23 Jan 2018
Space-Age Seats and Retro Recliners Jostle for Buyers at 100% Design
Blending 21st century innovations with the very best in reinvented, reupholstered past classics, the London edition of 100% Design was the place to be for chairs beyond compare, top tables and the latest in levitating bedroom furniture.
The 23rd edition of 100% Design once again saw designers flock to London Olympia to showcase their latest and most innovative creations, while cordially fostering ties with many of the world's largest retailers and specifiers. Rightly considered the cornerstone of the London Design Festival – as well as one of the few global must-visit expos for those in search of aesthetic excellence – its most recent iteration ran the gamut from emerging talents to established brands, all nicely niched into one of five easily navigable product-centric zones – Interiors, Kitchens, Workplace, Bathrooms & Bedrooms and Design and Build.
Before exploring these dedicated spaces, however, visitors first had to contend with Elements, a mini-exhibition compiled and curated by Max Fraser, the event's Content Editor and a former Deputy Director of London Design Week. Set directly by the main entrance, the installation was both unmissable and unashamed in its intent to dazzle with a selection of the finest – though sometimes little-known – works of a cross-section of contemporary designers.
Explaining why he had opted to include some of the more obscure items, Fraser said: "Only by bringing attention to the unknown can we elevate the importance of rigorous product development and innovation in the mind of visitors to the show. It also serves to justify just why certain products cost as much as they do and why they deserve our attention."
One of the ranges that made the cut – Saya, a collection of oak-bodied, teak-finished stools and chairs manufactured by Arper, the Italian designer furniture brand – was among those that had clearly required considerable precision to produce.
Outlining the demanding production process required to make the range a reality, Lievore Altherr, the award-winning Argentinian designer who first conceived the collection, said: "The narrowest point of the backrest is very pronounced and, so, needed to be manufactured with great attention to ensure that it could hold the entire shell. On the backrest, we needed to work on the chair's concave curving for eight months before we got it right."
Having survived the Elements experience, Design London – another show-within-a-show – then awaited just a little further on to the showfloor proper. Among its array of work from a wide range of designers, working across a diverse number of product sectors, one particular item stood out – The Gin Trolley. Created by Jonathan Green, a UK-based designer with a 20-year pedigree in dreaming up decor for many of the worlds' most memorable cocktail bars, his engagingly compact design simply exuded luxury.
Explaining the genesis of this particular product, Green said: "After a career spent envisioning new looks for cocktail bars, I wanted to create something that had real residual value, something that would look just as good in a small apartment as it would in the grandest of homes." Available from UK-based Quench Home Bars from £6,870 (US$9,330), per unit, it's probably safe to say, however, that it's more likely to be found in an airy country house than an inner-city two-up, two-down.
Overall, as with previous editions of the event, furniture pretty much dominated proceedings, with the selection on show representing both the most well-known designers and the hardly-heard-of. Among the former category, Michael Young's retro-styled Roxanne armchairs (available from Gufram, the Italian designer furniture brand) certainly impressed, as did the event's Central Bar, which this year came courtesy of Sally Hogarth, a British designer with 10 years of experience in creating bespoke installations for public events.
In stark contrast to the Central Bar's geometric block seating, the Roxanne collection was characterised by esoteric curves, all of which had been ergonomically carved with comfort in mind. Taking its name from a 1978 hit by The Police – the band that ultimately gave the world Sting – the range managed to be both impressively singular while still embodying the pop-art stylings that have long been Gufram's hallmark. In terms of cost, a single armchair will set you back about £3,550.
A very different take on contemporary furniture was on offer from Bethany Luscombe, a recent graduate of the Kingston School of Art and winner of the 2017 New Designers 100% Design Award. Her judge-wowing submission was Llia, a multi-purpose unit said to be equally at home as a sofa, a dining table or a desk.
