Design and Shopping: Ply and the family home
You're never too young to appreciate good design - so why not start by kitting out the nursery? By Lesley Jackson
Saturday 25 September 1999
As well as being a wholeheartedly worthy enterprise from a philanthropic point of view, Childsply provides an invaluable opportunity for style- gazers to survey in microcosm the buzzing British contemporary furniture scene. Matthew Hilton, Nick Crosbie, JAM, the Azumis, and the three Michaels (Sodeau, Young, and Jerwood Prize-winner Michael Marriott) have all taken up the gauntlet, and it's fascinating to see how differently each one has interpreted the intentionally tight design brief. For Robin Day the most important criteria were economy and simplicity, whereas for younger designers such as Michael Marriott and Matthew Hilton, play, imagination, dreams and creative stimulation were the primary motivating factors. For JAM, multi-functionality was important, while for Shin and Tomoko Azumi, their aim was to encourage a sense of personal attachment and ownership.
Hilton's solution is a combined chair-bench-den-climbing frame all rolled into one: a maze-like playpen full of holes, resembling a lump of Swiss cheese. Although Hilton doesn't have any children of his own, he has regular contact with his nine nieces and nephews, and in evolving this design he says he tried to remember what it was like to be a child. JAM's design, which combines storage with play, is also constructed from a series of flat planes, although in their case without the jolly portholes and with an overtly constructivist aesthetic. In fact it's more like a piece of sculpture than a piece of furniture. "Watching children reinvigorates that carefree feeling of exploration," observes JAM's designer, Lee Kew- Moss.
Ever since the pioneering bent plywood designs of Alvar Aalto and Charles Eames, plywood has been associated with curvilinear forms. Robin Day, who was responsible for some of the most innovative bent plywood chairs of the early post-war period, has created what is probably the most practical of all the Childsply designs: a chair with a curved seat, supported on a robust frame which slots neatly together. In fact, so economical is his design that two chairs can be produced from a single sheet of ply, reflecting the ingenuity of an earlier, less affluent generation.
Of his childhood Day recalls: "My mother made our clothes, and father made things for the house. I must have realised early on that everything in the home had to be thought out and made."
Michael Young's chair, by contrast, uses a more elaborate method of construction. The result is a miniaturised version of what he might create for his more sophisticated grown-up clientele, which is not necessarily a criticism because, as Robin Day observes, "children are interested in adult artifacts".
Sebastian Bergne's locker-cum-shoebox and James Irvine's box bench are similarly adult-centred, catering to the aspirations of parents who want to clear their children's clutter away. Michael Marriott, on the other hand, has happily regressed to his childhood, creating a tiered seating unit with visual echoes of tractors and trains. The most intriguing design of the bunch comes from the intelligent Azumis. It's a portable table- cum-work bench, neatly packed inside its own carrying case. The Azumis have really hit the nail on the head with this design, if I can be forgiven the awful pun, because here is a device which will fascinate and educate children at the same time. "When I was young, I liked to make models of a Ninja House which had lots of tricks inside," recalls Tomoko. "Hidden rooms, disappearing staircases, turning walls. I still love these kind of tricks."
If you want to buy something really memorable for your child, now's your chance. All 12 items created for Childsply will be auctioned over the next few days to raise money for The Children's Hope Foundation.
Childsply is at twentytwentyone, 274 Upper Street, London, N1 until 2 October. Tel 0171-288 1996
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader