Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 004. Order your copy here.
How’s your savings account looking? Should be all right, no? You’ve spent more time at home this year than ever before – not out of choice, though, oh no. You have been “saving lives” and, as a result, the nationwide lockdown has prevented you from drinking, eating, grinding and the rest ever since BoJo pulled down the corona curtain in mid-March. So… without pints to sip, Big Macs to scoff and Tube rides to get you into work during those sorry months, how’s your savings account looking?
If it’s less student, more proper adult, you should probably consider investing your hard-saved-cash on kitting out your home. Because, chances are your humble abode has become a sort of second skin where, like it or not, you’re spending 90 per cent of your time. Pubs still don’t feel normal normal, and nightclubs are out of the question. Meanwhile, working from home is the new working-working – we’re past sleeping in and fooling our bosses that we’re up and raring to go. Tehe.
The designers we profile here are producing really good stuff. Through their chairs and coffee tables, light fixtures and candle holders, they’re proving that furniture design doesn’t have to be the preserve of wafty poshos and middle-class dads with workshops in their back gardens. Instead, this lot are showing us what the future of furniture design can look like: a little bit bonkers, very much thoughtful, and even a bit sexy. And made by sound people, too.
Just don’t expect any of them to know what DFS stands for (Direct Furnishing Supplies).
Crack open the sherry, it’s Kate Merry. Residing in Falmouth, Cornwall, the 39-year-old designer really lives up to her name. She’s a bundle of joy, and her designs are the result of one fateful evening spent on an East London street.
“In 2009 I found a broken Egyptian cat sculpture with its head smashed off,” she recalls. “Then a few metres down the road I found a tiny china pig head. ”When she got home after that, er, experience, Kate put the cat and pig together with Blu Tack, and the rest is history.
These days she’s more into candlestick holders, so they become dinner party centrepieces. Surreal, nightmarish and “open to interpretation”, Merry explores historical working-class characters (mostly women) from the American West and the British Industrial Age. She likes to fuse their stories with contemporary sports, acid rave colours and sexual iconography.
Design for her is about happiness. Merry loves creating these hyper-magical totems that are whisked off to people’s homes. And, ever the fantasist, in 10 years she hopes to make her candlestick holders huge, fill a theme park with them all aglow, blasting tunes and squirting water and custard over everyone.
Only if it’s Ambrosia, Kate.
Kate thinks the most important issue in design right now is that there are not enough nipples. On her sofa she loves to watch hours of Below Deck while “deep-throating” vegan chocolate bars, and likes to think that DFS stands for “dangerously funky sofas”.
Kusheda Mensah has designed a sofa in the shape of a hand. A hand! So every time you perch your bum on it you can pretend you’re in God’s five-fingered safety net. Nah, not really.
Mensah is a bright 29-year-old conceptual furniture designer from Peckham, South London, and set up her business, Modular by Mensah, in April 2018. Ever since, she’s encouraged social design: “The focus is bringing people together in all kinds of communal spaces,” says the British-Ghanaian. Even before Covid-19 she “noticed there was a form of social distancing caused by social media, with everyone becoming increasingly anxious from the constant stream [on their phones]”.
Comfort is key for Mensah. She reckons a sofa is made for lying down on with your feet up, and when she designs, she’s thinking about your pleasure. Yes, your pleasure.
“I’m thinking about how people from all walks of life will come together and share this space for a short while, and how best I can facilitate these beautiful fleeting moments across cultures.”
But while Mensah’s designs are a feast for the eyes, she isn’t about to put out work for the sake of it looking pretty. She’s got sustainability on her mind, and rejects anything wasteful or created for selfish purposes.
Mensah reckons DFS stands for “dumb fugly seating”, thinks carpet in the kitchen looks chic (but is actually “dirty and gross”) and would’ve loved to have seen her furniture pop up in Legally Blonde.
Tom Atton says he makes art which people end up using as furniture. Grrr. At just 24 years old, he makes bloody good rugs. They are the product of rebelling against the art school grain, having studied illustration and then finding himself skipping off into the sunset to hand-weave onto flat drawings to elevate them.
“My university despised what I was making, but I knew I was right,” the Londoner shrugs. “I wanted to work on a larger scale, so I first started with a vintage tufting tool and I’ve now progressed to using a modern compressed-air tufting gun.”
Atton’s favourite thing about being a rug designer is the experience of watching people interact with his work. “It’s so rewarding to watch people touch and look at each piece and decide which one they want for their home.”
