Wednesday 13 September 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 13/9/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Knowing the score

As Habitare 2023 kicks off in Helsinki, Petri Burtsoff heads to the Finnish capital to meet this year’s exhibitors and we sit down with the event’s exhibition designer to discuss why sometimes getting up to speed means taking the time to slow down. Plus: a basketball court taking a shot at revitalising a New York neighbourhood park and the furniture company embracing the art of imperfection.

Opinion / Petri Burtsoff

Finnish-ing touches

Habitare, which officially kicks off today, has long been one of Scandinavia’s leading furniture and interior design fairs. Established at the request of organisations such as the Finnish Fair Corporation and the Finnish Association of Architects, it has, for more than 50 years, filled the halls of the Messukeskus in Helsinki with wares from the country’s up-and-coming designers and established brands. Despite this heritage, it continues to evolve: this year, Habitare is spreading out into the city’s downtown furniture showrooms and design galleries for the first time.

As a Helsinki resident, I might be slightly biased but when I compare Habitare to other events that mix trade shows with city-centre exhibitions, such as Milan’s Salone del Mobile, it feels more visitor-friendly. It’s not that Habitare is small – it is expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors and 300 exhibitors this year – but that it has a much stronger consumer focus. “Locals come here not only to look but also to buy,” the event’s creative director, Laura Sarvilinna, tells Monocle. “That has always been at the heart of Habitare.” This means that many brands go the extra mile when styling their stands and make sure that both domestic and international visitors can have their purchases shipped and delivered with ease.

Despite the efforts of some export-focused furniture companies to concentrate on Milan, Habitare is still the best location in which to showcase Finnish design. This year, for instance, textile brand Lapuan Kankurit is presenting a new collaboration with former Marimekko and Samuji designer Samu-Jussi Koski, sustainable material company Woodio is launching a much-talked-about wood-composite called Solid and rug maker Finarte is unveiling a new product line. In a world where some have questioned the need for mass-scale annual fairs, Habitare’s enduring popularity and continued evolution show that we still need events where we can meet the makers and the designers behind the brands in person.

Petri Burtsoff is Monocle’s Helsinki correspondent. For more news and analysis, subscribe today.

The project / Chapelle Saint-Michel de Brasparts

High hopes

Those looking for a moment of respite would do well to make a pilgrimage to this historic chapel in Brittany. Located on the summit of Mont Saint-Michel de Brasparts, the 17th-century building, which French designer Ronan Bouroullec caught glimpses of on roadtrips through the mountains as a child, was completely destroyed by a wildfire that engulfed the landscape in 2022. Bouroullec was tapped to oversee its restoration, with funding provided by businessman François Pinault.

Working closely with French craftspeople, the Paris-based designer created new and simple furnishings, including an altar sculpted from locally sourced Nuit Celtique de Huelgoat granite, made in collaboration with stonemason Christophe Chini. A new cross and candle holders by Roscoff-based metalworker Mathieu Cabioch were also introduced, while Galerie Kreo provided a round mirror finished with a rippled surface and Breton master glassmaker Auguste Labouret installed new stained-glass windows. The result is a space that is both simple and elegant, inviting contemplation and reflection.

For more inspiring design-minded events and projects to visit before the end of 2023, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue.

Design news / Les Deux courts, US

Net gains

Last Friday, dozens of people took to the basketball courts at Washington Market Park in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighbourhood. The courts have been reopened following a two-week closure, during which their surfaces were repainted a deep green, in addition to bold orange and yellow stripes. The unusual design is the product of a public-private partnership between New York City Hall and the Danish menswear brand Les Deux. What might seem like an unlikely collaboration to some felt perfectly natural to the brand’s co-founder Andreas von der Heide, a key speaker at Monocle’s recent Quality of Life Conference. “Basketball complements the connection that our brand makes between streetwear and a more preppy style,” he says. “We have a basketball court in the centre of our Copenhagen office.”

Image: Les Deux
Image: Les Deux

The initiative is part of Les Deux Legacy, a business-within-a-business that aims to give back to the communities that the label has a connection to. “We began thinking about this project about 12 months ago,” says Von der Heide. “We went to Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin but nobody was interested.” The opening of a Les Deux sales office in New York – its first outside Europe – gave the brand a reason to contact the city government, which was immediately receptive. Creative director Mathias Jensen explains that Les Deux was given free rein over the design direction of the project. “We had total creative freedom. The only obstacle was what the painters were able to do. We had two weeks to cover the courts from beginning to end, so we decided to focus on the bigger picture rather than small details.”

