Euro chic

Bulgarian, Spanish or Belgian design anyone? Anna Richardson is impressed by qualities such as practicality and Surrealism that some of the less established players on the international scene bring to the show this year

There are many European countries with glorious furniture design traditions developed over decades, from Scandinavian cool to Italian flamboyance. But some smaller design nations have been honing their talent more recently, and 100% Design once more provides an opportunity to show it off.

Bulgaria is the newest kid on the block. Cherga, a group of six designers, is taking part for the first time this year, ‘to see where we are in the world of design’, as designer Velichko Velikov puts it. Cherga is trying to create a structure of support for designers in Bulgaria and is keen to convey the essence of Bulgarian talent. ‘It’s a mix of the sensibility and passion of Italian design with the warmness and picturesqueness of the East,’ says Velikov. The strength of Bulgarian design lies in its practicality, he adds. ‘Bulgaria is not a rich country and our people are really practical. This reflects in the work of our designers.’

Products on show include Konstantin Achkov’s recyclable Arrow chair, which is made from cardboard, Velikov’s Cubba- Bubba five-in-one playful chair system and an all-purpose, foldable table from Ivan Arnaudov.

Another country eager to impress is Spain, which is showing work by nine designers in a well-balanced mix of shape and concept. ‘It’s hugely important that Spanish designers show what they can do,’ says Javier Abio, editor of Neo 2 magazine and curator of the Eyes on Spain exhibition at 100% Design. ‘Our design culture is young, historically. In Sweden or Finland design is in their blood, but in Spain it’s something that we have to work on. Spanish designers have to be super-creative very fast.’

Eyes on Spain presents young designers who focus on design for production rather than merely artistic purposes, says Abio. Xavier Mañosa of Apparatu is showing pieces from his Super Fax Series. Created in collaboration with German-Turkish studio Masaya Design, the collection combines digital and craft techniques to produce a series of ceramic products, including Scotch Club, a lamp with 75 facets in contrasting matt and high gloss golden enamel.

Diego Ramos’s Graphite chair is the result of experimenting with several materials and techniques, combining Tyvek, latex, resin and screen-printing.

Guillem Ferran’s De Boga stool has adapted a traditional country chair into a triangle-shaped stool, which makes
it more versatile and stackable, and his Diamond lamp uses fine sheets of alabaster in a diamond shape to create a luxury lighting fixture.

‘They all work with an international language with no difficult concepts or fashionable artistic pieces,’ says Abio. ‘Each designer boasts a particular feature in their projects. Some look for a shape that catches the eye, others take an ecological or organic view. For some it’s a technological innovation in production, for others a new way of using something familiar.’

Where Spain’s designers emphasise the functional and innovative, Belgium’s emerging talent has a more conceptual approach. Belgian furniture design is growing in strength and reputation, believes Marie Pok, art director of Designed in Brussels. ‘We haven’t been very strong in communication, we are a little bit too shy, but thanks to numerous export programmes we are sending our designers abroad more, and international manufacturers know that we exist,’ she says.

Though Belgian design is concerned with general global trends such as sustainability, there is a distinct tendency towards the handmade, local craftsmanship and blurring the boundaries between art and design. Design also draws on the country’s tradition of Surrealism, says Pok. ‘We are very Dada-minded. There is always something else behind what you see. There is always a story and a lot of humour.’

The designers include Maarten De Ceulaer, whose products are based on strong yet simple concepts. His A Pile of Suitcases is a cupboard constructed of sculptural, handmade leather suitcases that can be custom-arranged to preserve a user’s most treasured possessions. Sebastien Wierinck, of On Site Studio, uses mass-construction tubing combined with digital design and production techniques to create complex and variable large-scale seating and installations, and Gauthier Poulain produces hand-crafted furniture and lighting which strive for a contrast between materials and colours, and describes his work as both poetic and functional.

With all young designers savvy in the ways of multimedia communication and promotion, prepare to hear the voice of these design nations a bit louder in future.

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