

Opinion / Annabelle Chapman

Concrete plans

From clothes to groceries, shopping is at its best when it’s a multi-sensory experience combining visuals, scent, sounds and touch. Think of the crispness of a shirt as you try it on in the changing room or the rustle of a new silk dress wrapped in tissue paper; flicking through a book with an unbroken spine or running your hand along a wooden table at the showroom. Those feelings are complemented by shops that look and feel good as you walk around them.

This was a universal thread in conversations with designers at the Euroshop retail show in Düsseldorf this week. At the fair, which runs until tomorrow, brands are responding to a post-pandemic retail landscape that is not only about products but also experiences. This is where design comes in. Architects, interior designers and furniture-makers are helping to build environments that offer customers an immersive physical encounter that no online platform can rival.

For a sense of reassuring solidity, look no further than Italy’s Cimento, which is showing off its furniture collection at a peach-hued stand at Euroshop. Based in San Donà di Piave, near Venice, Cimento creates bespoke interiors using a cement compound that retains the solidity of exposed concrete while being much lighter and easier to install. It was developed as a response to retailers’ desire for flexibility and the need to be able to readily change the feel of a space to reflect new products or releases. “It’s about the feel and the emotion,” says sales manager Gian Marco Lucchetta. “When you touch our products, you have the real texture and feel of concrete. Many manufacturers work with fake concrete because they want to replicate the effect in a purely visual way. It looks good but when it comes to the feel, you lose all the soul.”

What does all this mean for the future of retail? Ultimately, to echo the title of one of the talks at Euroshop this week: bricks-and-mortar retail is here to stay. “Physical shops are definitely still alive but their role has changed,” says Celine Bacconi, new business director at London-based brand innovation studio Dalziel & Pow. “The whole point of having a physical site is to keep the link with the customer. You need to give them an experience, a reason to come to see you.” We couldn’t agree more.

Annabelle Chapman is Monocle’s Warsaw correspondent

The project / Coil + Drift, USA

Light-bulb moment

Upstate New York has always been an enticing prospect for those seeking an escape from the bustle of Manhattan but in recent years the steady stream of creative talent and businesses migrating north has truly put the region on the design map. The latest to wander upstate? Coil + Drift. The formerly Brooklyn-based furniture and lighting design studio has relocated in style, opening a beautiful and generously sized workspace-cum-showroom in the Catskill Mountains.

Image: Zach Hyman
Image: Zach Hyman
Image: Zach Hyman

The move, which began in 2021, was partly strategic: founder and designer John Sorensen-Jolink felt that the wild, natural surroundings would better inspire the firm’s designers. “When you walk into our studio you are immersed in who we are,” says Sorensen-Jolink. “You see new designs being prototyped, our finished collection and our vision of how the work should live in a home.” The new studio contains an office and a state-of-the-art production facility where the in-house team produces its signature light fixtures. For those after the final product, a walk through the spacious yet cosy showroom offers an enticing blueprint for modern living that remains sleek but connected to nature, thanks to the presence of windows offering views of the landscape beyond. If the new and recently produced pieces of lighting in Coil + Drift’s new home are anything to go by, the move has certainly paid off.

Design News / Grid System at Euroshop, Germany

Flexible friends

Stretching over more than a dozen exhibition halls in an area the size of 15 football fields, Euroshop has brought together 1,830 exhibitors from 55 nations this week. While there are countless “hot topics” discussed at the show, prime among them is “flexibility”. It is all you hear as designers, architects and retailers catch up in the vast exhibition space, on the tram back to the city centre or at restaurants around town afterwards.

Image: Lukas Zander
Image: Lukas Zander

One company doing this well is Grid System, which produces lightweight cubes that can be used to create flexible but cohesive interiors in retail and beyond. “A cube can be used for many things,” Grid System’s director, Jørgen Petersen (pictured), told Monocle at the Danish company’s Euroshop stand. “Brands always need to be creating new environments, new stories in the shops.”

Of course, while this might involve using modular units like the ones produced by Grid System, it could also mean regularly switching up the product list to entice consumers. In the end, regardless of which approach is taken, flexibility wins.

Words with... / Kusheda Mensah, UK

Mutual admiration

Kusheda Mensah is a British-born Ghanaian print and furniture designer, and founder of creative studio Modular by Mensah. Her work is bold and playful, an ethos emphasised by her furniture collection, Mutual, which includes curving, easily moveable seating that allow users to configure their own social spaces. This work led to her becoming a finalist in the prestigious Hublot Design Prize 2022. We spoke to Mensah to find out more about her approach to work and gain insight into her shifting design inspirations.

