Heaven and hell

Five young practitioners name the best and worst of design

Bethan Laura Wood

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2009, Bethan Laura Wood, 29, has become known for furniture decorated with her unique laminate marquetry. This is exhausting work that takes hundreds of hours, and the results transform the utilitarian laminate into something extraordinary and precious. Wood has also worked with a Pyrex glass specialist in northern Italy to create chandeliers and candlesticks that are totemic accumulations of glass vessels. Two years ago Wood became the youngest designer ever to be taken on by the prestigious Milanese design gallery Nilufaris, and is now designing a series of bespoke floors for exhibition at Chatsworth House in 2013.

Design heaven

“The designer who has most influenced me has to be the Italian Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007). His beautiful ceramic totems and his Carlton Book Shelf, with its angled shelves sticking out like arms and its riot of colours, are incredibly inspiring pieces. One of my earliest design memories is of going to a museum that was showing work by the Memphis group, of which Sottsass was a member. They were the ultimate postmodernists, mixing Art Deco and Pop Art with eye-popping colours and surface decoration. I didn’t understand what was going on – there was too much of everything – but I was amazed that design could be so confrontational and complex. Later this was the work I started to love. It shows, above all, that design can be playful without being childish.”

“It has to be the white plastic garden chair. It’s not that it is bad design – it’s a very successful piece of mass-production – but it gets used or bought for the wrong reasons. It’s a cheap, short-term seating solution, but never loved. This means that even though it’s made to last, it’s more than likely to spend more time in landfill than in use. When you buy something like this, you’re already thinking about what you want to replace it with. As designers we need to make work that connects with users and buyers and produces fewer throwaway solutions.”

Bethan Laura Wood is represented by Nilufar, Milan. www.woodlondon.co.uk

. . .

Philippe Malouin

Philippe Malouin, 30, grew up in Montreal but came to Europe in 2006, first to attend the École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris, and then to study for an MA in design at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Now he works from a studio in newly fashionable Hackney Wick. His work includes a bowl created from four sections of polished concrete and a table that packs up into a small bag but, when inflated, can seat eight and take 70kg of weight. Malouin first trained as an industrial designer at the Université de Montréal. “I used to design gas reservoirs for Bombardier trucks. I know all about the structural resistance of materials, how to calculate the size of a wood beam to support X amount of materials and how to make detailed technical drawings. That’s the basis of being a designer for me,” he says.

“You can’t really beat the standard wooden clothes peg. It was originally just a dowel with a slit, but the next version, with the addition of a metal spring, has never been bettered. The plastic ones aren’t half as good – they break. But in terms of a piece of furniture, I’d choose the three-legged Stool 60 designed by Alvar Aalto in 1933 for the Finnish company Artek (right). The economy of materials – steam- bent wooden legs and a wooden seat – is great, and it has such a wonderful sobriety. It transcends any idea of class or time: it’s been in production continuously for 80 years. I admire the values of Artek as a company. They are anti-fashion and produce very few products; new items are worked on laboriously and released to the market slowly.”

Design hell

“I think the late 1990s was a bad time in design, when people were churning out products at the speed of light just because they could. It coincided with the time of the superstar designer, too, which wasn’t a healthy moment. Purpose and social conscience appeared to get lost along the way as more and more supposedly entertaining but ultimately unnecessary pieces found their way into the shops. I wouldn’t want to name names and who am I to criticise anyway? In London, we’re much more anti-establishment. If I’d lived in New York in the late 1990s, maybe I’d have done the same thing.”

Philippe Malouin is represented by Next Level Galerie, Paris, and Gallery Fumi, London. www.philippemalouin.com

. . .

Simone Brewster

Simone Brewster is only 29, but has already produced a repertoire of designs that include furniture and jewellery. She trained as an architect before deciding to work at a smaller scale. “It was just meant to be a temporary time out, but I’ve become more and more intrigued by work that connects directly with the body,” she says. Brewster’s Mamy table and Negresse lounger are confrontational pieces created from a deconstruction of the black female body. Her jewellery fuses the feel of Bauhaus design with tribal African artefacts. To make it she uses wood and copper, instead of the metals – silver, gold and bronze – that are usually associated with value.

