Invista is launching a reference book titled The World of Antron, that will inspire specifiers and designers by featuring an array of projects around the globe that use Antron carpet fibre as a vital ingredient. The fully interactive, easy-to-access digital book will be available on Antron websites worldwide and will be regularly updated to ensure access to images and details of the latest projects. The book will also contain in-depth interviews with designers discussing their views on carpet as a flooring solution in different commercial environments.
Exhibiting for the first time at Designersblock this year, Henry Ellis-Paul will be showing his new furniture, Stripped (pictured) and his first range of greeting cards, Short and Sweet. Stripped is a modular chair and table that has various arrangements of seats and armrests, which can be easily moved, altered or added-to in order to fit into any environment. Currently based in London, Henry has previously designed packaging, toys and lighting, and believes that an understanding of different areas of the industry helps to create a healthy approach to new projects.
Waiting for designer Bertjan Pot to pick me up at the train station in Schiedam, the small city outside of Rotterdam where he has his studio, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I knew he had joined the ranks of celebrated Dutch designers with pieces like Random Light for Moooi and Slim Table for Arco. I also knew a prerequisite for this interview was that any pictures of him obscure his face. Might be a bit of a pain, I thought.But then Pot turned up in a beat up old van, every bit the gentle giant, and washed away my hasty misgivings. “The press is getting to be too much about design stars,” he explains slowly and quietly. “It’s too much about favourite colours and favourite songs and what I like to eat for breakfast. What has that got to do with design?” Fair point, but as I’m led into his Wonka-esque workspace a few minutes later - a wonderland of bobbly bits, shiny surfaces and colourful scraps - I silently decide that I’m curious about those things myself. It’s true that the design world’s cult of personality has reached a feverish pitch - but some people might still be curious to know what was for lunch the day Pot conceived of an electric blue, baroque-inspired folding table (Balls, 2006) or which song was playing when he made the word ‘ass’ out of pink foam. Same goes for a patchwork couch (Shared Space project, 2007) accompanied by a used carpet with strips of coloured tape, which sit front and centre in his studio.
But alas I am here to discuss Slim Office, the latest incarnation of his Slim Table for Arco, so we veer away from the superfluities and straight into his vast workshop. Boxes of vibrant textiles are stacked high against the walls. Running the length of the room is a series of tables with half-finished projects ranging from a skull-shaped hot air balloon to a model for the interiors of the Social Security offices in Amsterdam. The effect is sort of carnival meets laboratory.
It’s a ‘non-concentrated’ approach to work that proves most fruitful, says Pot. “We can leave projects overnight, we can leave them for two weeks - that way things can be ongoing. You can walk past it every day and whenever you have a small idea about something, you concentrate on it,” he says. And some of the projects are just for fun. “I have this whole studio full of stuff that has appeared when I play. And when I get a serious question from a factory I can just see if I have a project that they can take up,” he says.
It’s a remarkable statement coming from a designer who, at 34, has had substantial commercial success - manufacturers such as Montis, Pallucio and of course Arco and Moooi have put his designs into production. But on the face of it, he seems to be more wrapped up in materials and his own curiosities and preoccupations than in getting things produced, in the conventional sense. “Maybe for someone else it works to be more pragmatic, but not really for me.”
Some obvious themes emerge in his work, though, such as the idea of a structural skin or layers. Slim Table, produced in 2005 for the 100-year jubilee of Arco, uses a steel frame covered with a wooden veneer. “Metal for construction and wood for upholstery,” says Pot. Random Light (2002) and later Non Random Light were created with fibre glass drained with resin, coiled around a balloon that was then deflated. In 2003, Random Chair came as a follow up to Random Light, using the same material coiled over a single-sided mould, and in 2004, Pot made limited edition lampshades from the hollowed skins of gourds.
Aside from Slim, the materials are not slick and smooth, which is refreshing in an industry where texture is generally erased out of things. “When I started studying (in the early 90s at the Design Academy in Eindhoven), design meant to straighten out a product - to make it smooth, slick, inorganic. I think I was reacting against that.”
