Category Archives: furniture

Out of the closet

Why does the humble wardrobe have so much appeal as a refuge, an escape to a different world even. From children’s stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Indian in the Cupboard, to farces and cartoons where everything from lovers to dead mothers are hidden in them, somehow wardrobes seem to be hotbeds of activity.

And it’s not all fictional. There was the story a few years back about the woman whose lover lived in the wardrobe, emerging one day to kill her husband and then in May this year there was the story of the Japanese man who found a homeless woman had moved into a closet in his house.

Perhaps our tendency to treat the wardrobe as a miniaturised house is an archetypal fantasy of having a nice safe nest, a fantasy that also plays out in cubby houses, tree houses, tiny buildings and caravans, Japanese tea houses even. It’s a sort of fantasy we fall into easily

and maybe that’s why Sydney artist Adam Norton‘s recent exhibition at Gallery9 was so appealing. His wardrobe, adaptively reused as a sort of inner space capsule had all the necessities for a long term hide away from the world.

All bodily functions are catered for, there is storage for food and water, as well as cooking and washing facilities.

There is even a periscope so that you can check if the coast is clear before getting out and stretching your legs.

The reading is admittedly of the most survivalist type but this is where theory and practice are synthesised into an entire lifestyle, and the clock, notebook and paper allow you to document the experience as well, thus creating a complete loop of self referentiality, so to speak.

It’s not as luxuriously roomy as the International Space Station

but it at least seems on a par with early US space capsules. Perhaps later versions will expand to fill the space available, a wardrobe as large as the room it stands in.

Of course there are more ways of hiding than hiding in a cupboard. Norton’s other works include suits for urban camouflage allowing the wearer to lie around inconspicuously in the urban outdoors or even hide within a map.

Chairy porn

There’s no doubt that some big companies have worked out that green is good and getting better every day and that the companies who push hard and fast into developing seriously green and sustainable products will win out big time. Furniture manufacturer Herman Miller worked it out quite a while back and don’t mind telling you about it, their website is like a basic primer on sustainable design.

Of course Herman Miller has always been a company whose products inspire devotion because of their all round combination of good design and quality manufacture, and not just their great Eames classics. But the devotion goes deeper, just search flickr for the Aeron chair, that ubiquitous symbol of the the dot com boom office – even God has one although some complain about it like the Devil. You’ll discover a whole world of amateur pornography, chair pornography that is, in the form of lovingly composed close ups

(Photo tim7423)
of chair limbs

(Photo mrmachine)
and chair crutches

(Photo djtack)
and chair orifices.

(Photo daxiang)
There are tasteful images,

(Photo numstead)
soft focus images

(Photo numstead)
or dark and moody images.

(Photo xurble)
There are chairs publicly exposing themselves,

(Photo kathryn)
there’s hairy and bestial,

(Photo jasra)
and scary bestial,

(Photo caitlinburke)
there’s exotic pussy

(Photo enrevanche/)
and chubby pussy.

(Photo mdd)
There’s barely legal,

(Photo mathowie)
there’s orgies,

(Photo juliamae)
and there’s masturbation.

(Photo suntom)
There’s also deception,

(Photo leftantler)
and yearning,

(Photo benjamin_)
some sarcasm,

(Photo kampers)
and a dash of theory,

(Photo mrmachine)

There’s fully clothed and virginal (you know you want me!) and for the literary there are even stories of fallen chairs restored to virtue. And we’ve barely scratched the surface of this product fetishism that proves that websters are indeed obsessed with their rears in so many many ways.

All well and good you say but why here? Well, all this fabulous design is developed at the Herman Miller Design Yard in Holland Michigan,

a complex of different buildings grouped together as if they has just growed there as needed over time in the manner of an older industrial model. The buildings, designed by MS&R, are reminiscent of farmyard buildings for the very simple reason that they are in fact adaptively reused pre-fab farm buildings, barns, silos etc but all LEED certified and guaranteed sustainable.

And now we too want some of those chairs! Anyone got a few going cheap?

The real post-modernism

We’ll confess we’d like to be corrupted and this post is a straight out attempt at getting some payola. Admittedly the subject, the Dutch designers Meesters & Van Der Park, deserve all the praise we can give them but unfortunately they have just announced the split up of their partnership.

So we’re saying nothing but the nicest things in the hope we will be rewarded with one of these for free, surely they’ll find a surplus one as they work out their property settlement?*

We’d been saving up the link to them so we could write a post where we talked about the sheer beauty of their design which, like much recent Dutch design,

combines a nostalgia for the old with a surface of the contemporary,

an aesthetic of adaptive reuse, eg this carpet made of blankets

or this sand blasted and perforated cupboard.

They have adapted the aesthetic of archaeological repair (with added windmills and big Mac signs).

And they’re even into social knitting, having designed new products for Eindhoven Red Cross volunteer knitters. In other words they are the very model of the modern cool young designers. And we’re not just saying that because we’d love to have ……

No, the real reason is because we wanted to write about them as a perfect illustration of the developing post-hydrocarbon aesthetic, as defined in this very interesting essay by Richard Heinberg in Energy Bulletin

At first thought, aesthetics might seem utterly incidental, given the survival challenges imposed by Peak Oil, climate chaos, mass extinctions, and so on. However, art is part of the necessary process of cultural adaptation. People inevitably find ways not just to endure, but to enjoy — to find happiness in the midst of change. We are, after all, environment shapers. As birds build nests, we build campsites, fashion clothing, and (if we are civilized humans) build cities. But as we shape our environments, those environments in turn mold our perceptions, our judgments, our expectations, our very consciousness.