Design heaven

“I’ve been obsessed with Italian company Alessi since I was 16. That’s when I first saw Richard Sapper’s Espresso Coffee Maker. It looks technical, like a part of a train. It looks like it works, and it does. It’s a product, but it could almost be architecture. The Aldo Rossi Coffee Maker, La Cupola, has the same effect. It looks like a building, and it has an element of fun, too. I’d set my heart on studying architecture, and when I realised that Alessi worked with architects like Rossi, it made me more determined. I thought, ‘One day I’ll work for Alessi too.’ And maybe one day I will.”

Design hell

“One of the worst things is all the copying that’s going on. I just can’t stand to see design being ripped off. It’s at its most extreme in fashion, but even in furniture there are court cases going on all the time as innovative companies desperately try to protect their ideas. Roland Mouret’s Galaxy dress and Ron Arad’s Tom Vac chair are just two examples of designs you see everywhere but are rarely the originals.”

Simone Brewster is represented by Gallery Fumi (furniture) and Lesley Craze (jewellery). www.simonebrewster.com

. . .

Fabien Cappello

Fabien Cappello, 28, grew up in Paris with Italian parents, studied in Switzerland and has lived in London since 2007. At the Royal College of Art he began a project to use wood from the 1.8m Christmas trees thrown away in London every January. He has made a range of pieces including stools and tables which turn the discarded wood into beautiful handcrafted objects. He describes himself as a design activist.

Design heaven

“The Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-88) was the most fantastic creator. I’d love to own one of his paper lights, but most inspiring to me are the series of slides, swings and climbing apparatus that he designed for playgrounds in Japan. In one, in Sapporo, there’s a slide that looks like an elegant sculpture, and it’s black so that it looks wonderful in the snow. It’s amazing that such a serious sculptor can influence children’s lives. And there’s a sense of generosity, to put such beautiful things into a public space.”

Design hell

“Cars seemed to be restyled rather than rethought now. They are designed by committee and lack personality. It’s not that they don’t fulfil their function, or that improvements aren’t being made in terms of environmentalism, but they still seem embedded in the 20th century. Years ago, individual designers influenced car design – Jean Prouvé at Citroën for example, or Carlo Mollino at Fiat. It led to more exciting ideas.”

Fabien Cappello is represented by Gallery Libby Sellers. www.fabiencappello.com

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Asif Khan

Asif Khan, 32, spent a lot of this summer in London’s Olympic Park where, working with Pernilla Ohrstedt, he designed a pavilion for Coca-Cola that functioned like an instrument. Its exterior was composed of red-and-white “pillows” that, when touched, emitted a recording of a sporting activity – for example the whoosh of an arrow, or the click-click of a table tennis ball being hit. Khan studied architecture, but as well as designing interiors (a café in Victoria Park, London and another by Borough Market) he is interested in product design. He has a light in production with the Italian company Danese: called Swivel, it’s a chandelier of highly polished metal that reflects the space it’s in.

Design heaven

“My aunt and uncle had a fantastic collection of 1960s design in their house in London which included Poul Kjaerholm’s PK71 nesting tables, launched in 1957 and still made by Fritz Hansen. These tables’ perfect cubes, made in steel and acrylic, made me aware of the importance of design. They combine the strict minimalism of Donald Judd with total functionality, and they simply couldn’t be improved. My other favourite thing is the Parker Vector fountain pen. We all had them at school. It’s such a reductive piece, really well-engineered, unbreakable, reusable and democratic.”

Design hell

“All plastic shopping bags are horrible, from the thin ones you get in the supermarket to the ones at department stores. Considering there are a trillion produced every year, and it’s a product that’s been around for 50 years, there has been very little development to improve them. There’s nothing pleasant about them. Just carrying one makes you dowdy. Even a paper bag is a lovely product with form and quality and character. Plastic bags, apart from the obvious issue of environmental damage, do nothing to enhance the day-to-day human experience.”


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