In that same spirit of rebellion, he often takes on projects because the brief, or ‘question’, rubs him the wrong way. Slim Office, which is basically the Slim Table with magnetic accessory add-ons (rubbish bin, drawer, cable management device, vanity board and matching message board), was an example of a manufacturer asking Pot to do something he’d rather not: cut holes into his table.
“Sometimes when a question or assignment is annoying, I would like to prove that the actual question posed is silly ... or that the result can be so much different than what they are expecting. The first thing I do when I get a question is wonder why I got it so I can give the best answer.”
The idea for Slim Office didn’t come out of a genuine exploration or concern for what an office needs, as it turns out. It is the one tactical, commercially driven design that we chat about during the interview: “This project is really more about what Arco could do as they are having a tough time just like all the other furniture companies. The main thing was to think of something that they could sell and that they would be good at.”
Pot likens the evolution of the design to loose pub talk, where the idea of using magnets was put out there, layered upon, and even joked about. “We said, ‘imagine what problems we could solve for cable management!” But then, of course, the proposal was taken seriously and Slim Office was born.
“I think the Slim Table is good for an office because there is so little about it that so little can be wrong, and therefore its very multifunctional,” Pot says. “There are two ways to achieve multifunctionality. One is to be like the Swiss army knife and the other is to be like the paper clip. I generally prefer the paper clip because with the Swiss army knife, the only thing you experience is that you’re missing out on something. It’s weighed down with all the functions. The more functions it has, the less functional it becomes. But the paper clip, because it’s nothing, it can be anything.”
There is no denying that designers are vying for the thinnest, most impossible looking table - and Pot’s Slim is a contender. “It’s like the fastest car, you know, it’s the thinnest table,” he jokes. But Slim Office, and the idea of multifunctional furniture, is right in step with workplace trends. “It’s a sort of 1980s modernism to have less of something. Now if you see what students are making - they are all making art design where they can express their feelings through a product,” he says, with an impish chuckle. “But now I’m being cynical.”
Which is something to watch out for with Pot. It dawned on me, as he described a revolving chandelier he had started to make for a Michelin-starred restaurant (it’s got a black and white stripey core and floppy pieces of reflective polyester sheet, slightly silly), that there is an element of mockery in some of his creations. “I wanted to make something that was like a chandelier but a modern version of it. If you get food at this restaurant, on the plate you will have maybe a bit of jelly here and something else there. You eat it and it’s … magic,” he says, grinning. Are you taking the piss out of them, I ask? “I’m being quite sincere although I realise with everything there is a double layer. There is a funny side to it too and maybe I’m addressing that side as well.”
In any event, the chandelier is not likely to go into the restaurant but was eventually shown this year in Milan along with a honeycombed back chair for the launch of a new Italian furniture company, Skitsch.
After leaving Pot’s studio, I was struck by what a funny character he is and how that comes through in his designs. However cynical, there is still a real joy in his work, almost as if he is winking at the world. I emailed him later to ask whether this was true.
“It’s not about the humour itself. It is more about looking at the stuff differently than other people do,” he says. “The outcome can be funny, but that is exactly what makes a joke funny. It is twisting the truth in an unexpected way. If there is nothing true about a joke, it’s not funny. If nothing is twisted, it isn’t either. Making jokes is not my goal but I do like to twist things.” And that, in a nutshell, is Bertjan Pot.
zpstudio, founded by Matteo Zetti and Eva Parigi is a studio committed to creating ideas. A vast experience in working with art installations, exhibition and commercial spaces, corporate brand solutions and product design has bought inspiration to all zpstudio projects, including Rosone (pictured), which is a wall clock made from a polystyrene ceiling rose, usually employed as a building decoration.
Plynyl brand floor tiles, Wall to Wall wall coverings and upholstery all utilise the luminous quality of woven vinyl fabrics. Plynyl products have been embraced by the international design community and are used in commercial, residential, hotel and spas as well as retail projects.
