Nine imaginative and original tables and seating designs, created by nine leading international designers and beautifully made in one of Europe’s top craft workshops, will be on show in an installation called Connected, which launches on 11 September at the Design Museum in London.
When the onset of Covid-19 significantly changed the way people live, interact and work, creatives and makers had to adjust their processes using new technologies to work together at a distance and often operate from new, improvised, home offices.
The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark Furniture and the Design Museum challenged these designers to create a table and seating for their personal use, to suit their new ways of living and working from home.
The designers had a choice of three sustainable American hardwoods to work with – red oak, maple or cherry. They were also invited to record their creative journeys to demonstrate how they approached the brief and developed their designs at a time of limited physical contact.
This extraordinary installation showcases the results of a unique experiment that sets out to push the boundaries of what is possible with these timbers and to explore how designers and craftspeople adapted their working practices during lockdown.
The project demanded that both the designers and craftspeople at Benchmark work innovatively, by relying solely on digital communication and video conferencing, to bring the designers’ visions to life. This approach required a new level of trust in the makers, since the designers had no physical contact with their pieces whilst they were being made at Benchmark’s Berkshire workshop during the summer.
The designers involved in Connected are: Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Maria Bruun (Denmark), Jaime Hayon (Spain), Heatherwick Studio (UK), Sebastian Herkner (Germany), Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska (Poland), Sabine Marcelis (Netherlands), Studiopepe (Italy) and Studio Swine (UK / Japan).
The resulting responses to the brief are incredibly diverse and personal, with a bold array of natural and stained finishes that bring these sustainable timbers to life in a new way. Each of the designs have challenged the makers with their complexity and attention to detail.
“I am blown away by how each designer was given the same brief and we ended up with nine completely different – and incredible – creative interpretations. The performance of these three hardwoods has been exceptional, and craftspeople at Benchmark have risen to the challenges presented by some complex designs and the results are extraordinary,” says AHEC’s European Director, David Venables. “This is a genuine evolution in how we work: the craftspeople have worked tirelessly with the designers over video conferencing to ensure the exact details are met. And it proves that lockdown doesn’t get in the way of creativity and creation. I can’t wait for the designers to see their pieces for the first time.”
Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator at the Design Museum, adds: “Commissioning nine designers to make furniture from wood doesn’t sound like a particularly original brief. But these are not ordinary times. We are all being overexposed to our homes and having to adapt to new patterns of working. The pandemic has forced each designer
to approach their home-working set-up with a completely fresh perspective – what do they really need? The Connected project has been a rare opportunity for them to design for themselves, but the key challenge has been that they have had to rely entirely on digital communication. It couldn’t be more relevant and we are delighted with the results.”
“As we near the end of the making it has been fascinating to see how creating at distance has worked.” says Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder of Benchmark Furniture. “The progression of trust by the designers in our team has been notable and rewarding. As we’ve gone from design and development through to production we have remained in close contact by phone, video link and photos – each designer has learned to put their faith in the look, touch and judgement of our craftsmen. There have been challenges around the communication of colour in the woods as screen settings all vary, and texture is really hard to convey digitally, but the hardest thing to explain has been the sense of physical presence of a piece…the scale and weight as we feel it when we stand with it.”
As always, with Benchmark and AHEC, the message of sustainability is at the core of the project.
“Overall, the project has shown that the process of creating at distance works and there are some clear benefits in terms of the carbon footprint of a project, especially if you can cut down on international travel,” adds Sutcliffe.
“We look forward to the feedback from designers when they can sit at their finished pieces for the first time in the Design Museum on the 10th of September.”
Connected will be at the Design Museum from 11th September to 11th October as part of London Design Festival 2020. Please note only ticket holders of the exhibition Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers have access to this temporary display.