Blurred lines

Jack of all trades, master of none: An old saying that’s still bang on the money. It’s impossible to excel at everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. For most it takes time to grasp what they are, but we learn to focus on what we’re good at.

In Benjamin Hubert’s recent interview with Dezeen, the designer claims the furniture and lighting market is ‘saturated’ with designers creating the same things. Can I get an Amen? I’m right with you Benjamin. I lay the blame firmly at the footstool of ambitious short-term CEO’s targeting aggressive growth at any cost.

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“This is FOMO: Fear of missing out..”

When a forward-thinking design company present something groundbreaking, competitors are quick to replicate, often with little consideration of the relevance to their own brand and collection. This is FOMO: Fear of missing out. In this case missing out on making a quick buck on a passing trend. Visit any leading exhibition and you’ll see companies once known for niche solutions now experiencing an identity crisis that would put Lady Gaga to shame. Following ad-hoc add-on after add-on, many product portfolios have morphed into each other. A bit like John Travolta and Nicholas Cage in Face Off. Remove the branding from certain exhibition stands and I challenge you to a quiz on who is who.

I’ve always appreciated going to specialist manufacturers for specialised solutions. People who do what they’re great at. With this in mind I’d like to focus your attention on a few niche brands who continually provide innovative solutions in their field. They focus on their own design philosophy and aren’t swayed by the crowd.

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PROOFF Ear chair

PROOFF is an abbreviation of progressive office, which sums up this edgy Dutch company. With a unique collection of acoustic seating, barrier-challenging meeting furniture and unique workplace solutions; each addition to their collection is carefully considered and was created to solve a problem. The Ear chair is simply the most acoustically ‘sound’ piece of furniture I have ever witnessed, ar kid.

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PROOFF: Sit table

Their collaborative Sit Table and Work Sofa products were pretty unique when launched a few years back – and remain as ahead of their time as Marty Mcfly was in Good ol’ 1955.

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PROOFF Work sofa

In 2015 PROOFF launched 4 new designs, taking their collection to 10 pieces in total. These designs come from tireless R&D into the changing workplace and – crucially – complement their groundbreaking range and brand ID.

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PROOFF Off Size

Flamboyant Belgian manufacturer Extremis specialise in modern outdoor furniture settings. With a focus on fun, social spaces to enjoy and relax in, their simple clever designs are as well-suited for posh private parties as they are for private bank terraces. Mine’s a G&T please Hugo.

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Extremis: Hopper Table

 

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Extremis: Bundle Swing

In keeping with their brand style, they launched Anker Anchor (is there an echo in here?) and Pontsun for 2016. Different ideas, but same great feel. Measured progress. Brand intact.

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Fredericia are the epitome of Scandinavian furniture craftmanship. With heritage stretching back to 1911, they specialise in quality hand-made design furniture. As modern interior trends recently turned their attention back to wood, Fredericia must have felt like Barcelona heading into a home fixture with a 5 goal lead.

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Fredericia Soborg chair (1950)
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Fredericia Swoon chair (2016)

Swoon chair, designed by Space Copenhagen is difficult to pin down. 1950’s? Nope, it was released in 2016. Underneath the beautiful upholstery is an injection moulded shell, whilst it’s wooden feet display the family DNA.

Fredericia’s well documented collaboration with Jasper Morrison demonstrates a measured, long term approach to growth. Morrison’s Kile sofa speaks an understated design language, sympathetic to Fredericia stalwarts, whilst demonstrating his understanding and appreciation of the company’s hand-crafted heritage.

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Fredericia Kile Sofa

I’ve been watching with admiration since Vitra acquired Finnish craft masters Artek. With respect and love, Fehlbaum’s team have nurtured and gently repositioned parts of the collection, whilst appointing the immensely talented Bouroullec brothers to continue the product journey in a sympathetic manner.

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Artek Domus chair 1946
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Artek Kaari table 2015

And for those manufacturers with an appetite for growth, maybe this is how it should be done. Acquiring a specialist craft company, whilst retaining their individual design ethos, philosophy and identity. Rather than an endless absorption of trends into a confused catalogue already bursting at the seams; to the detriment of a time served brand.

Be original. Be different…

Which camp would you rather be in? Expert producer of respected niche design solutions, renowned for your knowledge, passion and dedication to the cause – or a mainstream ‘me too’ provider? I say commit yourself to doing something different. Ditch the herd, nerd. Be an innovator. Be a trailblazer.

Be you.

See you next week!

 

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