Operating under the moniker OfficeLifting, architects at Berlin-based practice raumteam:92 are responding to that infamous “efficient” German stereotype in kind.Since the 1990s Germany’s capital city has undergone a structural renovation the likes of which no other European city has seen since the end of World War Two. Berlin’s buildings have received enviable architectural treatment at the hands of international talent (in 1999 Sir Norman Foster had converted the former Reichstag into the new German Parliament; it’s glass cupola has since been hailed the “hallmark” of the city) and via more indigenous means.Stephan Braunfels, Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank, Von Gerkan Marg and Partners, Hans Kollhoff, Josef Paul Kleihues and now raumteam:92 – the subject of this story – have each left a mark on the “new look” Berlin and, arguably, as inhabitants of the city these architects have proved best placed to reshape their home. There is a reason for this: like Germans on the whole, Berliners are internationally renowned for their skills in engineering and design. But unlike their countrymen, Berlin’s avant-garde have had reason to safeguard their city’s identity more than most. In the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the city’s occupants began a salvage mission; they set about regaining a collective sense of identity. It’s had a profound affect on all Berliners’ ways of working, but raumteam:92 has perhaps epitomised the approach with its innovative form of interior architecture, OfficeLifting. Angelika Zwingel, a project leader at raumteam:92, says the firm coined the phrase to describe its bit-part approach to interior architecture (“you could call it interior design, but we think that’s too generic a term”), a self-styled “integrative design strategy which, with careful means, is aimed simultaneously at designing the spatial company identity and at structural improvements in the actual work environment”. The term was borrowed from the practice of plastic surgery, as recipients of such treatment receive a nip here and a tuck there – just enough to revive weary elements, but not a whole new face. But OfficeLifting is about much more than just semantics. A fundamental aspect of the approach is the use of design to harmonise the formulation of external company branding with internal authenticity – bearing great resemblance to the citywide effort to secure a new identity for Berliners without losing any more of the old one. “During my time in England and the States I encountered a much more developed awareness towards the intrinsic qualities of an intentionally formed space (as opposed to mere ‘hip design’),” says Zwingel, “and there was a greater openness there to provide a reasonable budget to achieve it. Berlin is a great place to watch all sorts of recycling, tuning and the recharching of spaces and objects on a highly individual level, but in the end it all comes down to money and Berlin, or perhaps Germany in general, has certainly not been a place where money was found on the streets and available to spend easily.” Thankfully, expense isn’t an issue when it comes to OfficeLifting. All improvements are bespoke and tailored to budget, and despite the outlay being joyfully inexpensive, it’s clear from raumteam:92’s past projects that the results clients can expect are quite outstanding. In the case of Schröder+Schömbs, a public relations company based in Berlin Mitte, utilising textile partitions enabled the firm flexibility in terms of spatial division. The makeshift walls play confidently with the building’s depth and lighting conditions too, offering a sense of identity to a design that had previously been defined by clutter. Likewise, at Zucker PR, also located in Berlin Mitte, working with a budget Zwingel describes as “minute” proved inspiration on the project rather than the hindrance it might typically have been. The team enjoyed much success through the simple and subtle implementation of plants; the architects hung flower boxes with the help of a carpenter, and stencilled plant-like visuals on the walls, which wove an energising green thread through the Zucker office to “revitalise” its staff. “It is probably not surprising that the two OfficeLiftings we think have been most exceptional were designed for PR agencies,” says Zwingel. “The best clients we’ve worked with have understood the influence of a carefully conceived finish and did not hesitate to invest in thought rather than shiny surfaces. Working with people who are open to experimenting with their space in order to find a strong theme is fundamental in achieving more than a pretty arrangement of elements.”It’s not the first time during our interview that Zwingel has sworn by the benefits of client interaction. She is quick to stress the importance of input from employees too, even citing examples where OfficeLifting projects had failed due to a lack of input from those sources. “We have had projects that didn’t work because we felt that we weren’t able to really incorporate the ideas of the employees,” says Zwingel. “This was either because there weren’t many or the client would tell us what he or she thought employees needed, but that doesn’t work because the client has different needs to the employee. It can be hard work convincing the client that it’s important for us to talk to their employees.” But judging by the results, this collaborative approach has proved invaluable.
Interiors Group, winner of the British Council for Offices Awards 2007, have specialised in the design and delivery of business environments for more than 20 years. Interiors Group has an exceptionally innovative website, which is easy to use and packed full of information. It has produced video case studies for many of its major projects, which has turned into a valuable body of work for its new and existing clients to review. Interiors Group provide office design services, but is often called upon as an interior design contractor by industry professionals.