Image: Frank Lebon

Tell us about your furniture collection, Mutual. Where did the inspiration for a furniture collection that invites social interaction come from?
It was centred around a realisation that a lot of my friends weren’t feeling themselves because of the effect that social media was having on their mental health. I wanted to figure out how I could respond to people’s feelings and emotions with furniture. I began building these abstract shapes with curves and unusual corners, which were upholstered and could be used as seats. My initial idea was for these to be used in large social spaces as a public installation of sorts. When I tested it at Salone del Mobile a few years ago, people would sit and chat with people they didn’t know and they wouldn’t look at their phone for an hour because they would be comfortable and talking about the furniture. It showed that furniture can bring people together.

You studied textiles before working as a furniture designer. How do materials influence your approach?
Textiles can make pieces feel playful and exciting to touch. Tactility is a really important part of my work because people are drawn to the pieces and always want to touch them based on the way that they look and feel. In the case of Mutual, I wanted to translate that into this bold furniture that also invites people to configure their own social space. Both make people feel comfortable in the setting or space in which Mutual is set up.

Where do you draw the inspiration from for your work?
The longer I work in design and go to trade shows, the more I have realised that it’s actually the people who inspire me. That includes the ones that surround me, from Nifemi Marcus-Bello, who won the Hublot Design Prize the year I was nominated, to Samuel Ross, who was on the jury. When you’re in the design world, you get to know your peers and I find that they become inspirational as opposed to taking inspiration from the greats. With your peers, you’re not comparing yourself by any measure of greatness. It is more a case of being around similar situations, how far that person is going and how beautiful the stories are that they tell through their art and design.

For more from Kusheda Mensah, listen to ‘Monocle On Design’.

From the archive / Grid Basket, Austria

On the grid

Early 20th-century architect Josef Hoffmann was so fond of squares that he was nicknamed “Quadratl-Hoffmann” (literally, “square Hoffmann”). The Austrian creative was renowned for his trademark white grid pattern, which appeared on the façade of his most significant building, the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. Hoffmann often applied it to smaller objects to hold flowers, fruit or bread, such as this gem-shaped basket from 1905, which he made in his Vienna workshop.

Illustration: Anje Jager

These “grid objects” were initially made from silver, with each square cut by hand, but the production soon switched to more affordable white-painted metal. “It is a reminder that Hoffman was not only producing for a rich clientele,” says Anne-Katrin Rossberg, curator at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Hoffmann’s striking architectural baskets were made to help everyday people with simple tasks, such as carrying a loaf of bread back from the baker. And, while many originals sit in museums and reissues from the 1970s by Italian company Bieffeplast fetch eye-watering sums at auction, there appears to be little interest in reviving this iconic design. “The objects are absolutely timeless, functional and beautiful,” says Rossberg. “I am surprised that there aren’t more reissues to this day.” Monocle is too.

Around The House / Rim carafe and glasses, Denmark

Refreshing design

It’s no secret that drinking plenty of water is key to good health, which is why the new Rim range from Danish brand Hay is particularly appealing. The carafe and set of two glasses are made in sturdy borosilicate glass with a contrasting black rim detail, which brings an elegant monochromatic touch to any desk or bedside table.

The carafe is designed with gentle curves and a delicate funnel neck that allows the glasses to be stacked on top when transporting refreshing beverages from room to room. While the design makes drinking water appealing, Rim also works perfectly as a carafe for wine and mixed beverages.

In The Picture / ‘On the Street’, UK

Never mind the bollards

Street furniture is arguably the most visible of all public design works – yet, paradoxically, the most invisible. Benches, bollards and bridges populate urban landscapes but are rarely recognised as outstanding works of design. It’s a fact that architect, critic and author Edwin Heathcote tries to counter in his new book.

Image: Michael Bodiam
Image: Michael Bodiam
Image: Michael Bodiam

Produced by London-based Heni Publishing, On the Street: In-Between Architecture celebrates the idiosyncrasies of urban infrastructure and nostalgically explores metropolitan furniture, past and present. Short essays are brought to life through photographs of postboxes, lampposts and drains, many of which were taken by some of the world’s best-loved street photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier. They succeed in refocusing the camera lens on that which usually evades our gaze. Centred on London but with a nod to New York, Paris and beyond, Heathcote’s findings prove that even mundane cityscapes aren’t devoid of architectural beauty – if we look close enough.


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