Brit impact

Dealing with clients or reluctant suppliers and securing funding are some of the challenges facing fledgling design groups. Anna Richardson talks to some of the home-grown enterprises on show this year

‘I make things as necessary as they can be,’ says Benjamin Hubert, and functionality and relevance are at the heart of the furniture and lighting products emerging from his studio. A trained industrial designer, Hubert still works on various industrial design projects, from vehicles to medical products. But in lighting and furniture his star is rising particularly rapidly.

Hubert’s background not only lends a structure to his work, but influences it in other ways. ‘My work is simple and materialsand process-led. It’s industrial design, it’s not design art, and I try to make things that are relevant,’ he says. ‘You might say concrete lamps are irrelevant, but they are simple enough to work in most environments in interiors.’

Said lamps, Heavy Lights, designed in collaboration with Decode London, are a pendant lamp range. The lamps feature cast concrete shades using ceramic casting techniques and combine a simple aesthetic with a juxtaposition of the industrial and natural that is evident in all Hubert’s designs. Pebble, a collaboration with Dutch furniture manufacturer De Vorm, is a collection inspired by softly geometric beach pebbles that combines rotational moulding, solid oak and CNC-formed metal; and Chimney is a hand-thrown, kilnfired clay pendant lamp developed with furniture company Viaduct.

‘A big part of what I do is getting very hands-on with the materials, processes, the factory and the people who are making the products,’ says Hubert. ‘It’s important to get as close to the process as possible. It informs a lot of the functional and aesthetic directions that my products take.’

Having worked with a number of big brands over the past year, Hubert will use his space at 100% Design – won as last year’s most promising designer – to strengthen his own brand. ‘Bringing together a number of brands under my name will tell the story of where I’m going and what I do,’ he says. ‘It’s about emphasising to the media, to retailers and future brand clients what I’m doing, and building momentum in a public way.’

Hubert’s momentum is growing, and he’s keen to encourage clients to work from briefs. ‘It’s the best way to get something everybody’s happy with,’ says Hubert. ‘As a designer, it’s an easier way to structure your business. Many people are throwing ideas at manufacturers for nothing, which devalues what designers do.’ This clear-headed approach matches the considered beauty of Hubert’s products. ‘It started to pay off a year or so ago,’ he says. ‘But now I’m getting the Italian lighting and furniture manufacturers knocking on my door, despite the economic downturn. I count myself quite lucky.’

The sea and outdoor sports are among the main inspirations for Angharad McLaren’s woven textiles. But whereas such statements might speak of a rustic and basic charm, McLaren’s products are bright and bold, incorporating innovative features such as pleated structures, recycled materials and hi-tech yarns.

Her latest collection takes reference from windsurfing sails, technical ropes and performance fabrics. ‘I always look for interesting and unusual materials which relate to my inspiration,’ she says. ‘For example, this collection includes sailing ropes and neoprene, which is used for wetsuits. I then enjoy the challenge of developing designs that make the most of their qualities.’

McLaren also does research into traditional weaving and textile techniques from around the world. Her Shibori Pleats designs, for example, are woven on a digital Jacquard loom in a structure based on Japanese stitched Shibori. She pleats them by hand, combining modern technology with age-old hand-craft techniques.

Like many up-and-coming designers, McLaren has built her business with some external help, securing funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, as well as the Scottish Arts Council. It has been a huge challenge, she says, particularly given her passion for unusual materials and sourcing yarns with special effects or hi-tech qualities. ‘It’s really hard as a small company,’ she explains. ‘Suppliers are reluctant to sell small quantities and the costs can be very high. It takes a lot of negotiating and perseverance.’ Having worked on fashion projects in the past, McLaren is setting her sights high and is keen to collaborate with interior designers, architects, stylists, visual merchandisers, arts commissioners, sports companies and vehicle designers – ‘basically, anyone interested in my work,’ she says.

Cornwall-based designer Jethro Macey is no novice when it comes to striking relationships with clients. They have included Urban Outfitters and Heathrow Terminal 5, and he has also collaborated with Decode London, Worldwide Fred and Musea Brugge, garnering particular recognition for his Lace Tile and Textile Side Unit. Following a one-year hiatus from exhibiting, Macey is relaunching himself on to the trade fair scene with a self-produced collection of furniture for his debut at 100% Design. The range includes a nest of tables made from wood with powder-coated metal tops and screen-printed detailing, concrete wall panels with bold, geometric patterns, and a stool he describes as ‘geometric and organic at the same time’.

His collection is not to be taken as a set, but there is an underlying aesthetic. ‘It is quite clear that I have designed everything, and they fit together quite nicely,’ says Macey, who tends to use simple or traditional processes combined with more complex applications. His wall panels, for example, use a traditional material with a hi-tech surface technique achieved by using CNC milling.

The design process is ‘low-tech, materials-based with simple concepts’, says Macey. ‘When I say low-tech, I mean in terms of components and function rather than manufacturing process.’

Increasingly, pattern design is holding his attention. ‘It’s something I’m moving into without really realising,’ he says. ‘I want to move that forward and incorporate it into the design of furniture that’s nicely made, but also looks intricate.’ Being heavily involved in the prototyping is vital, says Macey, while keeping in contact with past clients, networking, exhibiting and juggling projects and not remaining static for too long has been his approach to building his business. ‘It’s also good – for me – to go off the rails and make something for the sheer joy of it, even if it’s not commercial,’ he adds. ‘It’s too easy to end up not being creative and just running a business. Creativity creates energy that can be transferred into other parts of your business.’

A small manufacturing brand, Deadgood nevertheless has grand designs. Set up four years ago by Elliott Brook and Dan Ziglam, the company will relaunch with a stand at 100% Design and a range of 15 to 20 products, which it is hoping to develop to 50 in the next three years. ‘We’re trying to compete with the more established brands and industry players,’ says Brook. ‘We’re going for a big impact, so we have to have products to support that.’ Ziglam and Brook are both designers, but they are equally passionate about the business side so decided to get involved in manufacturing and distribution, as well as designing as studio name Ziglam & Brook. Since founding Deadgood, they have developed their graduation Form collection and started working with other designers, such as Max Lamb and David J Irwin, as well as talent
outside of furniture. Illustrator Jon Burgerman, for example, has created a bespoke piece of art for an extension of the Form range. Even though Deadgood is vying for attention with larger brands, it aims to remain distinct in its attitudes and values. ‘We want to create something with personality that’s distinct from anything else on the market,’ says Brook. Among the products launched at 100% Design is Capsule, a collection of upholstered seating, which counters the geometric and straight lines currently dominating the market. Brook explains, ‘The collection is 1960s-inspired, all rounded forms, and it pushes the innovation in terms of how the pieces are produced.’ Deadgood is determined to tackle the recession head-on. Funding received through North East Finance enabled the duo to concentrate on product development and ramp up the marketing. ‘A lot of companies are cutting budgets and aren’t as visible in terms of marketing, but if we can be seen to be emerging from this recession in a strong position, that’ll set us up for the next few years,’ says Brook. Grand designs indeed.

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