Sebastian Conran has design blood running through his veins. Son of Britain’s design entrepreneur Terence Conran, he is director of the product and graphic design studio at Conran & Partners. He founded Sebastian Conran Associates, a product and brand development consultancy, in 1986, after working as head of product design for Mothercare. In 1992, he started a separate partnership with Tom Dixon, only to merge the SCA studio with the Conran Group to form Conran & Partners in 1999. Conran has written many books, judged numerous competitions, won even more awards and is an active member of several design-related bodies. He is currently working on 33 design projects ranging from tableware and bathrooms to hotels and luxury yacht interiors.Linda Morey Smith
Linda Morey Smith is managing director of award-winning interior design practice MoreySmith, which she founded in 1993, specialising in workplace consultancy (see cover story, onoffice 03). Her clients include Sony BMG, EMI, Nokia and Arup. Morey Smith is celebrated in the industry for her use of colour and material that soften the workplace. Ever since her practice’s fit-out of the EMI HQ off High Street Kensington, Morey Smith has been leading the contemporary office fit-out movement from the front.Ben Kelly
Ben Kelly studied at London’s Royal College of Art and founded Ben Kelly Design in 1977. From the start his projects challenged common perceptions of space, such as the Howie store in Covent Garden and the famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. Other projects range from museums and exhibitions to offices and residential design. Kelly’s work has been consistently creative and described as being “a mix of the poetic and pragmatic”. His current projects include Gymbox in Cornhill, Stubbs Mill in Manchester and the Public, West Bromwich.!-
Ten principles of discerning design 1 Discerning design is innovative, imaginative and original2 Discerning design makes a product useful and usable3 Discerning design is aesthetic to see and touch4 Discerning design helps us to understand and use a product5 Discerning design is special and has personality6 Discerning design has integrity7 Discerning design is durable and lasting8 Discerning design is consequent to the last detail9 Discerning design is concerned with ethics and the environment10 Discerning design is as little design as possible. Back to purity, back to simplicity-->
Alfredo Häberli lives and works in Zurich, but was originally born in Buenos Aires and, working for just about every one of the design greats (Alias, Edra, Driade, Zanotta, Moroso and others), spends much of his time Italy-bound.
Last in London for the Schiffini Primo Anniversario party in February, he returned in March for an exhibition of his work for Alias at the Coexistence showroom in Islington. It was also a chance to showcase Häberli’s new Plein Air chair for Alias, which boasts a characteristically minimal frame and removable stretch-over “jacket”.
Among the compendium of Häberli-designed office chairs that line the showroom wall is one of Alias’ bestselling products, Taormina, and the TT sofa, which has taken home in many receptions, hotels and public spaces. It is hardly the cosy Laura Ashley style of sofa that we may lean towards in this country, (understandably, considering the stormy weather March has to offer), but building heavily upholstered sofas from huge clumsy wooden constructs is “very strange”, according to Häberli. He is far more taken with lightness, and the ability to give the impression that a piece of furniture is “almost floating”. Looking at the Classicon table for Skaia and the Take Off chair for Moroso, this is an illusion he comes considerably close to achieving, not a mean feat in the art of furniture design.Over a decade ago, Häberli was busy collaborating with Christophe Marchand on the SEC shelf system for Alias, pioneering the way in interlocking mutable storage for the office. Working with the brand back when there was only one product developer is what brought on the silver hair, he jokes. His long-standing relationship with the company is obviously one that is valued on both sides. He describes his colleagues there as great friends, and great critics. “Unless it is a project we both want to work on, we won’t do it,” he says.While accruing a client list ranging from Camper to Volvo, Häberli carefully manages to sustain the roles of both international and hands-on designer. In his office in Zurich, which he describes as “not like an advertising agency” but “full of normal things: books [he is a self confessed book ‘maniac’], models and materials”, he works with six other people, meaning that around 12 