Wallpaper* Handmade projects have a habit of taking designers and manufacturers outside their comfort zones and turning creative expectations on their heads. This was certainly the case when we asked British manufacturer Savoir Beds to transform one of its finely crafted beds into a vertical, huggable installation for our Wellness + Wonder showcase.

‘I was excited by the whole idea,’ says the company’s managing director Alistair Hughes. ‘The Wellness + Wonder theme fits perfectly with Savoir’s raison d’être: providing a beautiful night’s sleep.’ Having debuted in 1905 with bespoke beds for the Savoy Hotel, the brand produces handmade beds in its London workshop using natural materials, such as horse hair, cashmere and lambswool, and traditional techniques, from hand-teasing (manipulating the curled, loose hair) to tufting (ensuring an even fill).

To collaborate on the project, we approached Mae Engelgeer, a Dutch textile designer who has also embraced product and furniture design. Her recent work – including a series of rugs for CC-Tapis, tables and shelves for Baars & Bloemhoff, and wallpapers for Texturae – comprises a study of curves and simple geometric shapes, and her concept for our hugging column is equally well-rounded. The design, ‘a soft, half moon-shaped shelter’, takes a Savoir Beds mattress and flips it vertically, curving it at the edges to create a cocoon; enter for a moment of quiet contemplation, or hug it from the outside for mental and physical comfort. It’s the antithesis of a punch bag.

Mae Engelgeer portrait
Mae Engelgeer in front of pocket springs at Savoir Beds’ workshop in London. Photography: Carol Sachs

‘I studied Savoir Beds to see what makes their bedding so special,’ says Engelgeer, who then integrated key facets into her design. The company’s springs and the traditional lambswool and horse hair elements are visible on the column’s open sides, which expose the inner workings of a Savoir creation. Engelgeer also worked new materials into the installation – a textile she had developed with Kvadrat, produced in a special hue for this project, and terrazzo flooring by Aectual.

‘Mae really threw herself into the project, and took the time to fully understand the skills and processes used by our craftspeople,’ says Hughes. ‘Her approach was to incorporate our strengths into the design while staying true to her vision; she worked wonders in terms of bringing the tradition of our skills into a very contemporary piece.’

Although the Savoir team are used to working on one-off, bespoke creations, Hughes admits they were ‘initially bemused’ at the prospect of creating a vertical bed of sorts. However, ‘like any group of highly skilled craftspeople, they love to try new things and push their skills to the limit’, he says. ‘The number of selfies at the end showed the pride the team took in the work.’

When it was displayed at Wallpaper* Handmade in Milan this year, the hugging column proved a strong, totemic presence. ‘I think this project is really about wellness first,’ says Engelgeer. ‘To take the time to hug, to let go of everyday life. When you do that, you get time to wonder, and that can inspire the best ideas.’ §

As originally featured in the August 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*233)