For The Wish List, on now at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 10 iconic British designers – including Amanda Levete, Sir Norman Foster and Paul Smith – asked 10 up-and-coming talents to produce the furniture of their dreams.
One of the London Design Festival’s most moving projects so far is The Wish List, a collaboration between the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Terence Conran’s furniture brand Benchmark on show at the Victoria and Albert museum, also the festival hub. For the installation, 10 iconic UK-based designers and architects (Conran and nine of his colleagues) asked 10 young, emerging talents they admire to create objects or pieces they have always wanted in their home but have never been able to find. The results – mostly made in one week in July in the Berkshire countryside with the help of Benchmark’s 50-plus expert craftsmen – are inspiring, beautifully crafted and seductive.
Dramatically lining one of the V&A’s ornate staircases and landings, the Wish list includes items like a reversible and extendable walnut serving dish (with an equally exquisite storage box) that Win Assakul made for Amanda Levete; a revolving garden shed – for sun-chasing – constructed in thermally modified ash, by cabinetmaker Nathalie de Leval for fashion designer Paul Smith; an elegant laminated tulipwood dining table, by Barnby & Day for Alex de Rijke; and a cherry kitchen stool, by Felix de Pass for Alison Brooks.
The standout pieces: for Zaha Hadid, Gareth Neal crafted oak vessels with extruded forms both clearly machine-made and highly tactile; and for Terence Conran himself, Sebastian Cox made a cocoon-like workspace – called Getting Away From It All – in American cherry and red oak, and replete with woven screens, drawers with secret compartments and shelves for books and objects.
The collection officially launched on September 15 with a talk, book and film (the latter by photographer Petr Krejci) that discussed the making of these objects – an unexpectedly engaging experience for both the commissioners and the designers. Amanda Levete shared stories of texts and phone calls she received in the middle of the night from her chosen designer, Win Assakul, and he in turn described remembering every tiny detail that went into his hand-made serving dish, which he still “felt very close to.”
As a collection, the pieces celebrate wood’s sustainability and versatility, and draw attention to just how much can be achieved with this one material and a variety of hand and digital tools. Visitors to the show wandered down the staircase to look at and handle each object, ‘do not touch’ signs unheeded. This is furniture meant for touching, using and enjoying.
Wish List is on show until October 24 at the V&A.