projects hang in the balance at any one time. “This is a good number. It gives me control over what is happening, and means it is my way of thinking that goes into each project. Too many people and I would not be able to follow everything that goes on.”It’s also a question of economics. “We can all work on a good salary and have a good life; if we employed more we might have to take on work we didn’t want to do,” says Häberli – a strict faux pas in his work ethic. Current projects underway at the Häberli studio include a dedicated 1,000sq m exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, beginning 26 June – “A thank you, I think,” he says, for representing Switzerland in the International sphere – and the fit out of a cafe in Copenhagen, involving everything from furniture to decor.Projects leading up until now have ranged from everything from furniture and fit outs to tableware, footware, jewellery and bags. Next on his agenda is an upholstery design for Dutch company Kvadrat. “You don’t recognise my handwriting immediately, in the way you might with Marc Newson or a Ross Lovegrove,” he says. “But if you look twice, you may be able to tell from the way something has been designed.”“Personal experience,” he adds, plays a big part in informing his way of thinking and method of working. Designing a range of bags for German leather designers Colins, for example, made perfect sense to Häberli. “As I am on the move a lot I often arrive somewhere for two nights, with presentations, working papers and a change of clothes. I want a bag that looks cool, but is not too much like a travel bag and not too much like a business bag or briefcase. By my side [his design for Colins, about to be followed up with a new range] is not a fashion bag, it’s quite graphic.”Ginger Stool, for Spanish company BD Ediciones – designed with a shelf underneath to keep your personal belongings safe when in public spaces – similarly comes from experiences of being on the move. “I like to bring extra value to a product, add extra secrets,” Häberli explains, with an almost mischievous air.Often, it is this close observation, and experience of lifestyle, and workstyle, and the subtle changes in each, which leads to his discovery of “different typologies” in furniture design. Or, in simpler terms, his experimentations in “gluing different furniture ideas together.” These new typographies have included the Wing “sofa and table in one” for Edra, designed ten years ago when people began to use the internet at home and surf around on their laptop for short bursts of time. While the Solitaire, designed 15 years ago for Offecct, is the fusion of a low chair with a small table; an evolution of the auditorium chair to fit the aesthetics of the office. “It came from when I was in Stockholm; I was always in meetings on sofas using low tables, and I just thought about a piece of furniture which would fulfil both needs,” says Häberli.“You could use one now,” he points out, as I scribble notes on to the low table in front of the low chairs we are seated on. Of the projects underway in the studio at the moment, many can take anything up to two years from conception to final product. “It’s long distance, a marathon you might say,” he explains. “It is important to keep good conditions, mentally. The first step is always the heavy one; you are searching for the idea and creating prototypes.” This is the stage where he is most heavily involved. “Then there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. It is a complicated process.”At this point (in his 40s, running multiple concurrent projects from the studio), closing down the studio three days a week to teach, for example, is not an option for Häberli. He does, however, fit in guest lectures where possible, and has published a book (“more like a pamphlet”) for students, containing his secrets of success in the design world. His latest book, published to coincide with his guest of honour appointment at the Interieur Bienale 2006 in Belgium, is more typical of his ability to see things through new eyes. Seven of Switzerland’s top contemporary artists were invited to take pieces of his furniture and create art installations from them. “It has my furniture in it, but it is a book about the artwork, what the artists do with it,” says Häberli.“The Swiss don’t want to be stars,” he explains. “They just want to work, have freedom and remain down to earth.” In the middle of explaining this, he spots a friend, and colleague, through the window outside, pulls a crazy face and waves a crazy wave. It’s disarming, and revealing of the playful streak that runs through what he does, despite his serious international status.
