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

I'm depressed by seeing children's rooms crammed with violently- coloured vulgar plastic toys," says furniture designer Robin Day. "I think this kills sensitivity and inventive improvisation." Day - the creator of the legendary Polyprop chair back in 1963, still widely used in UK schools, and now back on sale in Habitat - is one of 12 top designers who have responded to an initiative called Childsply, intended to raise money for The Children's Hope Foundation. Through the agency of the Islington gallery, twentytwentyone, the creme de la creme of the country's designers were issued with a challenge to create a piece of children's furniture from a single sheet of birch-faced plywood. The results, manufactured by Windmill Furniture who produce the Isokon range, are now on show at twentytwentyone as a satellite event coinciding with 100% Design.

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

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all