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While the past year was marked by ups and downs, with international tradeshows once again being postponed, rescheduled or cancelled, one constant was the prolific output of fantastically designed furniture, lighting and other products from creatives around the world. Here, our top 10 designs from 2021 that made us look twice.

Truss by Erwan & Ronan Bouroullec for Emeco

With the spare, straightforward style of Truss, the Bouroullec brothers embrace the elegance of basic structural engineering. Each design rests a finely perforated aluminum surface between two ultra-sturdy Douglas fir plywood side panels, with angled metal beams providing additional support. 

Completely free from frills and adornment, the end results — which include tables, benches and a sofa — could easily be mistaken for conceptual prototypes lifted straight from the designers’ workshop. Yet therein lies their charm: there is something refreshing about how upfront and honest the collection is about its materials and construction. And while the designs are patently industrial, they are also inviting; the collection’s simple forms makes it immediately obvious how to engage with each piece. For added comfort, the sofa offering is softened with upholstered cushions, which can also be added to the indoor version of the bench. Emeco offers a choice between dark grey or silver aluminum finishes, with the latter perfectly matched to the manufacturer’s classic 1006 Navy side chair.

Medusa mirror by Elena Salmistraro

While it may seem as though Elena Salmistraro burst onto the scene over the past year, with new designs for brands including Cappellini and Cedit, she has been creating magic for a while now. Drawing on myth, folklore and the overlap between design and art, her works have the feel of joyful and fantastical objects, even when they’re resolutely functional. Case in point, this mirror that was mounted as part of Empathic, a Luca Nichetto–curated exhibition extolling glass that was shown at InGalleria, the Art Gallery of Punta Conterie a Murano. 

Its sinuous, mixed-texture frame is inspired by the serpents that crown Medusa’s head, “almost oversized, strong, imposing, rich, iconic;” it lends the mirror the ironic duality of both reflecting the beauty of the end-user — and reminding them of its petrifying force. It’s a work of art, one that exemplifies Salmistraro’s desire to embrace “the expressive language of objects.

Saint-Germaine sofa by Jean-Marie Massaud for Poliform

A contemporary design with a hint of 1970s flair, Poliform’s Saint-Germain sofa is a warm and inviting centrepiece. Designed by Jean-Marie Massaud, the modular collection is defined by soft contours and elegant proportions. In all those rounded curves, a subtle geometry of angles amplifies the sofa’s sense of depth, introducing a sculptural quality that elevates the design. 

The modules allow for a variety of linear or angled compositions — ones that go far beyond L-shape configurations. Available in a range of tactile bouclé fabrics (as well as leather options) in soothing earth tones and neutral hues, Saint-Germain combines timeless style with a sensibility that reflects our growing desire for comfort and intimacy.

Epix by Form Us With Love for Keilhauer

With the need for agile, flexible workspaces only amplified in recent years, finding a solution that is coherent, concise and adaptable is paramount. Enter Epix. A first-time collaboration between Keilhauer and Swedish studio Form Us With Love (FUWL), it ticks all the boxes for today’s ever-changing office environments — interchangeable seating, tables and storage units allow for configurations that can effortlessly expand or contract, divide space or open it up and support individuals, small groups or large gatherings. 

Developed and refined over two years, the collection boasts a warm industrial elegance and also some serious sustainability cred. Each of its elements is made from a mono-material — from the 100 per cent recycled aluminum frameworks to the 100 per cent polypropylene and PET felt seat shells — and can be easily disassembled and completely recycled, a matter of importance to both the designers and the manufacturer. Intended to “form spaces with furniture,” Epix is casual, comfortable and intuitive — basically, it’s exactly what offices need in order to help foster creativity and collaboration at any scale.

Corail table by Antoine Fritsch and Vivien Durisotti for Roche Bobois

According to Roche Bobois, Corail is a “world first in furniture — an innovation that is set to change the relationship both between consumers and design, and between the industry and its distribution.” The innovation? A customizable 3D-printed base made from layers of UHPC (ultra-high performance concrete) that allows for the creation of bespoke designs. Programmed for shape and size as well as effects and patterns, a digitally operated nozzle pours out precise layers of UHPC in a continuous motion; the composition is then topped by a circular or rectangular expanse of glass.

Designed by Antoine Fritsch and Vivien Durisotti, the Corail dining table is available in a range of base sizes, with round and rectangular options. Software allows clients to view their design in real time, while localized 3D fabrication has the potential to reduce carbon-intensive international shipping. How’s that for a dinner conversation piece? 

Gravity chandelier by Paul Cocksedge for Moooi

Gravity is a continuation of designer Paul Cocksedge’s fascination with scientific experimentation – and of Moooi’s uncanny ability to continuously launch the next great chandelier. In this reimagining of a classic silhouette, the most unassuming details both influence and update the traditional-inspired form: The elastic black cords that support the powder-coated steel arms allow it to be largely shaped by gravity – and by the user, who can decide the chandelier’s diameter. 