After analysing the aesthetics of the industrial revolution and the Arts and Crafts movement followed by “the tragic interlude of cheap abundance” and “hydro-carbon: big, fast and ugly” he goes on to list a number of likely characteristics. Now if there is one thing you can say about art history it is that it can take extraordinary and unpredictable turns, but his predictions are very convincing. The work of Meesters & Van Der Park and many other contemporary designers undoubtedly display some of the characteristics of the transitional era he describes (forgive the long quote)

8. Because the transitional era (i.e., the coming century) will be one in which species will continue to vanish, and because people will find themselves having to adapt to weather and other natural conditions (since they will no longer be able to insulate themselves from these with high-energy buildings and machines), workers will probably be inspired to incorporate themes from nature into their products.
9. In their efforts to identify aesthetic themes appropriate to hand labor and natural materials, workers will likely end up drawing upon vernacular design traditions.
10. Because people living in the transitional era will be witnessing the passing of the fossil-fueled machine culture of their youth, they will probably be inspired to incorporate occasional ironic or nostalgic comments on that passing into their artistic output.
11. Beauty may to a certain extent be in the eye of the beholder, but there are universal principles of harmony and proportion that perennially reappear; and, given that workers will be required to invent much of their aesthetic vocabulary from scratch, they will no doubt fall back upon these principles frequently.
12. Since we are entering an era of declining availability of raw materials, the new aesthetic will by necessity emphasize leanness and simplicity, and will eschew superfluous decoration. The Zen architecture of Japan may serve as an inspiration in this regard.

Now go and read the whole essay, it’s worth it.

*We should explain that the reason we haven’t posted much in the last few weeks is because we’ve had the excavator in ripping up our garden, again, for about the tenth time now in the last three years. It’s all because we have about an acre of land that has in its time been everything from a general store to a car wreckers yard and a bus depot so it is now more than a metre deep in buried car wrecks, road fill, kerosene shale, endless contaminants etc.

We took on the project of fixing it up and turning it into a contemporary garden, ie one that combined remediation with food production. It’s been great fun but the excavator is now a machine burned indelibly into our subconscious.

This printed life

If there is one thing we are looking forward to this year it’s the test run of Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting 3D House Printer in April 2007. You could call it printer technology adaptively reused but it’s more a case of evolved.

So, print yourself a house then pop out to your shed where you keep your Acme MakesEverything

(evolved from the Fab@Home fabber) and print out anything else you need.

You could even print a plane.

And in a different way you can already get printed furniture. O brave new world, even if it does at times resemble a Goon Show dystopia.

PS It is worth persisting with this valley girl interview with Khoshnevis to hear him talk at the end about his course in creativity – he’s our sort of guy!

Pimp my couch

At 3am in the dark night of the soul the thought often occurs “Why is Segway?” and you babble incoherently “Down there…those things…legs… for walking… or if I want to go faster, for cycling…” Now the news has come through that Segways have been banned in the Netherlands except when used in private by consenting adults.

The lurid late night raving is all caused by the inner gadget geek’s desire for a Segway while the more rational self suspects that every upright Segway user has a prone couch potato dark side. And we think that at last we have found the platonic ideal of the Segway, the guilty secret locked away in every Segway user’s heart.

These adaptively reused couches are available from Armchair Cruisers

Going dutch

For quite a few years now the Dutch have produced some of the best design in the world. Pragmatism seems to be a national characteristic and it’s an attitude that lends itself to adaptive reuse, seen here in one of the first bits of contemporary Dutch design to catch our attention.

This is Tejo Remy’s (warning poxy flash infested site) wonderful ‘You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory’ chest of drawers from 1991, an accumulation of reused drawers held together with a strap.

His rag chair is equally irresistible.

Remy is a long term member of the droog design collective, the sort of group that gives contemporary design a good name. Look at this for instance,

a series of stickers to create the cheapest home gym around (by Han Koning, Louise Maniëtte, Tarmo Piirmets and Jet Vervest, 2002), an example of conceptual art influencing furniture design?

Or the tree trunk bench (by Jurgen Bey, 1999, (yes, more poxy flash animation), you supply the tree, they supply the bronze chair backs. And look at his reused chairs at the Milan Design Festival in 2004.

Droog even do a milk bottle lamp although unfortunately that gets close to something we hate, a style we call Faux Adaptive Reuse where new products are made to look like reused products. We’ll forgive this one because it too was done by Tejo Remy way back in 1991.

Just hold on there

Jorre Van Ast is a young designer with a thing about clamps.

This table made from a door with ready made legs that clamp on

is a spinoff from his clampology project,

a series of clamps that can be adapted for a number of uses.

So, a few clamps, some pilfered bricks, milk crates and fence palings, a few pallettes, hey presto, you’ve furnished a student household.

The production of a range of products that can be used to adaptively reuse other products is an idea with a great future, but also a great past – his jar tops are a welcome reprise of products commonly available in the period from the Great Depression to the early fifties, an early heyday of adaptive reuse. It was common, for instance, for glass jars to be designed and decorated to be reused as drink tumblers, but more about that some other time.