by Ayesha AdonaisSep 29, 2023
The recently concluded London Design Festival 2023 hosted an array of exhibitions, talks, workshops, installations and pop-up stores across 13 design districts in London, UK. While established voices at such globally held art, architecture and design events are frequently recognised and talked about, expositions showcasing works by younger practitioners attract less attention. It is, however, imperative to understand the importance of not only platforming amateur projects but also engaging with them. Projects by students and young practitioners are often accompanied with audacious and fresh ideas and concepts that are, as yet, unsullied by pragmatic circumstances. Their creations are usually the result of experimenting with limited resources, hinting at a process led by an inquisitive and exploratory method. One such showcase at Shoreditch Design Triangle during this year’s London Design Festival is All On Show. On display from September 19 to 23, 2023, at Hoxton Arches, the exhibition presented 40 projects by 26 graduate designers from Kingston School of Art - Product and Furniture Design.
“Though our work is broad-ranging, each project materialised from the same moment in time, the same design studio and workshop. We were guided by thoughts, ideas and our desires to create unique projects in a densely packed space,” the students share, in a collective statement. The forty projects were developed under the guidance and supervision of tutors and skilled technicians at Kingston School of Art, and the exhibition was independently organised by the students, with monetary assistance from Fosters + Partners. For the exhibition space, plinths and benches were partially salvaged from Kingston School of Art’s workshop waste stream.
All On Show was accompanied by a talk series entitled What Makes A Studio. It pondered upon the importance of communal studio spaces and support network, and highlighted the importance of collaboration. August Ford from Notpla, Salah Krichen and Madoka Ellis from 121 Collective and furniture designer Fred Baier were invited to participate in the talk series that took place during the exhibition.
In order to develop the 40 projects, each student independently scouted for the raw materials required for their creations, and developed them in the studio at Kingston School of Art’s Knights Park campus. “Though individual projects, all of them benefitted from the collaborative environment developed on the Product and Furniture Design course. This is something we wanted to celebrate during All On Show - the importance of studio culture during the design process,” shares Josephine Ryan Gill, one of the 26 participants of the exhibition. Post its showcase at Shoreditch, several pieces will travel to other graduate exhibitions, such as the Young Furniture Makers, due to be hosted in October 2023. Some students intend to run small production batches of their designs and explore the way forward in this realm.
An excerpt shared by the students that adeptly defines the processes that led to the creation of this wide array of objects, reads thus: “Bodged, refined, reimagined, reworked, invented, collapsed, destroyed, and sketched. Built, broken, finagled, glued, nailed, screwed, finished, and fixed. Thrown ideas, at wall, at friends, at clients, at collaborators, at space, at you.”
STIR examines the gist of these showcases and the many moods, temperaments, and usages effectuated by them.
Sustainable innovations for a better tomorrow
Some student projects where individuals have utilised sustainable materials and means to build common objects include Eden Bunce’s ‘Alburnum Fan’ and Finn Simon’s ‘Chromat.’ While the former is a desk fan made out of natural and timeless materials such as douglas fir and aluminium, the latter is a wall mounted feature light that utilises aluminium, steel and laserdisc as the raw materials. ‘Alburnum Fan’ comprises a simple and unique wooden grill design and is easy to use, adjust, maintain and repair, making it appropriate for long-term usage. ‘Chromat,’ on the other hand, is configured such that its different parts can be disassembled for transportation, replacement or recycling. It utilises a laserdisc’s diffraction grating to produce kalaedoscopic rings of light.
Honey Birch’s ‘Beech Box’ is a customisable shelf made out of steamed beech. The shelf not only demonstrates the sustainable benefits of British beech in the realm of furniture design, but also showcases the benefits of designing objects that can be customised into stools, side tables or shelves of different sizes. The usage of spindle-moulded rails in the shelf further allows the utilisation of timber of a smaller and lower grade. ‘Halved Lounge Chair’ and ‘Halved Lounge Side Table’ by Jack Allfrey, built using plywood, is a project that focuses on enhancing the CNC machining process for efficient usage of material. Robbie Rubio Denniss’s ‘Sea What Can Be Seen,’ on the other hand, is a rocking stool put together using recycled transport pallets.
