Wednesday 6 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 6/12/2023

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Fun of the fair

As the cold weather settles in the northern hemisphere, Monocle’s US editor heads to Florida to spend some time in the sun – and visit the latest edition of Design Miami. Plus: we hit the slopes with a sledge company on the ascent, have a full-circle moment at the Fab Paris design fair and roll the dice in a game of backgammon. It’s all to play for.

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Playing to the gallery

“I can smell money,” said one US gallerist, swinging her lanyard, in anticipation of Design Miami’s advance opening on Tuesday – and the likely influx of hungry collectors. Some 35,000 people are expected to descend on the purpose-built exhibition hall in Miami’s Pride Park. As ever, the collectable furniture fair, which runs until Sunday, shifts in tone from booth to booth. Walking through the hall, there’s a boxy bright-white stall with a single sofa near São Paulo gallery Diletante 42’s muted mid-century pieces. Elsewhere, Jeremy Anderson’s stout and striped lamps are on show at the booth of London-based gallery Fumi.

Design Miami has always pitched itself at the higher end of collectable design. Despite headwinds in the art market (Miami Art Week also kicks off today), the fair’s CEO, Jennifer Roberts, remains bullish. This year’s edition is expected to exceed the $300m (€278m) made by the galleries that participated last year. Design Miami was also acquired by merger by Basic Space in October, an online marketplace for design and fashion. The fair is hoping to attract a younger base of collectors, specifically those who might drop a substantial amount of money on contemporary furniture, as they would on luxury watches or trainers.

The fair makes no bones about its commercial bent (Birkenstock, fresh from its autumn IPO, has built a mini jungle in the exhibition hall) but this does not detract from a very solid, thoughtful showing by a number of exhibitors. Mexico City’s Ago Projects presents an earthy dining table and chairs by Rafael Triboli, made from mahogany inlaid with wax sunbeams. Magen H Gallery has rescued Hervé Baley, a 20th-century French architect who made origami-like furniture, from obscurity and Monocle Design Award-winner Nifemi Marcus-Bello is showing a sand-cast material furniture collection formed in an auto-parts foundry in Lagos. The event, in short, has struck a balance between commerce and experimental or collectable furniture design. Expect other fairs to follow suit.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Product / 3R sledges, Switzerland

Easy riders

Switzerland’s 3R is the company behind some of Europe’s finest sledges and toboggans. The Sulgen-based workshop is best known for its smartly designed Davoser sledge, a Swiss innovation traditionally composed of two wooden runners and a slatted seat. To steer it, you rest your feet on the runners. The company, which was originally called Graf Holzwaren, first rose to prominence in the 1930s. “What makes our product special is the steam-bending procedure of the sledges,” says 3R’s owner, Erwin Dreier. The method results in a smoother ride than on sledges for which the wood has simply been cut to shape.

Image: Philip Frowein
Image: Philip Frowein
Image: Philip Frowein

Despite its commitment to heritage, 3R continues to innovate. “We never change the Davoser design but we are evolving other models,” says Dreier. “We have a sporting sledge that has flexible steering and textile seats.” Dreier also plans to use his expert carpenters and craftsmen to add a new branch to the business: 3R Wood Wave will produce off-the-shelf benches and wooden furniture from 2024 (another branch called 3R Wood Artists already creates bespoke wooden furniture). The growth of the workshop is a reminder for makers everywhere that when established skillsets are applied to new products, portfolios can grow, unlocking new lines of business and, potentially, design innovations.

For more on 3R, pick up a copy of Monocle’s seasonal newspaper, ‘Alpino’, which is on newsstands across Europe and the US tomorrow.

Design news / Miami Design District benches, USA

Public assets

People wandering through Miami’s Design District might have noticed some new bench installations over the past few weeks. The sculptural pieces, which have cropped up on the neighbourhood’s walkways, are designed by UK artist Samuel Ross (pictured) and made under the umbrella of his industrial design studio, SR_A. Commissioned by the design district’s custodians – a community and development group behind several bespoke commissions for Design Miami – the benches push the boundaries of what public furniture can be, straddling the line between functional and fun. They are made from CNC steel with a powder coating to deflect the heat of the sun.