But ever the realist, he knows not to get too attached to the beauties. It’ll only make for a broken heart… “Finishing a rug is strange – I know I will have to part ways with it so I can’t become too attached,” he says. “I think this is a universal feeling with artists and their work.” Ooooh, Atton was so close(ish) – but, alas, DFS does not stand for “discount furnishing store”.
On Tom’s bedside table are flowers, sleep spray and a necklace from his “love”. Meanwhile, he reckons carpet in the kitchen is completely impractical and ridiculous… and he loves it.
As a teenager, Tom Hancocks spent much of his time spraying graffiti on walls, until the internet introduced him to 3D design programmes. He ditched the cans and got into digital furniture design, spending his hours exploring space and objects. Now, at 30, the New Yorker makes proper funky kit – sofas that look like spaceships, bright yellow PVC loungers – and has even redesigned the Supreme box logo for a T‑shirt in 2018.
Hancocks isn’t into being overly conceptual, though. “Not necessarily because it’s shallow, but more so because I like to trust subconscious thought rather than references or social assessments.” Dream on, man.
In the next 10 years Hancocks hopes to start up his own furniture brand, expanding the role of design and integrating other kinds of designers and cultures into his work.
“But I have a lot of work to get it off the ground first, so we’ll see…”
Hype Williams: if you’re reading this Tom would love his work to be featured in one of your videos. He reckons DFS “surely” stands for “design for socialism”, and has a Nintendo Switch perched on his bedside table for those cold, lonely nights.
Forget the Billy bookcase. Stockholm’s Magniberg, set up by 39-year-old Bengt Thornefors, is furniture with a focus on culture, tactility, functionality and fantasy. And there isn’t a flatpack in sight.
Having floated around the style scene for a number of years working for Acne Studios, Saint Laurent and Kostas Murukudis, Thornefors had a thought: is interior design really that far from fashion?
Not from where he was standing. Magniberg prides itself on craftsmanship, creating cloud-like beds set just a few inches from the ground, and lipstick-red chairs with cagey detailing that brighten up the grisliest of corners.
“Magniberg is about creating a universe,” Thornefors says. “We like to think of the bedroom in a different context; it’s not just a space for resting. You eat, have long conversations, dream, think, read and have sex.” The beds look like they could sort out an acidic hangover, too.
With that in mind, Magniberg’s references are multitudinous. From Tracey Emin’s scruffy My Bed to the comfort of an Adidas tracksuit, the furniture company is set on combining textiles and furniture to provide a modern way of living removed from the perfect glossy façade of, well, IKEA.
Currently on Thornefors’ bedside table are cowboy boots and a pink rose. He thinks a sofa is best for eating, sleeping and shagging, while DFS apparently means “desirable fresh salmon” – “I like sushi,” he says.
Ever since she was little, 28-year-old Jenna Fletcher has been really fucking fussy about furniture, “which must have been so annoying for my parents”, she admits.
So it makes sense the ex-Dover Street Market manager would take her Goldilocks syndrome to create oswalde (never a capital O): a hyper-stylish online interior shop selling rare finds from 1960s Italian-designed chairs and super-sexy Giotto Stoppino magazine holders to a tower of silver ceramic Isamu Kenmochi ashtrays and Giancarlo Piretti fold-up desks. Rare.
The idea came to Fletcher when she found herself in a lift with Sarah Andelman – once-creative director of the now-defunct, but very cool, Parisian concept store Colette. “We didn’t talk or anything, but I was thinking, ‘Woah, she’s the coolest shopkeeper ever,’” she says. “That was the moment it clicked: that I could do this thing I’d always wanted to do but never quite worked up the courage for.”
For Fletcher there is nothing better than unpacking a piece of kit she’s been waiting to receive. She loves helping people improve the way they live or work, and the biggest bonus is when someone turns around and says, “Wow, this has really changed my life.”
Kind of the premise of this feature, really.
Jenna doesn’t like DFS: “‘Don’t fucking stand.’” But she’d be up for snooping around Rei Kawakubo or Miuccia Prada’s homes, and if Frank Ocean makes another visual album, she’d like to furnish it.
Top Scouser, Graham Sayle. He’s been living in London since he studied fine art at Goldsmiths in 2005 and, upon realising artists don’t make any money, he started messing around with concrete instead.
