The material aim of designers is a good final product. If it’s reached, it can become an icon or embed itself in the everyday life of many. A whole lot goes into a design that makes it to production, though. A chair can sit pieced together, immobile in a room, but to get it there, a sequence of action must go on to produce it. This is the sweat, after the blood and tears of it actually being designed (smiles and joy, too, don’t worry). Rafael Nadal can see the ball’s entire path, his actions are pent up in his muscles and planned in his mind, but until the actual stroke that hits the yellow round back, no points are possible.
The creation of a beautiful, functional object is itself beautiful. It is not as often thought about as the design, and it’s documentation isn’t always there to enrich the final product. It is a major chunk of the whole process, and where craftsmanship and skill transfer an ethereal idea into a physical tool.
Here are two crafted videos of great designs that celebrate the process of manufacturing them. The Eames need no introduction (nor, maybe, this video as it makes its rounds across sites), but the Triz In (‘wedge’ in Hebrew) stool by Michael Blumenfeld is worth mentioning as a well designed, well constructed contemporary piece. So here they are:
Studio Two Four Eight’s designs look almost Scandinavian in their straight-forwardness, but they come from out of Thailand. They play up the structure of the design through natural coated wood, sometimes in combination with white or black metal components. A look through their gallery shows the sleek simplicity of their catalogue alongside some shots from factory production. These in-the-process insights reveal the craftsman details and basis of Two Four Eight’s design.
On top of that, they have a coffee table that makes good use of acrylic. Acrylic plastic has been on the market, and hence a medium for designers to use any way they could, since the 30’s. It is still an innovation and has a modern aura to it. But what does making furniture out of acrylic usually do? It makes it see-through. What does making it see-through achieve? Typically, nothing. It is a novelty. I picture acrylic furniture littering Liberace’s mansion.
This piece sits well with me because it uses transparency for a purpose, and its selection acknowledges acrylic’s material properties. It isn’t showing pointlessly what you’re not going to sit on, using an acrylic chair for example. It is exposing a well-designed and implemented structure. The acrylic highlights the materiality, language, and engineering of the wood support, instead of being the focus itself. Acrylic also fits in with the slightly raw or industrial aesthetic and construction. It is worked like the wood making up the rest of the piece, with drill holes and dowels attaching it; glass wouldn’t work so well for this. Likewise, it’s synthetic makeup pairs well with the unfinished wood. The use of acrylic is coherent and functional in the INF Coffee Table.
I also really like the stools in the same INF collection and similarly designed by Purim K. They have nicely faceted, metal seat pans and well-crafted wooden joints. No digression involving material or construction here.
A good overview of acrylic:
Rarely is it the rug on a page of a design magazine that catches my eye. A new furniture line debuted at a recent show in Barcelona? Yes. A lamp formed from flexuous folds of bent wood? Yes. But a rug? It has to really be something to bypass my bias. The Losange rug by the Bouroullec brothers for Nanimarquina does this easily. The contemporary version of a classic Persian rug plays with 13 colors and simple geometry in a fun way, even in the edges. It is also well made; handcrafted in Northern Pakistan of hand-spun afghan wool.
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec don’t just make rugs, though. Their portfolio includes an array of designs; dinnerware, multiple museum exhibits, a floating house for artists, an ipad app. Their aesthetic is smooth and minimal, but also fun and colorful. The Osso chair is one of my favorites and is also representative of this aesthetic, not to mention design approach. It combines ‘manual know-how’ with CNC routing to piece together smooth, wood parts with precision joinery. It’s a celebration of so much: material, craftsmanship, technology, tradition, color (if you choose), minimalism; so much!
I also appreciate their acknowledgement of the art of sketching in the design process. Under their most recent exhibit for the Vitra Design Museum, the caption includes:
‘…even in the age of computers, drawing remains an indispensable tool for many designers, as it makes it possible to capture spontaneous, sometimes unexpected design ideas on paper and to develop an individual formal language. (Mateo Kries)’
The balance and interplay of human touch and technological solutions in the Bouroullec brothers’ design process shows through their portfolio.Whether it’s a Persian rug or a wooden chair, their portfolio provides a lot to catch the eye.
Every example of design I find compelling, every design that succeeds in the long run, takes into account craft and materiality. Two individuals who are sincere to these two design aspects, through their American hardwood furniture, are Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer of Ali Sandifer Studio.
Their style is minimal and clean, their craft and care obvious. They know their medium, down to what family-owned forest they source their lumber from. Taking up to six weeks of hand construction, the final product is an embodiment of the wood’s spirit, expressed in grains and joints.
Ranging from a chair and credenza to a desk and coffee table (and with names like Edith and Zaide), Ali Sandifer’s seven product line addresses most furniture types. Each piece is a dialogue between the naturally finished walnut, ash, or rift white oak surfaces and functional space. Looking at the intelligent, lucid movements of the furniture, I can easily picture the craftsmen as well as the tree. Combined in Ali Sandifer’s studio, the result of these two is truly compelling, successful design.