Image: Samuel Ross
Image: Samuel Ross

Ross launched his first fashion label in 2015. Since then, his pieces have been acquired by international galleries including the V&A in London. The benches are also on show as part of this year’s Art Miami, which runs until 10 December, and will remain in the city as permanent installations.

Words with... / Paul Finch, Singapore

Building better

Paul Finch is the programme director of the World Architecture Festival, the largest global awards event for architects. This year’s festival took place in Singapore earlier this month after nearly 10 years in Europe. Following a decades-long career in journalism, Finch founded the event in 2008. Here, he tells us about the festival’s evolution and the most pressing issues in architecture today.

How has the World Architecture Festival changed since its foundation in 2008?
In some ways, it hasn’t changed very much. The festival is a programme of live presentations by the shortlisted architects and designers in front of delegates and international juries. We overlay that with building visits and networking events. What has changed is the kind of things that architects and designers are exploring today, such as environmental design, climate and carbon, and social-equity issues such as ageing and health.

You’re an honorary member of the British Council for Offices. Where is workplace design heading next?
There’s a renewed interest in office space in the property industry. Smart developers are rethinking how offices and the buildings that contain them work. Instead of somewhere that people are obliged to be, the office is becoming a place where they actually want to go, with a spring in their step. This requires more characterful design and more thinking about amenities. And it’s leading to more mixed-use environments.

Looking to the future, where should architects be focusing their efforts?
With the global population ever increasing, young architects starting out today will face challenges around how huge numbers of people can inhabit the planet and live, work and play. To what extent can we use our existing stock? A big theme is retrofitting: updating buildings rather than simply demolishing them and starting again. The relationship between artificial and natural is becoming more significant too.

Image: Gareth Studio

Around the house / L’Objet Matis Backgammon, USA

Living the wood life

US homewares brand L’Objet is bringing fun to the table this Christmas with its take on the traditional backgammon set. Crafted by hand with inlaid wood, ivory timber pieces and suede backing, it is equally beautiful on display or in play.

For a design-minded gift guide featuring a selection of furniture and homewares that will fill you with joy this Christmas, pick up Monocle’s winter newspaper ‘Alpino’ today.

Image: Illustrator: Anje Jager

From the archive / Ring Chair, France

Coming full circle

Fab Paris, a new fine-art fair for design galleries to exhibit objects that span eras and continents, wrapped up on 26 November. It was a suitably chic setting for New York-based gallery Demisch Danant to showcase the work of designer Maria Pergay. The Moldovan-born visual artist, who died in October at the age of 93, worked in fashion before starting to make sleek silver furniture but she always stayed on the fringes of the Paris design scene. “Everyone else went to the same schools,” says Stephane Danant, co-founder of Demisch Danant. “She landed like a UFO from another planet.” The inspiration for the Ring Chair is said to have come to Pergay while she was peeling an orange.

Her poetic creations helped to popularise stainless steel, which was an unpopular material at the time. The designer also bucked conventions by exhibiting her pieces in antiques galleries, surrounded by baroque furniture and 17th-century Flemish paintings. Pergay showed how to tastefully juxtapose modernist furniture with interiors from earlier eras. “That’s when wealthy people started combining styles,” says Danant. One glance at Fab Paris’s eclectic mix of design and art will show you that Pergay’s influence has endured.

In the picture / ‘Brutalist Italy’, Italy

Set in concrete

From cavernous churches in Lombardy to a triangular Ligurian courthouse and spaceship-like residential complexes in Naples, Brutalist Italy: Concrete Architecture from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea showcases the country’s relationship with brutalism, a movement with which it is not commonly associated. Photographers Roberto Conte and Stefano Perego compiled the book over five years of travel across their native country.

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

It isn’t their first joint effort documenting the world of architecture: 2019’s Soviet Asia presents the pair’s shots of modernist architecture in Central Asia. Their second book, published by Fuel, explores the monumental structures that can be found across Italy but don’t usually make it onto postcards. Though there is a haunting quality to the buildings, the images are graceful and highlight the imposing presence of brutalism in the country’s cultural history.


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