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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From Stockholm with love (sequel)

From Stockholm with love (sequel)

Welcome back!

Following part one‘s review of Form Us With Love, Barber Osgerby and my personal struggles with the colour burgundy, what have I got for you in part two I hear you ask?

Are you sitting comfortably. Then let’s begin…

Trend: pastels and zing!

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The HAY stand was packed – their growth continues at pace. They went with another colour trend at #2016sff: pastel colours, muted greys and salmon pinks, with sharp accents of day-glow reds and luminous yellows. The kind of bright colours that when worn in Manchester people say ‘well you won’t get knocked down wearing that, love.’ It creates a nice fresh feel and I would have taken more photos if some women in ponchos hadn’t gotten in my way. Pfft.

BAUX – fantastic acoustix

Those clever chaps at Form Us With Love are at it again. They discovered a manufacturer called Traullit producing a simple yet sophisticated material they describe as ‘Wood Wool’ – made from wood, water and cement. Inspired by an old ceiling tile system and a belief that functional design can also be beautiful, FUWL formed a joint venture to develop a modular wall mounted acoustic tile system. Baux was born. There are a number of size, shape and colour options allowing architects and designers to create pixellated, textured 3D murals individual to each scheme. I absolutely love it; the possibilities are endless.

They recently commissioned Swedish electronic music artist Smutskatt to play around with the Acoustic 3D pixel. Check out the cool vid below:

 

Designer DIY

Form Us With Love are part of a growing movement of designers taking products to market themselves. Pioneers like Tom Dixon have done this for years (he just sold his business by the way). Increasingly, today’s designers are unleashing entrepreneurial talent in a bid to retain complete control over how products are designed, developed, manufactured and distributed.

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Form Us With Love even have their own watch collection

The financial risks of going it alone are high – so are the potential rewards – as many larger manufacturers look to acquire successful new brands in order to expand collections (e.g. Fritz Hansen and Lightyears). Meanwhile 3D printing and open source designs mean manufacturing is more widely accessible than ever.

Back to the fair…

Bla Station

The Swedes best known for wacky design, Oppo cement chairs and the Innovation C swivel whatsit had a great stand that hummed with visitors. I almost got into a tussle with a Swedish bloke equally eager to try out the new Honken chair. He backed away from the Honken when I threatened to bonk him on de conken. I’m kidding (love the name though).

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Honken Chair

A great design with mesh backrest, removable upholstery and the option for a work table and ottoman. The sustainably minded Swedes designed the chair with longevity in mind. Metalwork can be repainted and cushions replaced if you wish to spruce up your tatty old Honken after years of faithful service. Ok I’ll stop now.

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chilling on his Honken

Bla Station also celebrated 30 years (wow already?!) with the launch of the Ahus chair. I like the continuous line of the metal frame on this chair – lovely touch with the perfectly proportioned marble side table too. Nicely done.

(((Acoustic overload)))

I attended a talk chaired by Dezeen editor Marcus Fairs, who drew attention to the sheer volume of acoustic products on display throughout the fair. And the sound quality in there was so good I heard him perfectly, without any reverberations whatsoever.

Seriously though. There are so many hard surfaces being specified in modern interior schemes that noise reduction has become an industry of its own. We know it takes 15 minutes to regain full concentration after an interruption in the office. We know noise equals stress. We know stress equals time off work. So good acoustics makes us happy right? Don’t believe me? Ask the guy with his head in the Darth Vader style acoustic pod above. He can’t hear you but he’s smiling.

And for dessert: Menu

Last but not least is Menu. This cool young Danish company showed a really tasteful range of typically Scandinavian style furniture, lighting and beautiful objects. Very delicate curved black metal frames, with lovely upholstery, side tables and lighting. Timeless and elegant.

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Menu

Their first chair collection, designed by (and named after) another Stockholm design studio: Afteroom, has echoes of Jacobsen and Le Corbusier. Other pieces in Menu’s collection such as the easy chair and day bed nod towards Thonet and Carl Hansen respectively. And that’s quite a compliment.

Well that’s all that’s on the menu for today (sorry). I hope you enjoyed my little tour of Stockholm Design Week. If you did, all I ask is that you share my blog. You can also sign up to get the blog straight to your inbox. Cool eh?

See you Monday!

PS. and they say sequels are disappointing… pah!