Image: Mikko Ryhanen

Words with... / Joanna Laajisto, Finland

Slow motion

Joanna Laajisto is the designer that Helsinki keeps on speed dial. Since founding her namesake studio in 2010, the interior architect has worked on many of the Finnish capital’s hotels, bars and bistros, as well as furniture pieces for select manufacturers, which have all become instant classics. This year her studio has created the exhibition design for Habitare 2023, which opens today and features a talk from the architect.

What do you want to make audiences aware of at the start of the fair?
The theme of our exhibition design is called “Slow”. It’s a manifesto against the construction industry’s fast pace and tight schedules. Speed is dictating the design world. Lead times for materials are lengthy but decisions are often made late. That gives designers very little time to change materials or plans, which negatively affects the end result.

Fairs are notorious in that regard. What sets Habitare apart?
At Habitare, we have been given a lot of time to implement our design with the team. There are a few bold design gestures at the fair, such as the wooden panels by the Finnish practice Verso Design. They are hand-woven and have taken months to create. When you take the time to look at them, you understand that they are not something that can be done quickly.

How does Finnish culture inspire your work?
I studied and started my career in Los Angeles but everything I do in the studio is tied to Finnish values. My work is honest and functional. We don’t decorate; everything has a reason. We also like to bring emotion into the equation and create spaces that people feel good in. This is something that Alvar Aalto was good at but, at some point, Finnish design became hard and functional. I want to steer away from that and bring in softness.

What are your studio’s priorities right now?
We’re evaluating every project that we take on. For example, we’re working with a company to look for new spaces for their headquarters. We found somewhere suitable in terms of location but it was renovated in a way that was not up to their visual standards. Our studio can’t just break everything down and start fresh; we have to make the most of what’s there. If a company wants to employ us as designers, they have to agree with that. Form follows resources, today and tomorrow.

For more coverage of design fairs such as Habitare, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Anje Jager

From the archive / René Prou Desk Lamp, France

Light relief

In the September issue of Monocle, which is available on newsstands now, we hop aboard the Orient Express from Venice to Paris. One of the charms of the storied sleeper train is that, having been minutely restored by LVMH-owned luxury hotel company Belmond, it has kept its full-blown art deco interior. The carriages owe their look to René Prou, a Frenchman who designed hundreds of trains, ocean liners, hotels and homes, including plenty of bespoke furniture such as this 1920s desk lamp.

One of the reasons that Prou is not as well-known as his contemporaries of the interwar period, such as Pierre Chareau or Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, is that his signature style is difficult to pin down. The designer could dream up carved mahogany luxury like that of the Orient Express but was also adept at creating more streamlined and industrial pieces, exemplified by this glass-and-metal light. But just because he straddled both the art deco and modernist movements doesn’t mean that Prou should fall between the cracks. As we all love spending a train ride seeped in old-world opulence, why not bring this timeless design into the 21st century?

Around the house / Centenniale, Finland

In wood shape

Fiskars-based furniture company Nikari is presenting Centenniale at Habitare 2023, a new piece conceived by the exhibition’s designer, Joanna Laajisto. For the low-slung coffee table, a formidable solid slab of 100-year-old ash or oak is slotted onto rounded legs that have been carved from off-cuts. The contrast between the sharp, angled tabletop and the chunky feet is intended to bring the wood’s natural character – knots, cracks and all – to the fore.

The Centenniale is an example of a shift in design towards embracing so-called “imperfect” wood, which is often discarded on purely aesthetic grounds. “I spend a lot of time in the forest so it’s obvious to me that wood doesn’t look like a piece of laminate,” says Laajisto. By choosing pieces that display the material’s long life, each Centenniale table becomes a one-of-a-kind centrepiece that only improves with age – without the owner having to be too precious about it. “I wouldn’t be worried about stains or marks,” says Laajisto. “The patina is beautiful.”

In the picture / ‘MAKING LIFE SIMPLER’, UK

Open book

A master of minimalism, British designer John Pawson has a knack for finding the balance between space, proportion and light. Throughout his career, Pawson has worked on a wide range of projects, including the serpentine crossing at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the recently opened Artspace Café at London hotel Claridge’s and bedding for Copenhagen-based textile company Tekla. Now, Pawson’s career is the subject of a new book, Making Life Simpler.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

Published this year by Phaidon, Making Life Simpler is penned by architecture historian Deyan Sudjic, a long-time friend of Pawson, and brings together various strands of the designer’s life, from his childhood spent in Yorkshire to the ideas, photography and designs that he has recently been involved with. The book comes to life with anecdotes and stories from Pawson’s collaborators and clients, from Calvin Klein to Shiro Kuramata, and is illustrated with never-before-seen images drawn from his personal archives. Making Life Simpler is a visual tribute and a joyful wander through the designer’s creations.


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