The fixture comes with five or seven arms, which look like “precise lines of ink” holding up pressed-glass cups with evocatively facetted surfaces. Their soft glow enhances the sense that Gravity has transformed the rigid into the pliable.

Freeport sofa by Antonio Citterio for Flexform

In a commendable feat, Flexform’s latest outdoor seating system by Antonio Citterio has been designed from the ground up with longevity in mind. For one thing, its lightweight aluminum base proves highly resistant to corrosion, and is ready to withstand both inclement weather and occasional splashes of salt water. The collection’s rugged durability complements its timeless silhouettes, which focus on clean, square lines that will never go out of style. That said, when it does come time to eventually revamp the patio, Freeport’s aluminum structure also ensures that most of its parts can be recycled.

In another nod to flexibility, the system allows for easy reconfiguration. Its various components — which include a reclinable daybed, sectional sofa components, and an ottoman — can be linked and unlinked with simple fasteners. Each one boasts roomy cushions with attractive grosgrain piping. Meanwhile, options for the epoxy powder-coat finish of the aluminum structure below range from white and sand to bolder choices like sage green and wine red. Adding to the customizability, stone-topped pieces introduce perfect table-top surfaces ready for summer beverages.

Picnic by Form Us With Love for +Halle

At their Annual Briefing meeting in 2021, Danish manufacturer +Halle asked a contentious question: “How do we gain collective trust in a public space?” This past year, gathering in groups still felt uncomfortable at times — how could we return to a state of calm and ease when getting together outside of our homes? Design studio Form Us With Love’s answer came in the form of a time-honoured structure, reinvented: the picnic table. “The proposal is to bring the silhouette of a classic park table inside,” explain the designers: the addition of a rounded form helps to promote dynamic and direct conversation. 

Picnic’s various iterations can seat groups ranging from two to six, offering opportunities to sit high, lean and gather around a so-called “campfire.” The table’s compact footprint gives it a neat and tidy look, removing the need for multiple chairs and tables: It’s a decluttering effect that FUWL hopes will promote unity and levelheadedness in hectic workplaces. Acting as a complement to +Halle’s Opus chair from the same collection, which offers privacy in high-traffic areas, Picnic facilitates connection and exchange. “The strength of this product is in the numbers”, says FUWL’s John Löfgren. “As soon as you are four or five, trust and intimacy become natural characteristics and conviviality is encouraged and restored.”

LightVision by Layer for Resonate

Meditation remastered. That’s how designer Benjamin Hubert and his team at London studio Layer describe LightVision, its headset for US startup Resonate. And it’s a suitably apt characterization. Using neural entrainment technology, Resonate enhances traditional meditation methods with vibration, sound and light for a completely immersive experience. Inside Layer’s design, an LED matrix converts natural-world videos (fish swimming underwater or trees swaying in the wind) into a constantly changing sequence of biomorphic patterns. Commencing at a quick pace, the light imagery (which is visible through closed eyes) gradually slows down over the course of a 20-minute session, syncing with the user’s circadian rhythm. Meanwhile, accompanying monaural and binaural beats and isochronic tones help to further lead the mind into a meditative state.  

Offering its own tactile experience, the headset itself is wrapped in a pleasingly soft textile, while the exacting geometry of the casing is such that it fits snuggly to the contours of the face. (Both the intensity of the LED emission and the volume of the soundtrack can be modulated by an interface on the underside of the casing, which also contains the power button and USB-C charging port.) All in all, LightVision aims to make it easier to drop into a moment of meditation and reflection – something we can all use to counter the hectic pace of the day to day.

Lemni Chair by Marco Lavit for Living Divani

In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight shaped curves. In common parlance, however, it’s called an infinity sign — and it’s where Marco Lavit’s Lemni chair gets its name. Comprised of two semi-circular shapes that gracefully intersect, forming both the seat and the base, Lemni toes the line between distinguishable and discrete. 

The sleek armchair’s supporting frame is made of tubular steel with epoxy coating, while the seat and backrest are covered with a sturdy saddle leather, available in eight neutral colourways — the result being a sculptural, yet functional piece that fits into any space. Having made its first appearance as a prototype at Paris Design Week in 2020, the piece is now central to Living Divani’s collection. In our interview with Lavit on the heels of Lemni’s release, the designer predicted the chair’s staying power: “It’s ambitious to say ‘last forever,’ but the idea was to design a piece that could enter the Living Divani collection and stay in the catalogue, where you wouldn’t be able to say whether it was from 2020 or 1980.” And if we’re any judge, Lavit seems to have met his goal.

 

Best of 2021: Our Top 10 Products of the Year

From a 3D printed concrete dining table to a Medusa-inspired mirror, these our are favourite designs from the last year.

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