Year in review: Wallpaper* design editor Rosa Bertoli picks her 10 top furniture stories of 2021
Wallpaper’s Rosa Bertoli looks back over the last 12 months: discover the top 10 furniture launches of 2021, from Sabine Marcelis’ donut-shaped poufs to Daniel Arsham’s Play-Doh-inspired designs
The year 2021 was a great time for design, with some of the world’s leading furniture and design fairs (from NYCXDesign to Salone del Mobile, Design Miami and London Design Festival) returning after a year-long pause. This energy translated into new collections and launches that demonstrated a multilayered approach to creativity among the design community globally. Here, we look at some of the best furniture collections from 2021 (in no particular order).
Top 10 furniture launches of the year
01. Ornate collection by Bethan Laura Wood
British designer Bethan Laura Wood and Milanese gallery Nilufar presented Ornate, a collection of furniture inspired by the design of the boudoir. Featuring a bedhead, lighting, cabinets, a desk and mirrors, the collection draws from diverse inspirations and features a variety of materials and techniques. The Ornate collection also marks Wood’s ten years of collaboration with Nilufar and its founder, Nina Yashar, and it was shown in the Via della Spiga gallery during September’s Salone del Mobile, next to pieces from Wood’s previous collections. The collection exemplifies the richness of Wood’s eclectic, colourful visual universe. Pieces in glass, wood veneer and CNC-milled aluminium are evidence of her passion for craft techniques old and new, and her ability to distil cultural references and inspirations from past aesthetic movements as well as from her travels. ‘Ornate represents the perfect dialogue and the best possible interpretation of the various cultures that inspired Bethan,’ observes Yashar, ‘and a very contemporary point of view that manages to push risky boundaries to extremes, while maintaining total harmony.’
02. ‘Infinito’ marble table by Roberto Lazzeroni for Poltrona Frau
This limited edition table was born from Poltrona Frau CEO Nicola Coropulis’ discovery of a special green marble slab. A cave in Turkey that had long been mined for its reddish-purple Rosso Lepanto marble, in 2018 unexpectedly produced a deep sage-toned slab with shades of darker green: this ‘quirk of nature’ formed the basis of a table, designed by Roberto Lazzeroni for Italian brand Poltrona Frau. ‘As always happens, we found a treasure that we weren’t looking for,’ says Coropulis. Lazzeroni was constrained creatively by the amount of marble available, but otherwise, he had carte blanche. ‘The only limit lay in the marble slab’s measurement,’ he says, noting that the marble block itself measured 240cm, but his design spanned 340cm. ‘My solution was to bring together two ellipses, and then cut and splice them on the diagonal in order to create a single geometrical figure.’ Comparing this final form to yin and yang, or the infinity symbol, the designer chose the name ‘Infinito’.
03. Technicolour upholstery collection by Peter Saville for Kvadrat
A familiar sight for country folks, and a colourful surprise for others, smit marks – the spray-painted patches on sheep – are commonly used by shepherds in the UK to identify animals in their herd. The chromatic custom is also the starting point for Peter Saville’s Technicolour collection of upholstery textiles, rugs and curtains created in collaboration with Kvadrat. Saville grew up visiting the countryside with his family, and developed a fascination with what he calls ‘rural graffiti’. ‘Ever since I started working with Kvadrat, I’ve begun to understand a little bit about the use of wool in textile production and about the industrial processes from the field to the furniture, and begun to think, what would happen if the colour of [the smit marks] wasn’t washed out from the wool? What would happen if this colour made it all the way through the production process?’ The answer to this somewhat provocative question comprises an upholstery fabric, two curtains and three rugs. Through a series of conversations, Saville, Stine Find Osther, vice president of design at Kvadrat, and Dienke Dekker, design manager at Kvadrat Rugs, translated his ideas onto the textiles of the Technicolour collection.
04. New Finnish design furniture brand Vaarnii
‘Finnish design is usually seen through the lens of modernism,’ says Vaarnii co-founder Antti Hirvonen. ‘There was Alvar Aalto and a very talented group of people that followed after him, and they very much defined what Finnish design looks like. But our inspiration predates that. So we wanted to think about what the Finnish design vernacular would look like today.’ Vaarnii makes its debuts with a collection of wooden furniture and accessories by international designers including Philippe Malouin, Mac Collins, Industrial Facility, Kwangho Lee, and Max Lamb, made of pine wood, a material that Hirvonen calls ‘the perennial underdog’ of Finnish woods.
