After a fashion


Retro Futurism
Scheduled to open in October, the new Paramount members’ club at London’s Centre Point is likely to become a key influence in an emerging trend for retro futurism. The top three floors of this long-neglected concrete monolith, designed in 1966 by Richard Seifert, are being refitted with a Bond-esque interior courtesy of Tom Dixon. Using bespoke furniture alongside vintage pieces and taking its cues from the very period architecture, it is a little more Austin Powers than the designer’s other famous members’ club Shoreditch House, and a lot more sophisticated than Tottenham Court Road has seen the likes of for a while. Anticipating the building’s new lease of life, the Centre Point graphics on the top of the building are already lit up with neon.

Over in Beijing, the new and acclaimed Hotel G is also inspired by the retro chic of the 1960s, designed to target the East’s growing tribe of design-conscious and sophisticated young professionals, entrepreneurs, celebrities and socialites. An ambitious conversion by British designer Mark Lintott – who is well known for his daring and innovative interior design projects in his adopted Taiwan – the hotel features a striking entrance and facade which transforms with coloured lights by night. Chinese fashion designer Han Feng, acclaimed for her spectacular costumes for Madame Butterfly at the Met in New York, has styled the staff uniforms.

On the 25th floor of Bangkok’s Column Tower, Long Table is a new jewel in the city’s foodie crown. Towering over the city with an impressive panoramic view and pumping out house beats into the night sky, the same group which brought the city Bed Supperclub has returned with a new gimmick – sharing a meal at one table. It is said to be the longest table in the world, seating up to 70 people. The bar moves forward the realms of Bangkok drinking, comprising dimly lit hallways, intricate lighting and mirrored trickery to create spatial illusions.

During the Australian state of Victoria’s summer design festival, State of Design, which ran from 16-24 July, a temporary restaurant was set up to serve as an incubator for sustainable thinking. Developed to explore ecological principles and environmental responsibility in design and to promote discussion on trends in food such as localisation, sustainable consumption and organic food, the interior was also a comment on the throw-away mentality of modern culture. Designers were given a brief to transform discarded objects into functional and desirable interior products, and the limited-edition pieces both furnished the restaurant and were sold during the week with a large share of proceeds going to charity.

Also down under, Aesop’s new Adelaide store opened at the start of the summer boasting a ceiling made entirely from recycled brown bottles, installed meticulously in the shape of rolling waves. Collaborating with Rodney Eggleston, the ceiling was constructed from 7560 amber glass bottles – the vessels chosen to hold Aesop products since 1978 for their ‘ability to guard the integrity and stability of the product’.

Meanwhile, The Cratehouse in Castleford, Yorkshire, was named by The Sunday Times as one of the top ten works of public art in the UK. Created by German artists Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hörbelt, it is made out of hundreds of bottle crates perched on a shipping container. In late 2008, The Cratehouse will move to Kielder Forest in Northumberland.

Over in Los Angeles, the grandmere of pop-up stores, Comme des Garçons, opened its first guerrilla store in a former bank. Inside, there is a giant art installation of stacked shopping trolleys, while the interior contrasts metal units, shelving and trolleys with basket-woven seating and furniture.

As the craze for guerrilla gardening sweeps Europe, many inner-city dwellers are discovering that a liking for planting things is often accompanied with a hankering for homegrown veg. The idea of planting lettuces on your local roundabout being less than practical, What If asked how the demand for grow-your-own can be met within dense urban areas where available land is scarce.

During the London Architecture Festival, Grow Bag installations were built in Hoxton Square, Store Street and Cheapside to promote the use of vacant, neglected and undefined spaces in the inner city of London for the growing of vegetables, while on Chart Street in N1, a formerly inaccessible and run-down plot of housing estate land was transformed into a beautiful oasis of green using 70 half-tonne bags of soil. Indoor gardening was also showcased in?the Plant Room on East Road, containing walls of plant pots filled with herbs, vegetables and wild flowers.

