Thursday 27 October 2016

Interiors: In with the old, out with the new

High-end top trends now making their mark in cheaper mainstream stores

Eleanor Flegg

Published 21/08/2015 | 02:30

Autumn furniture AL2 design by Mary Ryder
Autumn furniture AL2 design by Mary Ryder
AL2 design by Mary Ryder
Dip-dyed stool from Snug
Foley offset bookcase from Argos

So what's new? Well here's what some design experts have to say on the subject of 'new': "It's time to rid ourselves of the obsession with the new," writes Hella Jongerius (designer) and Louise Schouwenberg (a design theorist) in their 2015 design manifesto, Beyond The New. They claim when products are designed without cultural and historical awareness, "the designer is merely embracing newness for its own sake - an empty shell, which requires overblown rhetoric to fill it with meaning".

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Well that's new.

I think they have a point.

I've been to design events where every designer is described as "breaking boundaries" and each product is "innovative". Even worse, a lot of the hype around furniture design uses terms like "authenticity" and "sustainability" to describe products that show no sign of either. Used like this, the words become meaningless.

In short, Jongerius and Schouwenberg feel the design industry has lost touch with its social and cultural values, and that it needs to return to the high ideals of early 20th century modernism - this is when designers believed industry would help them to bring good design to everyone.

That said, they do admit it's natural for each generation of designers to embrace the zeitgeist and design something new. It's fun to keep abreast of interiors trends and to see new designs hot off the press. But, with Jongerius and Schouwenberg in mind, I'll be looking out for designs that seem genuinely fresh and not just new for the sake of it.

Traditionally, interior design follows in the footsteps of fashion with a considerable time-lag. A trend that emerges on the catwalk will be on the high street within six months, but it will take two years before it begins to emerge in furniture. Now, the gap seems to be closing.

"The interiors world is moving almost as fast as fashion," says the interior designer Mary Ryder. "The trends I saw at the Milan Furniture Fair this April are already filtering down into the mainstream." She puts this down to furniture companies like Made, which operate entirely online. Without shops, new designs can reach the customer much more quickly and the whole process is speeded up.

Some of the top trends now coming through into the mainstream furniture stores have been around in high end interiors for a while, and are only now filtering down to cheaper brands.

For example, the current trend for bookshelves with irregular colours and protruding units kicked off with MDF Italia's Box Random bookcase in 2011 (€2,145 from Minima). Now, the trend is everywhere, right down to the multicoloured Foley offset bookcase from Argos (€276).

"Everyone is doing insertions and boxes that come slightly proud of the unit and that vary in colour or are made in different types of wood," says Ryder. She is the agent for a Greek furniture company called AL2 whose Puzzle cabinet costs €1,950 and comes in a wide range of colour combinations. The furniture from AL2 seems inventive and fun, but it's not an easy time for Greek design and they've recently added the phrase 'Made in Crisis?' to their website. I've got my fingers crossed for them.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of just how current some of our Irish design companies really are (they haven't had it easy either). You can see the trend for offset bookcases reflected in Igloo, a shelving unit from the Irish company Woodenleg in which boxes in different shapes, sizes and colours can be put together in different ways by the end user.

I also remember seeing Module (€55), a honeycomb table by Woodenleg at the London Design Festival in 2013. The tabletop is made in a honeycomb arrangement of hexagonal shapes in different colours, and is modular in that several units can fit together. Two years on, hexagonal side tables are emerging as one of the main interiors trends for 2015.

Another top trend for this autumn is furniture with dipped legs (it looks as though it's been wading in paint). Again, it's a fashion that seems to be emerging in several price brackets at once. AL2 Dip-Dyed dining table, with legs dipped in paint or bronze, costs between €1,62o and €2,930, depending on the finish.

Among the cheaper ranges are Ikea's Lövbacken side table (€45) and the Blossom side table by Habitat for Argos (€67).

Snug from Wicklow, another Irish company that's ahead of the curve, have been making dipped furniture for years. Their Dip-Dye milking stool (€70) and kitchen bench (€210) are painted above and bare-legged below. "We developed the dip-dyed furniture the guts of three years ago," says Connor Kelly from Snug. "Now loads of other people are doing it too."

He's not worried though, the design team at Snug have plenty of ideas in the pipeline.

"If you go to the cheap ranges you'll find something that reflects the trend but you won't get the same level of bespoke design as you get at the high end," says Ryder.

"When people are paying that sort of money they don't want to see the same piece of furniture in the neighbour's house. Duplicating the work that you buy for clients is a cardinal sin, but you can tweak it."

The advantage of buying from an Irish company is that you ask them to customise the piece. If you'd like it in a different colour or a larger size, they'll probably be able to do that for only a little extra cost.

To my mind, designs from Snug, Woodenleg, and the Greek company AL2 has elements of the idealism that Jongerius and Schouwenberg feel that the design world lacks.

The furniture is genuinely innovative, it's made with an awareness of culture, and it's as affordable as the designers can make it. Most importantly, it's also playful.

"Without play," Jongerius and Schouwenberg write, "there can be no design that inspires the user. Without foolishness and fun there can be no imagination."

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