Samuel McBride’s ‘Natural Selection,’ a collection comprising coat stand, floor lamp and shelving unit, is made using coppiced hazel and mild steel and the ‘Inflate Series’ by Sofia Matheou utilises rubber inner tubes, leather offcuts and powder-coated steel. While the former is a project that focuses on sustainably managing and taming coppiced hazel acquired from the woodland in Haywards Heath, the latter is created with the intention of changing the user’s perception of inflatable furniture—from cheap and uncomfortable furniture to sophisticated pieces. The usage of rubber inner tubes helps eliminate the need to add foam, padding and glue usually found in all furniture. Since it is inflatable and deflatable, it can easily be transported and tend to varying functions in different locations. The ‘Plank Plate’ by Sumayyah Zahir is a simple homeware piece chiselled from cedar. It is made with a CNC router using redundant pieces of hardwood that would otherwise go to waste.
Theo Hughes, in his project ‘Sideboard,’ uses recycled skateboard decks to build a table. Hughes not only repurposes an object that would otherwise have been discarded as waste, but elevates its appearance, such that it stands as a bespoke piece of furniture. ‘Ash & Ali’ by Lukas Astrom-Wilcox, is a modular shelving unit constructed from douglas fir and ash wood and powder-coated aluminium. The wooden panel and aluminium shelves are available in different sizes, thus ensuring the interchangeability of each part to create the kind of space every individual desires. Such modular systems ensures the minimisation of waste by providing customers multiple solutions through one product.
Some other student projects displayed at the design fair, with a visible inclination towards building sustainably, include ‘Cut From One’ by Josephine Ryan Gill, ‘General Purpose Sofa’ by Lukas Astrom-Wilcox, and ‘Fragmented’ by Ruben Bo Dower. While ‘Cut From One’ comprises side tables made using powder-coated aluminium, such that there are no offcuts left behind after their creation, ‘General Purpose Sofa’ is designed to offer an easy method of replacing its different parts. Traditional sofas are often discarded due to the exorbitant costs of reupholstering them or changing their appearance. Astrom-Wilcox’s design, however, makes it easy for the different parts of the furniture to be replaced, hence presenting a sustainable solution to extend its life cycle. Ruben Bo Dower’s ‘Fragmented’ deviates from the aforementioned projects, in that it features as a spatial installation for clubs, events and performances. Dower’s design is customisable and can easily be dismantled and transported.
Designs that inspire introspection
Sometimes, it is enough to shape an entity differently, place them askew or wrap them up in atypical materials, in order to convey a message, or simply invite a dialogue. These features, when embellished on the most mundane objects, manage to make them stand out. When designers take an approach such as this, they transcend the realm of product design to join the domain of art. A few projects of this nature were visualised by students of Kingston School of Art, at the recently concluded London Design Festival.
Some of these include the ‘Epicure Tableware Collection’ by Iliana Anastasiou; ‘Wrapped’ by Jana Landolt; and ‘A Sober Pub Crawl’ by Iona Scott Broomfield. Anastasiou’s white glazed stoneware table dishes, which can be arranged differently while serving and eating food, ‘enhances the eating experience by combining psychoscience and design through the study of gastrophysics.’ Landolt’s ‘Wrapped,’ on the other hand, comprises a chair, stool and table wrapped up in cloth. The designer intends to present wrapping and pleating as a new form of upholstery, thus challenging conventional upholstering techniques. Iona Scott Broomfield’s ‘A Sober Pub Crawl’ is a public installation that references local taverns in the Soutwark region in London, that once were. “It is an interactive, beerless journey, reflecting on Southwark’s local taverns that once were, assisted by retrospective swing signs, that contrast the past and present,” reads a description shared by the product designer.