Frenchman Patrick Blanc – who can claim to be both an artist and scientist – hit the headlines in Australia this summer when he transformed the facade of Melbourne Central shopping centre into a verdant, vertical soil-free garden using a metal frame, felt and automated watering to keep the wall fresh and green. Blanc’s incredible soil-less, sustainable and often permanent vertical gardens are famous for injecting biodiversity into built-up environments across the globe, but now his ‘organic wallpaper’ commissioned for private homes is also picking up a seriously fertile following.

If rarity is luxury, then skilled craftsmanship is right up there in five-star-plus territory. Perhaps not for long though, as designers’ attraction for all things artisan shows no sign of waning, and the lines between design, art and craft are blurrier than a night on absinthe with a French philosopher.

Especially if said night involved a trip to Le Royal Monceau in June, when Belgian designer and artist Arne Quinze created a temporary installation at the Parisian hotel last month, before its closure for a year-long refurbishment. The installation, called Rebirth, lasted just one night as part of a demolition party at which guests were invited to help destroy fixtures in preparation for the refit. Le Royal Monceau will reopen next year, with Philippe Starck designing the new interiors. Quinze’s futuristic and gigantic wooden sculpture was also up for demolition.

Meanwhile, furniture design and home accessories are more than ever influenced by traditional craftsmanship and ancient handcraft techniques. Launching this September at the London Design Festival, Mark is a new furniture brand from Cornwall that has been established to champion the skilled craftsmanship of local manufacturers by pairing it with high-quality contemporary design from Tomoko Azumi, Dillon Freeth, Kay & Stemmer and Sam Johnson.

Meta – launched in Milan – is another new manufacturer tapping into people’s desires for something a little less mass-produced. Pairing up leading designers with master artisans, the first collection ranges from a set of precious gold boxes to a stunning silver candelabra.

A major indicator of a significant trend is the fact that the designer-makers at Cockpit Arts are beating the credit crunch with significant increase of businesses reporting profit this year compared with three years ago. Championing work designed and made in the UK, including ceramics, glass, textiles, fashion, jewellery and product design, the research showed a 700 per cent increase in businesses reporting profits of over £20 000 with some businesses taking home three times that.

Wasi Sabi
The trend for Japanese food and hospitality over recent years initially brought with it an interesting – we could call it ‘fusion’ – aesthetic combining ornament and austerity, kitsch and cartoon in equal mix. With the Western liking for dim sum showing no signs of diminishing, however, the interior influence is also getting more sophisticated. Not so long ago sushi bars in the West were all about conveyor belts and manga. Today, cultural references are not only more widespread, but also far more refined.

Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects recently designed the Wabi Sabi house in Houston, Texas. The house represents a singular commingling of Eastern and Western aesthetics, but absolutely key is ‘a sensual use of natural materials’. Set in a traditional residential neighbourhood of Houston, close to Rice University and near the cultural centre of the city, the 350m2 wooden house, combines the beauty of natural materials and simple modern forms with the use of salvaged wood, bamboo and reclaimed teak. Carol Isaak Barden & Company plan to build a series of Wabi Sabi Houses in Houston.

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese expression that implies the restrained expression of the humble and the simple. In Japan and China, Zen implies an emphasis on simplicity and sobriety, the idea being that a well-designed room or garden could have a positive effect on one’s well being. Wabi Sabi is not solely the work done by nature, nor it is solely the work done by man: it is the synthesis of the two – understated beauty, free of embellishment.

Hotel Adlon’s newly completed restaurant complex in Berlin now houses the MARestaurants – including the MATim Raue, Uma and Sh_ch Bar – designed by Anne Maria Jagdfeld. The Asian-inspired interior celebrates high-quality materials like slate, bronze, jade and dark woods for a luxurious but unpretentious ambience.

The sense of wellbeing that the natural materials used in traditional Japanese interiors these days can help to promote carry far more weight in the West than clichés that are no longer deemed to be exotic. Restaurants, bars, spas and hotels have all succumbed to the healthy, calming, natural feel offered by solid wood and stone. Light and space are paramount and detailing is both careful and transparent.

Compounding the Japanese influence, timber is now the material of choice for architects and designers worldwide as alternatives such as concrete and synthetics begin to lose favour with environmental lobbyists.

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