The quirkily named Addject is a conflation of the words ‘object and add’, says managing director Adrian Thompson, who founded the company in 1992. ‘We want to enhance the appeal of objects, often ones that existed already, in terms of quality and the enjoyment they bring,’ he says. ‘We avoid making bog-standard products.’
Initially crafts-based, the company previously touted handmade clocks and candlesticks. ‘But now our stuff is mass-produced. An important aspect for us is branding and marketing, creating products that retailers instantly recognise as ours,’ he adds. Hence Addject’s six sales and marketing staff, as well as four designers.
Addject produces two ranges: adult toys and gadgets, and lifestyle products.
Aware that the former smack of naff executive toys, he insists, ‘We don’t do silver balls that click together.’ The best-selling gadget is a hand-warmer, originally a health aid for arthritis sufferers that’s been remarketed and has proved a hot favourite with rugby players. For Addject’s more ‘New Agey’ customers, there’s a solarpowered Rainbow Maker that projects rainbow patterns with the aid of a crystal.
Lifestyle products include the Wave ‘frameless’ frame , a wave-shaped strip of metal that provides a simple base to support images of different heights and are stocked by, among other outlets, Selfridges and the Design Museum’s shop.
The company can now afford to invest hugely in development. ‘We’re creating a display system, for which we spent £100 000 just on development.’ This might explain why, understandably, he is very cagey about divulging any more about it.
Turkish-born Eylem Binboga, a design crafts graduate from Brighton University, makes painstakingly polished jewellery and fashion accessories in acrylic or resin in the purest, most radiant colours. Her designs – anything from small, subtle earrings and cuffs to theatrical, statement-making necklaces and chokers – are boldly shaped, geometric and hard-edged.
A chance encounter with stylist Katie Hillier at one London Fashion Week, where she was exhibiting, propelled her to a runaway success. Hillier promptly put her into contact with fashion designer Marc Jacobs, for whom she now designs along with hipper-than-thou labels Luella, Frost French and House of Jazz.
Her work was also displayed in At Home With Plastics, an exhibition about the history of plastics, at the Geffrye Museum in London.
Binboga will be showing mainly jewellery at East London Design Show. It is, after all, her main passion. But this increasingly multidisciplinary designer is also one half of Blue Eye Design. Founded in 1999 with fellow Brighton graduate Graham Harradine, it produces interiors products: mirrors, vases, screens, wallhangings and lighting in acrylic and resin, this time unexpectedly juxtaposed with other materials. ‘At the moment, we’re trying out combining plastics with hardwoods to make furniture and accessories such as chopping boards,’ it says. Less obviously practical is the company’s lighting, which is more ‘sculptural and ambient than purely functional’. ‘Eylem always has a 101 ideas on the go,’ says Harradine. ‘My job is to assess how feasible these are. I’m the production manager, if you like.’
Unto This Last
Founded in 2000 by Olivier Geoffroy, Unto This Last uses new technology to create furniture on a small scale that, ironically, has more in common with craftsmanship than mass-production.
‘Unto This Last is the name of a book by a 19th century Romantic who feared the consequences of industrialisation and advocated local manufacturing,’ says Geoffroy, who recently opened a gallery-cum-workshop in London’s Brick Lane with, he says, the atmosphere of ‘a craftsman’s shop’.
So far, so William Morris, save that the tools of his trade are computer-controlled routers which, following a model plotted on a computer, digitally cut sheets of birch ply, plastics and laminates into parts that slot together seamlessly. The shop’s wares – some by independent designers, such as Chris Wright and Francois Lefranc – include a bent aeroply lampshade and a birch-ply trestle table and CD rack.
There is a tension between the artificial and organic in these pieces. The use of new technology guarantees they look slick, yet, frequently made of wood, they have a warm, organic feel. And they evoke natural forms – honeycombs, sea urchins, waves. Often made to individual specifications, many are unique.
Geoffroy says making furniture on-site using new technology reduces production costs, arguing that high volume mass production is mostly undertaken abroad, entailing transportation costs. Geoffroy is keen to preserve the tradition of the anonymous craftsman and avoid ‘building a media profile’. And for this reason he often omits his photograph from press articles.
If any design group reflects the lad-culture zeitgeist it’s four-year-old company Suck UK. At one trade fair, its stand was decorated like a brothel to showcase its signature lighting: backlit slides, in this case of soft porn images, in an extruded aluminium box. Its range now includes mirrors with winking neon lights spelling out ‘girls’ and ‘boys’. Not surprisingly, its lights and illuminated coffee tables fill uber-lad Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen. Meanwhile, founders Sam and Jude insist on being known, matily, by their first names.
Their photogenic products have proved immensely media-friendly: the duo has appeared on BBC1’s Business Breakfast News in a feature on cutting-edge design. Destined to grace groovy bachelor pads, Suck UK pieces are now stocked by many retailers, including Conran Shop.
The twosome are candid about past failures. The company name isn’t influenced by its porno aesthetic, but by its earliest designs: wastepaper bins fabricated out of two layers of metal mesh with the air between them sucked out. ‘Everyone hated them,’ laughs Jude. ‘We then risked pooling our last pennies to show models of products, not even real ones, at [now-defunct] design fair Mode.’
But people put in orders and that financed their next venture – saucy illuminated furniture and lighting.
And the lads are now on a roll: they’ve also supplied furniture to Nutopia – a bar in London’s Soho – as well as a slew of Belfast watering holes and window displays for Levi’s.
Soon after setting up Urbis, purveyor of contemporary design for the garden and home, last year, Richard Mackness and Liz Pile received an unexpected leg-up from Mazorca Products. An organisation which helps designers to find manufacturers, it gave the duo a bursary which paid for half the cost of their stand at 100% Design.
The suitably urban-sounding Urbis specialises in ultra-contemporary, often colourful glass-reinforced concrete furniture, gargantuan planters and panels that extend from indoors to out, creating an illusion of continuity between the two.
Mackness’s experience of living in New York for six years before studying sculpture at art college, first at York then at Bristol, has been a major influence: ‘I loved New York’s roof terraces. It helped me get away from the country, cottagey style associated with British gardens.’ He also cites London Zoo’s aquarium and its ‘amazing corals’, as well as architecture as other inspirations.
Urbis products are made by ‘painting’ the inside of a mould with a mix of concrete, glass and polymer. The glass binds and reinforces the concrete. The resulting thin structures are remarkably lightweight. Planters can be easily lifted to roof terraces ? Urbis is providing several for a funky roof terrace in London’s Greenwich Millennium Village. The polymer, meanwhile, allows the concrete to take strong pigments. ‘Our colours range from earth tones to shocking pink and orange.’
People are realising concrete objects are beautiful in their own right, says Mackness, although he admits ‘people are still a bit guarded about bright pink concrete’.