Honey Birch’s ‘Little Chairs, Little Conversations’ is a film project by the designer centered around the stories of the Chinese diaspora in the UK. For this project, Birch built two chairs, where he intends to sit and chat with Chinese Adoptees about their multicultural experiences. Although they are designed simply using yellow pinewood and ash plywood, their accreditation as a space for invigorating conversations renders them unique. Another artistic creation that beckons reflection is ‘Vacuums Suck’ by Lucas Holt. “The design is a critical look at appliance design in the 21st century and onwards. The idea is based around a no-frills contemporary vacuum design, tackling the problems we encounter while cleaning, repairing and living with our appliances,” Holt shares. He asserts that ‘Vacuums Suck’ is designed to clean the mess and not to impress.
Tom Clark’s clock and lamp designs are not only minimalist bespoke pieces that bear the potential of enhancing the appearance of a space, but they also inspire viewers to think of and imagine novel and atypical formats for commonly used objects. The ‘Linear Clock’ presents a new way to read time, hence standing at odds with the analogue and digital clocks that we typically use, and the ‘Bow Lamp’ is a lighting device that takes its inspiration from the violin bow. Made out of ashwood, steel, limestone and nylon, the lamp can be dismantled for repair and recycling. Josephine Ryan Gill’s ‘'Til Death Do Us Part’ is a presentation comprising second-hand objects and painted mdf stands. It celebrates previously used objects and the stories they carry. “Questioning how we can encourage respect, repair and reuse over replacement, the intention is to remind viewers to look for value in all objects,” the designer asserts.
Creations such as ‘Eternally Doors’ by Sofia Matheou and ‘Fachoji Lamps’ by Lukas Schaber serve as a source of nostalgia for lived experiences and cultural heritage, respectively. Matheou’s latex creation presents a ‘unique way to capture and preserve the essence of your home as a cherished memento when moving houses.’ One can emboss the exact replica of their front door upon the latex sheet. Schaber’s lamp designs, on the other hand, are put together using two decorative regional construction techniques—German Fachwerk timber framing and Korean Changhoji paper covering. The lamps, hence, are evocative of two cultures. “The new visual language celebrates my ethnic diversity and resolves cultural disconnection through their union,” Schaber shares.
Designs that ease tasks
Product users favour user-friendly devices over aesthetic connotations that seek to solely decorate products for an enhanced experience. Hence, it is imperative that such innovations be explored in parallel with attractive designs. Some student explorations in this realm include ‘Reconstruct’ by Elia Castiglione, ‘Work Table’ and ‘Multi House Appliance’ by Sung Yeob Kim, ‘Carry’ by Michael Seaton, and ‘Bottoms-Up’ by Faye McEwan.
Elia Castiglione’s ‘Reconstruct’ seeks to ease the process of building flat pack furniture by integrating colour-coded visual cues on the individual parts as well as the assembly tools, designing instructional graphic decals, and visual instruction templates. ‘Work Table’ is a side table that aims to enhance user experience by enabling the tilting and slanting of the furniture at comfortable angles. Another design by Kim, namely ‘Multi House Appliance,’ comprises a common motor unit for various kitchenware products such as the juicer, mixer and blender. Michael Seaton’s ‘Carry,’ on the other hand, is a tool that allows cycle riders to snugly store their necessities at the rear of the saddle. Faye McEwan‘s ‘Bottoms-Up’ is a planter with small holes on its base. This facilitates a botto-up approach of watering the pot. This stabilises the soil's surface, facilitates downward growth of roots, hence strengthening its core, and helps the plant stay ventilated.
Material and manufacturing exploration
In the realm of design, technical innovations progress at par with the aesthetic overtones. The design festival in London witnessed some novel progressions in this realm. Eden Bunce’s ‘The Baileigh Collection,’ comprising a chair and cabinet made of aluminium, ashwood and MDF, serves as a celebration of the industrial technique of embossing beads onto sheets of metal. “Working within the strict constraints of a Baileigh Electric Bead Roller, traditionally used to produce custom car panels, the resulting objects celebrate the purity of form created through a single hand-guided technique,” Bunce shares. Jamie Clark’s ‘SloT-Table,’ on the other hand, is an easy-to-assemble coffee table. Clark utilised tension to hold the different components together, hence saving the need for glue or fittings, and consequently reducing the manufacturing cost of the table.