Now 33, he’s really good with his hands, massaging vast pools of the grey stuff into moulds which produce super-slick tables. For him, concrete can be vulgar and abrasive, but simultaneously playful and warm.
“I like disguising it and playing with its properties, adding pigments and softening it,” he says of his decorative tables, many featuring colourful streams of paint running across the solid, steely grey.
In 10 years, Sayle hopes to still be producing things that make others happy. How sweet.
“It’d be nice to keep my brain occupied while staying financially afloat, wouldn’t it?” he adds.
Nothing Good Comes From Comfort was the name of a record Graham’s old band did, but we’re unsure what he actually thinks about comfort in the furniture sense. According to him, DFS stands for “discounted forever sofas” and, speaking of sofas, he uses them to nap on.
It’s all a bit acid, Sam Stewart’s work: an armchair resembling a loaf of bread, a light fixture that – if you squint a bit – looks like a flamingo, and a coffee table that could become a mint-choc-chip Vienetta, depending on how strong the tab is.
Living in NYC, 32-year-old Stewart studied liberal arts with an emphasis on philosophy and maths. Perhaps this had something to do with him having a hard time calling himself a furniture designer per se. But if you can sit on it, and you built it, you’re definitely a furniture designer, Sam!
With that in mind, he’s not much of a fan of describing his work.
“The longer I do this, the less I like that question,” he responds. Eeek. “I don’t have kids but I imagine it’s like trying to explain idiosyncrasies, imperfections, the good and bad, to a child.”
Stewart reckons design isn’t just some entity that has a campaign or specific direction. “It’s just not that organised,” he says. Rather, he’s concerned with aesthetics and the phenomenological aspects of design. Hmm.
“The notion of ‘comfort’ is just as multi-faceted and hyper-specific as the concept of ‘design’,” he says.
That tab was stronger than anticipated.
For Sam, the best thing to do on a sofa is feel comfortable. Currently on his bedside table is a wallet, keys, pencils, jewellery and “various other bric-a-brac”, while DFS apparently means “dream fantasy station”. Wrong!
A fried egg, a strip of bacon and a giant inhaler. Oh no, this isn’t a scene from Holby City set in a greasy spoon –we’re introducing Sam Lepard, the 28-year-old rug-maker who has been turning everyday objects into fluffy floor ornaments.
Ever since he knitted an uncanny box of Frosties the length of a very tall gentleman earlier this year, he realised he was a dab hand at the craft.
Lepard admits his pieces are things he would personally like in his house, and that the rugs don’t necessarily have a whole load of deep thought behind them. “It’s something fun for the floor, or wall, to brighten up a space,” the Londoner says.
Outside of the rug biz, Lepard paints signs as part of his day job. He tells us it can be pretty rigid, and he often doesn’t get the chance to let loose. The rugs are his loose bit on the side.
“Being able to make things that don’t need to answer any kind of brief is fun,” he says. “I still have a lot of exploring to do – I don’t see myself owning a rug empire anytime soon, though.” We’re holding our breath, Sam.
Sam hates uncomfortable pub seats but loves eating Milkybar Buttons on the sofa while watching Your Home Made Perfect. He wishes his work would have featured in Disney’s Ratatouille, and “really thought he knew” what DFS stands for: “designing fab sofas”.
KRISTEN WENTRCEK AND ANDREW ZEBULON
It’s all a bit sporadic with NYC designers Kristen Wentrcek and Andrew Zebulon. They build something and, sometimes but not always, it turns out to be furniture. Like a Jackson Pollocked, Day-Glo-green bedside cabinet, flogged for $300 through their online shop.
Without any formal design background, 36-year-old Wentrcek and 35-year-old Zebulon’s work focuses on experimental material, like making sculptures and furniture out of fibreglass casting tape – the stuff doctors use on broken arms. For them, designing is a problem-solving process while determining how to build offbeat objects that people would be proud to show a first-date shag.
“The best thing about making furniture is that it’s cool to be able to make the things around you look the way you want them to look,” Zebulon says. “Finishing any piece is initially really satisfying, but I think you quickly get used to the stuff you make, and then you’re over it.”
Luckily, we’re far from over it, Andrew.
Kristen and Andrew love sipping gin martinis on a sofa. Once, Kristen lived in an apartment with bright-blue, high-pile carpet throughout, including the kitchen (“disgusting, but cool,” she recalls). They would love to see their furniture in a David Lynch film, after someone once described their work as “cosy Twin Peaks”.