From the rise of DIY designers to Philippe Malouin’s incredible year, here’s what we loved most in 2012.
1 Philippe Malouin’s Gridlock 2 collection
Montreal-born Philippe Malouin has had what can only be called a breakout year. In January, the 30-year-old launched Gridlock 2 – an innovative furniture collection made from concrete slabs and fine brass scaffolding. In April, his Extrusion bowls and plinths made with artisans in Beirut left visitors of the show at Milan’s Carwan Gallery smitten. In September, he turned up again at London’s Design Week, where he unveiled his Blur light paintings at the Design Museum, a series of stunning images depicting spinning crystals. Not surprising, W Hotel chose Malouin as this year’s Designer of the Future.
2 Self starters
2012 can go down as the Year of the Bootstrapper. New technologies, such as 3D printing, are allowing indie designers to scale-down production to something that’s much more affordable and fast. Dirk Vander Kooij, for one, modified a robotic arm to turn melted recycled plastic into chairs and tables. Vander Kooij presented his collection during the Hacked Lab offsite show during Milan’s Salone del Mobile in April, where we also saw the Wikihouse, whose creators let people access open-source plans in order to CNC mill components for building their own house. And platforms like Kickstarter are helping creative types find financial footing. The wildly successful Pebble watch got its start by raising a whopping $10 million in pre-orders.
3 The launch of Discipline
The new Italian brand announced itself to the design world in April at Salone del Mobile, housing its inaugural collection in a makeshift pavilion painted in brilliant orange and scarlet red. It was the perfect punchy backdrop for showing off a display of furnishings and home accessories by the likes of Claesson Koivisto Rune, Max Lamb, Luca Nichetto and Philippe Nigro.
Twenty per cent of the world’s population lives without access to the electric grid. That fact is what inspired Icelandic lighting artist Olafur Eliasson to create Little Sun, a self-contained, solar-powered LED lamp that’s also rechargeable. The tiny light stores energy after the sun goes down, offering children a chance to study at night without relying on kerosene. You don’t have to live off-grid to enjoy it, though; the lights are sold through the Little Sun website, and every lamp purchased offsets the cost of making one available in a place with inadequate electrical coverage.
5 Lanzavecchia + Wai’s No Country for Old Men
This young design duo, based in Italy and Singapore, has come up with a line of chairs, tables and accessories that cater to the needs of the aging. With clean lines and a pleasing combination of materials that include natural wood, marble and brushed aluminum, the line, No Country for Old Men is devoid of anything folksy or clunky. The Assunta chair, for instance, gently tilts forward, helping sitters reach a standing position more easily.
6 One-off chairs by Marni
The fashion label has in the past ventured into the home accessories market with a line of carpets for The Rug Company. This year, things got a bit more personal when Marni designers employed ex-prisoners in Colombia to hand-weave 100 unique patio chairs out of PVC thread. Each chair sports it own shape and colour combination, and when the collection debuted in Milan this spring – presented in rows outside the Marni boutique – they looked like a happy family of oddball characters. Sales proceeds went to the ICAM institute of Milan, a project that allows children of imprisoned mothers to spend their youth in a family environment. Sadly, this was a one-off project that isn’t expected to go into production.
7 Tom Dixon’s Most exhibition
Tom Dixon, London’s leading industrial designer, always goes big at design fairs. This year was no different. At Salone de Mobile, Dixon spearheaded Most, a sprawling exhibition held at the Museum of Science and Technology that brought together hundreds of designers, both familiar and new, under one roof. The 40,000-square-metre museum was an epicenter for ideas, innovation and exploration, with products ranging from Yves Béhar’s water carbonating SodaStream to Faye Toogood’s all-white installation where visitors were invited to relax for a few minutes by moulding figurines out of white plasticine. Dixon also launched his own new line of lamps at the event including the atmospheric Etch Web (pictured).
8 Nanimarquina turns 25
Nanimarquina marked a quarter century in business with a few special ventures. In July, the Barcelona rug manufacturer took its celebrations to the streets by laying 60 of its rugs out in Virreina Square, giving the public a chance to see its impressive inventory from a whole new perspective. The brand also made a mark this year with the launch of seven artistic rugs based on the line drawings of Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida, a collaboration that was years in the works.
9 Fontana Arte‘s 2012 collection exhibition
Visitors to Fontana Arte’s off-site exhibition in Milan this spring were awestruck by the setting chosen to show off the Italian manufacturer’s vast collection of pendants and floor lamps. In a 14th-century residence located along the city’s chic Via Montenapoleone, pendants and floorlamps elegantly contrasted the dramatic archways, intricate marble floors and twisting centuries-old vines. The exhibit, which celebrated the manufacturer’s 80th anniversary, included an update of Gio Ponti’s Newtone light with a fabric shade.
10 Philippe Starck’s Broom chair for Emeco
The French designer’s latest indoor/outdoor chair is a sleek seating option, but what’s most fascinating is that it is made almost entirely from polypropylene shavings and wood fibres gathered from factory floors. Normally, that debris gets swept up with a broom and tossed into the trash. Emeco is now buying “dust” from a string of manufacturers to fabricate Starck’s single-mould stackable chair, appropriately named Broom. The seat weighs less than five kilograms and comes in six bold hues.