Similarly, Lucas Holt’s ‘Hew’ is a stool design that does not require the usage of glue or nails. The stool, made of ashwood and powder-coated steel tube, utilises the intrinsic weights and strengths of the materials used, to support the furniture piece. Lukas Schaber’s ‘Euclid Recliner,’ on the other hand, serves as an ‘investigation into the archetype of reclining armchairs, finding simplicity of movement through reduction of form and mechanism.’ Dowels and rubber extensions help ease the process of adjusting the recliner.
Some other examples in this realm include ‘Slung’ by Michael Seaton and ‘The Crushed Shelf’ by Jack Allfrey. While the former is a lounge chair designed for domestic use, the latter is a shelving system that employs the usage of flattened steel tubes. ‘Slung’ is inspired from typical sling chairs and the comfort it offers. This is achieved by wrapping a single sheet of fabric around a mild steel tube, hence showcasing the potential of a solitary piece of cloth. For ‘The Crushed Shelf,’ Allfrey employed extensive material exploration to achieve steel tube flattening. “The flattened junctions in the tube allow the crushed steel uprights to seamlessly slot into the shelves for ease of assembly,” the designer shares.
Inserting quirk in the everyday
Designs that subtly manage to infuse a space with charm are essential fixtures. They can uplift the mood of a space despite bleak interiors, or, alternatively, subdue an overpowering room with their toned down presence. Some designs by the students of Kingston School of Art, that manage to prop up as interesting objects worthy of acquisition, include ‘Dink’ and ‘Chapelle Table’ by Luke Deighton, ‘Fiore’ by Elia Castiglione, ‘Pelike Plant Stand’ by Ellie Choi, ‘Hyaline Mirror’ by Iliana Anastasiou, ‘Leaning Mirror’ and ‘Ridge Bag’ by Charlotte Graveling, ‘A Less Imposing Wardrobe’ by Ellie Choi, ‘Harmony’ by Finn Simon, ‘Focal Point’ by Iona Scott, and ‘Aperture’ by Sumayyah Zahir.
‘Dink,’ a sculptural table, is inspired by the form of a deer struggling to stand. Made from plasma cut steel, which is then folded and coloured, in an abstracted form. It inspires the viewer to imagine the real scenario behind this posture. Another design by Luke Deighton, namely, the ‘Chapelle Table,’ is made of a polypropylenebase and glass top. The base of the table comprises eight monocoloured petals that are embellished with graphical images.
Elia Castiglione’s ‘Fiore’ is a hanging vase that permits the arrangement of flowers upon it and the ‘Pelike Plant Stand’ by Ellie Choi is a decorative terracotta vase that ‘aims to promote our houseplants to the same status as that of our flowers,’ by sculpting it in a grandiose visage. Iliana Anastasiou’s ‘Hyaline Mirror,’ constructed of ash veneered MDF, steel and mirrors, seeks to enhance the indoor experience with an integrated shelf and mirror system. “Its two-way mirror creates a sense of illusion, whilst complementing a contemporary home, intended to be placed in a hallway or bedroom,” Anastasiou shares.
Charlotte Graveling’s ‘Leaning Mirror’ is integrated with pegs and shelves for storage, and her ‘Ridge Bag’ is a modified version of the bean bag that permits the user to sit and lie down in weird positions. Ellie Choi’s ‘A Less Imposing Wardrobe,’ Iona Scott Broomfield’s ‘Focal Point’ and Sumayyah Zahir’s ‘Aperture’ are storage shelves defined by their light weight, resemblance to traditional fireplaces and Japanese Tokonoma, and visually interactive configuration, respectively. Lastly, Finn Simon’s ‘Harmony’ is a cymatic speaker made of stainless steel and plexiglass, with the intention of promoting wellness in indoor spaces.
London Design Festival is back! In its 21st edition, the faceted fair adorns London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts including Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Brompton, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, and more. Click here to explore STIR’s highlights from the London Design Festival 2023.