Monday, 8 September 2014

Putting the circular economy into action with 'haute-design' refurbished upholstered chairs at the V&A during the London Design Festival 2014

We are drawing very close to my collaborative event at the Victoria and Albert Museum with Lucy Mortimer of Galapagos Designs and the Great Recovery (RSA)for the London Design Festival 2014 (13th to 21st September).

It all started with me, as a fellow of the RSA (Royal Society of Arts), wanting to raise awareness of the valuable work that the Great Recovery do. So I invited Galapagos Designs, with whom I first collaborated in 2013 on a range of vintage chairs, to join me, and 
over the recent months we then developed our event in conversation with the Great Recovery. 

My part is to demonstrate through real design 'practice' the kind of thinking that the 'circular economy' demands of a designer if we want to stop mindlessly filling up our land with waste that could be recycled, reused, remade or even avoided in the first place.

In a nutshell, it's going to be a live installation, in which we will display vintage and refurbished upholstered chairs in the Learning Centre Foyer (level 3) of the V&A. Every day we'll take one of the vintage chairs into the Design Studio, immediately adjacent to the exhibition. Galapagos Design's upholsterer, Charlie, will refurbish it right there and then, except for one chair, which we're already doing now. We'll collect all the old materials and sort them through in terms of what can still be done with them, and you're invited to come and look and talk to us about all of it. In addition, on Wednesday 17th at 4pm to 5.45pm, all us collaborators will give a panel talk about the whole project and its background in Seminar Room 3, just a few metres away from the Design Studio. The talk is free, but places are limited, so get there early.

Just to give you a taster, some pictures from our preparation process ....

Above, Charlie's handsome tools that will be in action in the Design Studio.

Below, Charlie and I, discussing the chairs with Lucy at Galapagos Designs' workshop.

My grandmother's chair (she always used to sit on the right hand side and we grand children would sit on the left ...)

As you can imagine, this chair holds much sentimental value for me and yet, the way it looked before we took off the last cover, I would not have wanted it in my house.

So it made an ideal starting point for our event, with me wondering how I could reupholster it and tell a story both with my designs and the work involved to deconstruct and make good the seat and legs, and recycle what I did not like, and make it into a chair that I would love to have in my home. Naturally, this came to be the chair that we are refurbishing now so it will open the show on the 13th September. 

This is how it looks from behind.

Below, a few 'sneak peeks'. My designs are all new work inspired by my recent trip to Iceland. They have been printed here in England and I have also produced a range of everyday products with them. We are launching them to the trade as you read this, and they will be available on my website from the end of September.

As this was such a great opportunity for exploration, I decided to collaborate with two designers on experimental fabrics. I'll tell you more about this during the LDF - the plan is to blog a post every day about the chair we've done that day. 

For now, here's one picture from my meeting with Kyla McCallum of Foldability, taken as we were planning the shape we shall use. She will fold my print fabric and assist Charlie in applying it to one of our chairs at the V&A on Sunday the 14th.

The other designer, Avantika Agarwald, has developed a process called 're-weaving', which is based on a traditional Indian weaving technique. It produces beautiful abstract furnishing fabric from an image being digitally printed onto a string of cotton (or other material) that is stretched horizontally across a frame (the warp). The string is then unraveled and re-woven on a warp of white cotton. 

Below, my figurative design 'Rekki in Reykjavik', in the process of being unraveled. The finished fabric, which has turned out amazing, will go onto the chair we'll upholster on Thursday 18th and Avantika will be present on the day.

Lastly, an image of the V&A's Learning Centre foyer, where the installation will be. The closed door behind the grand arch leads into the Design Studio. All easy to find and close together.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Ella x

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