Design art group Based Upon are the darlings of the luxury market

Liquid metal and a fondness for context have made the brothers behind furniture and design art group Based Upon the darlings of the luxury market. Trish Lorenz sees what the future holds for Ian and Richard Abell

Materials and surfaces play an important role in design, but there are few groups that have built an entire business around them. London group Based Upon is an exception. It works specifically and almost exclusively with liquid metal, creating furniture, architectural interventions and design art pieces that command you to touch them.

In its uncured form, liquid metal can be worked with as if it were paint (brush or spray on to the substrate of your choice), but once it cures it resembles metal, from silver and aluminium to brass and gold. Based Upon takes the material and handcrafts it, adding resins and other substances to its designs, creating textures and marks, sanding and polishing. The results are pieces that deceive the eye/ huge curving metal tables, sculptural designs that seamlessly graduate from silver to gold, vast metal wall panels light enough to be used on board yachts.

Next month the group’s work will be part of an exhibition at Kenny Schachter’s Rove Gallery in London. Called Midsummer Dream and curated by Helen Chislett, the exhibition will include new products by Based Upon alongside work by Rolf Sachs,Jessica Zoob, Carolyn Quartermaine, Karl Smith and the Inchbald School of Design.

The group’s contribution is still under wraps, but its work is always rooted in place; each piece has a story, be it of Central Park (where it designed a piece for a property development using casts of leaves, pavements and graffiti) or cracks cast from the walls of a Ugandan village home (a personal project it has recently undertaken). ‘Nature is a better designer than man,’ says Based Upon co-founder and creative director Ian Abell. ‘A lot of our work is based on natural processes such as patination and ageing, and rather than draw cracks or leaves we take a cast of nature and allow the natural process to create something. I see man as the editor of nature’s work.’

The group always has a contextual frame to its work, in the form of books or video installations, proposing that its value lies not only in its form and materials, but also in the journeys it comprises. ‘Our work takes on a different level of resonance to people if they can make their own references about its conception,’ says Abell.

Founded in 2004, Based Upon are two brothers, Ian and Richard Abell, the commercial director. The pair came to design by unusual means, Richard with a business and finance degree, Ian with a degree in philosophy. After working in commercial businesses both took a year off to travel the world and on their return discovered liquid metal, were inspired by its possibilities and Based Upon was born.

The group launched at 100% Design in 2004 with a series of iconic chairs covered in liquid metal. The show helped it win its first commission – working with David Collins creating stairs and sculptural columns for Nobu Berkeley. Since then it has grown, and today it employs 27 designers and artists from areas as varied as furniture, graphics, ceramics and photography. The handworked nature of its products means the group has continued to target the luxury market – its clients include the Mayfair Hotel, Fortnum & Mason and Donna Karan. It also works on residential projects and high-end yachts.

One-off furniture pieces and design art commissions make up a reasonable percentage of Based Upon’s work, but it has also created a range of furniture that can be bought off the shelf, including the Crack coffee table which, with its cracked earth design, is typical of the group’s aesthetic. Butterflies are another recurring motif, as are maps, usually personalised with almost hidden mementos, marks and casts.

Perhaps in recognition of the changing economy, the Abells are looking to split the business in two: a commercial surfaces business to be called Based Upon Surfaces and a design art component, likely to be called Based Upon Studio. ‘The time is right to give each its own space,’ says Ian Abell, ‘but what will be consistent is that we will still be using surfaces to transform an object.’

Midsummer Dream is at Rove Gallery, 33-34 Hoxton Square, London N1 from 30 June to 25 July, featuring the work of Based Upon, Rolf Sachs, Jessica Zoob, Carolyn Quartermaine, Karl Smith and the Inchbald School of Design

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