Railway arches, abandoned warehouses, bus shelters – we all know where graffiti is meant to live, right? We also know that it’s generally uninvited and, if the powers that be carry through on their promises, it will be painted over or removed as swiftly as possible. Despite the fame of artists like Banksy, whose work is preserved and sold for substantial amounts of cash, the perennial argument around graffiti rages on. Is it art or vandalism? Is it a vital part of the urban landscape or an eyesore that devalues property? And now, perhaps a more intriguing question has cropped up – does it belong on the walls of offices?Considering how many artists are being commissioned to bring graffiti into the workplace, the answer is shaping up to be an overwhelming “yes” – and it’s not only quirky design companies who are doing it. Multinational corporations are also in on the trend.Feel free to chuckle at the thought of corporate personnel brainstorming in a meeting room with tagged-up tables and chairs and a graffiti-covered wall (good backdrop for PowerPoint presentations, one presumes?). Yet this very scenario can be found at the Rotterdam headquarters of Unilever, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of food and home products. The corporate giant had the job done by a group of Dutch graffiti artists called the LastPlak Crew. Of course, there are the more obvious unions of office and graffiti. The television studios of Nuts magazine employed graffiti artists to paint the length of a corridor leading to its primary offices, which somehow befits a rowdy, lads mag atmosphere.Contributing artist Kev Mundy from UndertheHat, a graffiti graphics and clothing company in Basingstoke, says that positive feedback from the job has led to more work.Most of the projects are in trendier offices, says Mundy, although he has also done graffiti in the Wholesale Warehouse in east London – so it’s not just the cool crowd who see the value of this particular art form.“Omar, one of the owners of the warehouse, takes his clients into his office with graffiti to create a more relaxed and friendly environment,” explains Mundy. “He told me to make it young and fresh with lots of bright colour. The other rooms are stale and old-looking but now that one is quite young and hip.”So when did graffiti transition from an illegal form of self-expression on the street to a viable design element? “I do think that graffiti is in vogue right now,” says Felipe Falé, business manager for office design company Iduna. “It’s being approached as a decoration item but there is more to it. It’s an affirmation of a whole urban aesthetic that needs to be addressed and should have a place in the mind of the modern designer.”At the Ofitec show in Madrid, Iduna showcased its collaboration with Portuguese graffiti artist Francisco Bernardo – plain white storage cabinets sprayed with graffiti images. The ideas went far beyond the visuals themselves though.“We don’t want to see it as a trend. We want to see it as a way of demystifying the graffiti as an act of vandalism, and demystifying the idea of a cabinet as just a cabinet,” says Falé. “It is the irreverence of the graffiti clashing with the architectural design of the cabinet. Graffiti is part of a new language that aims not to obscure or damage the base material, but to raise awareness of its versatility and ability to endure change.”But not all graffiti in work environments has originated with such lofty ideals. Office Projects Ltd in London was inspired to install a tongue-in-cheek graffiti mural after its premises were broken into, laptops and key equipment stolen and spray-painted tags left behind on a brand new wall of storage units.“They made a right mess of the place. We were in the midst of doing a mini-refit so we decided to take the mickey out of ourselves and enhance the graphic wall as a reminder of the urban environment we live in,” says marketing manager David Nagy. “As an organisation, we take what we do very seriously, but we still like to have a little bit of a laugh at our own expense. The great thing about urban art applied in this way is that we can change it easily – in the same way that real graffiti evolves.”However, Elliot Thorpe of graphics firm Genix, who carried out the work for Office Projects Ltd, reveals that the mural isn’t graffiti in the proper sense. Instead, a “graffiti effect” was created from images and self-adhesive vinyl. Thorpe says the demand for such graphics is growing as offices try to tart things up a bit, such as the graffiti-type graphics in Richard Hywel Evans’ offices that nod to the firm’s new East End location.“It’s a reaction to our environment – there is a lot of graffiti around here. It’s a very different feel from where we came from in the West End,” explains sales manager Dickon Hayward. The graphics are abstracted images of the firm’s past projects – though indistinguishable as such. The colour and scale of the photographic images have been tinkered with, then traced over, to create the graffiti-type graphics.“Our office is in an old warehouse building and it was a real ramshackle place when we moved in,” says Hayward. “In the process of doing that, the graphics wall seemed a more exciting option than painting.”Aesthetic enhancement, artistic collaboration, reaction against robbery, reflection of an urban environment – most people would agree that these are all valid reasons to use graffiti in the office.Most people, that is, except Roy Johnson, a member of the UK’s Anti-Graffiti Association, who has been highly vocal in various forums against the illegal act of graffiti and its promotion. What does he make of the idea of graffiti slowly seeping into offices?“The Association is not in favour of anything that glorifies or attempts to glorify graffiti,” he barks. “If it’s acceptable in the office, it’s acceptable out there in the world. It worries me that young people will see it and then think it’s acceptable to put it on wall cabinets, chairs and then… out on the street!!” Harrumph.Come on Roy, all the kids are doing it…