05. Flexform celebrates ‘Groundpiece’ sofa by Antonio Citterio
Antonio Citterio designed the ‘Groundpiece’ sofa for Flexform in 2001: 20 years on, Wallpaper* contributing editor Deyan Sudjic charts the architect’s history of collaboration with the Italian furniture company, and discovers his view on redefining domestic interiors. Citterio makes the start of a relationship with the company that has lasted almost 50 years sound remarkably casual. ‘I was 23, I had just finished in the army. I was still studying architecture at the Politecnico in Milan. One of the Galimberti children had been my friend at school, so I went to Flexform and said, let’s do something together.’ The ‘Groundpiece’ sofa embodied a new domestic spirit. The name is a reference to Donald Judd’s work, not because Citterio believes that his work is art, but because of what he learned from the way that Judd took sculpture off the plinth, to create a more direct relationship with space. Citterio took the sofa off its legs, and, apparently at least, placed it directly on the floor, like the Arab ‘suffah’, which was a raised section of floor softened by carpet or cushion.
06. ‘Boa’ pouf by Sabine Marcelis for Hem
Sabine Marcelis and Hem unveil their ‘Boa’ pouf, two years in the making and a delightful play on the Rotterdam-based designer’s recurrent donut motif. ‘I have this fascination and love for the donut shape,’ explains Rotterdam designer Marcelis, who was named Wallpaper’s Designer of the Year in 2020 and joined the jury for the 2021 Design Awards. ‘It’s just such a perfectly complete and finite shape. Simple yet not boring. And the curve and void create a beautiful depth in almost all materials.’ The seat is available in candy-coloured hues of yellow, pink and white, upholstered to create a shape that is as perfectly smooth as possible.
07. Piero Lissoni’s Borea outdoor furniture for B&B Italia
For this outdoor furniture collection for B&B Italia, Piero Lissoni was inspired by the concept of lightness, an idea that has fascinated him all his life. ‘As a child, I liked the idea of building planes, but they always turned out wrong, they were too heavy,’ he recalls. For this collection, the notion of lightness was key: ‘Let’s make a light product, something between a plane and a bike.’ Lissoni created an outdoor furniture collection comprising seating and tables based on an essential design principle, featuring a slim, seamless tubular aluminium frame supporting cushioned seats and enamelled lava-stone surfaces. In the spirit of lightness, the frames are minimally designed with a gently protruding foot elevating the pieces from the ground.
08. Fashion designer Rich Mnisi’s furniture for Southern Guild
Rich Mnisi’s first solo show at Cape Town’s Southern Guild gallery (until 4 February 2022) encapsulates his multifaceted approach to design. ‘How humanity came about has been explored from very few perspectives,’ says Mnisi. ‘It’s often from a Christian point of view, where there is this idea of God, or from science, where it started from the Big Bang. And then I think about [Congolese deity] Bumba and this crazy loneliness, living in the universe alone and then vomiting everything that we now know. It was so beautiful because he then fathered it, and there was a weird transition from being in so much pain and so uncomfortable to having something that was so beautiful that he takes care of it.’ Mnisi translated these ideas into a collection that includes seating, lighting, a console, a rug and objects with varied materials, such as bronze, wool, beads and leather, selecting co-creators from a range of disciplines, and blending traditional craft with modernity.
09. Artist Odile Mir’s furniture reissued through new brand LOMM Editions
Parisian designer Léonie Alma Mason launched LOMM Editions – a new brand presenting 1970s furniture designs created by her grandmother, nonagenarian artist Odile Mir. Mir had studied sculpture in Casablanca, Morocco, before moving to Paris in the 1950s. Growing up, Mason was immersed in her grandmother’s creative universe: ‘I spent a lot of time with her in her workshop in Toulouse, making clay sculptures, papier-mâché books, salt doughs, drawings,’ she recalls. ‘She was always speaking about her new ideas, creations and artistic collaborations, but she never talked about this design period in her life before 2017.’ Mir’s furniture pieces were largely produced by French manufacturer Prisunic in the 1970s, whose affordable prices and contemporary, optimistic design approach made it a popular choice for furniture at the time. Her designs featured metal structures and leather, and their simplicity offers a glimpse of Mir’s talent. She would work on early prototypes by welding together steel chrome tubes and using found leather scraps to create her chairs, later developed into sleek furniture pieces.
10. Daniel Arsham’s Play-doh inspired furniture
American multidisciplinary artist Daniel Arsham created ‘Objects for Living: Collection II’ with Friedman Benda, a new series of hand-sculpted furniture in a combination of wood, resin and stone. ‘Most of the design for this happened during the lockdown in New York,’ Arsham recalls. ‘I had gone out to the house in early March and I didn’t really have a lot of materials or things there with me. I started sculpting with Play-Doh, which my boys had loads of, and started modelling different types of forms. I wasn’t thinking that those would be the final forms, but I let them dry and when we came out of lockdown, I ended up just getting them 3D-scanned.’ §