Explaining both her thinking and the reaction to her success, she said: "I tried to come up with something that met the needs of changing social behaviour. It's all been very exciting and I have now been approached by several manufacturers, all of which are keen to get Llia into production."
Singling out its winning qualities, Fraser – himself one of the judges – said: "We were struck by how cleverly engineered and visually coherent it was, as well its brand-new approach to space optimisation."
Another new face making a real impression at the event was Taiwan-born HsinWen Tsai, a freelance industrial designer whose minimalistic approach to furniture stemmed from her varied experiences across Asia, Denmark and Italy. Her particular style was clearly embodied in theCage – a collection of six individual steel stools that interlock to form a cage when not in use. The designer, herself, bills it as "furniture, home decoration, a puzzle and a toy."
Seating of a more gravity-defying nature was on offer from Kristian Arens, the British-born product developer behind Essence of Strength. Outlining the thinking that led to the creation of this uniquely cantilevered chaise longue, he said: "After working with Audi and Dyson and then spending some time creating high-performance carbon-composite products for windsurfers, I was able to put all of that experience into creating iconic contemporary furniture."
Indeed, just the briefest of perches on this surprisingly springy chaise longue is enough to experience the benefits bequeathed by the expert use of interlaced carbon-fibres. For those looking for something a little more bespoke, all of the cushioned areas can be tailor-made, allowing the purchaser to specify their preferred lounging experience for just £29,000.
With cantilevers clearly the in-thing this year, they were again put to good use in the Floating Bed, a gravity-defying duveted showstopper on offer from Craig Phillips, a Scottish inventor and the founder of Kent-based Levitas Design. Feet-free and seemingly entirely unsupported, the inspiration for this levitating sleeping space was drawn from Phillip's life-long love affair with stage magicians and their sleight-of-hand illusions.
Looking back on the arduous design process that preceded the launch of the product, Phillips said: "In total, from initial concept to official launch, it took us two years to get it right. The biggest breakthrough came when we found that aluminium extrusions made it possible to create intricate features without losing strength or versatility."
As usual, this year a number of countries had opted to cluster the latest innovations of many of their most high-profile designers within dedicated national pavilions. Argentina opted to showcase its domestic culture with a range of items made solely from natural materials, China chose to forefront an 'array of Eastern beauty', and Italy focused on new ranges from its leading designer furniture houses, including Midj, Montbel and Piaval.
Slovenia, however, chose not to have an overall theme for its stand, opting instead to display an eclectic range of new product concepts, including the Ionex ionizer. The work of Lorena Leonardos, a native of the Central European republic, this portable and highly compact device is said to emit life-enhancing negative ions at the push of a button.
Clearly evangelical about its application, Leonardos said: "As an ioniser, its helps to rebalance the level of negative and positive ions we are exposed to in a closed environment. Breathing in negatively-charged ions can help with allergies and general wellbeing."
For the US, one national pavilion clearly wasn't enough to corral its burgeoning creativity, with a number of states opting to have their own presentational space. In the case of North Carolina, the home of the largest US research park, three quite different companies were sharing the allotted floor space.
First up was Saltwash, a family-owned business offering a sea-salt-based formula that, once applied, gives any item of furniture or wallspace an authentic time-worn, ocean-exposed look. Again favouring a retro approach, stand-mate Robert Allen@Home had brought its Madcap Cottage fabrics and 60's style floral designs on the 12,500km round-trip to London, while fellow North Carolinians JF Jones Mobiles was hoping to make an impact with its range of intricate hand-crafted mobiles.
This year, the trio had crossed the Atlantic courtesy of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). Underlining the state's commitment to nurturing its local businesses, Mike Hubbard, EDPNC's International Trade Director, said: "We now have experts in place across the world, including Hong Kong, all of whom are determined to help our companies with their global expansion plans."
100% Design 2017 took place from 20-23 September at London Olympia. The event attracted 400 exhibitors from across the world and was attended by 27,000 architects, designers and specifiers.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London