For this year’s LDF, Terence Conran plays fairy godmother to some of the industry’s biggest names, inviting young designers to bring their fantasy objects to life. The results are on display at the V&A this week
What could Lord Foster of Thames Bank, top British architect and frequent fixture on the Sunday Times Rich List, possibly want that he couldn’t buy?
A pencil sharpener is the surprising answer. Three, in fact: one for each size of pencil that he uses regularly and trays to stop them rolling around and getting lost on his desk.
The insight comes courtesy of The Wish List, a project revealed at London Design Festival that asks Foster and some of the biggest names in British architecture and design – Richard and Ab Rogers, Paul Smith, Amanda Levete, John Pawson, Zaha Hadid, Alison Brooks, Alex de Rijke and artist Allen Jones – what piece of homeware or furniture they’ve always wanted. Each is paired with a young designer tasked with bringing the fantasy designs to life.
The idea is Terence Conran’s, who is also participating, and the ten designs have been crafted at the facilities of furniture manufacturer Benchmark, on Conran’s Berkshire estate. The project is a collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).
Designs range in scale from Norie Matsumoto’s sharpeners for Foster to a swivelling garden shed by Nathalie de Leval for Smith, all in various species of American hardwood. Gareth Neal has cut a pair of streamlined vases for Hadid on a 5-axis CNC machine, Win Assakul has made an extendable fruit bowl for Levete, and Felix de Pass has designed a kitchen stool at just the right height for Brooks.
Some projects reveal quirks about their famous commissioners. Conran has asked Sebastian Cox for a reclusive writing desk: shrouded in woven strips of red oak, it’s also a hideaway to smoke cigars in – essentially a humidor, jokes his wife.
Richard and Ab Rogers have asked Xenia Mosely to design a combination of seat and ladder, like an umpire’s chair, for gaining a new perspective on an existing room.
Fittingly, Pawson has the most serious project: Studio Areti has designed a shelf, door and set of hooks to suit his minimal architecture. De Rijke saw the chance to apply his research in cross-laminated tulipwood to a dining table made with Barnby and Day.
At last year’s festival, the dRMM founder and AHEC used tulipwood panels to create the installation Endless Stair. The pack’s wild card is Allen Jones, for whom Lola Lely is making a curvaceous chaise longue with the imprint of a reclining lady.
As with Endless Stair, AHEC’s aim is to showcase how versatile timber can be, promoting use of lesser-known species rather than overused blond woods that are more popular. The environmental impact of each project has been assessed through documentation of material inputs and energy consumption.
It’s a great learning experience for the protégés, but the effort sits uncomfortably with the frivolousness of the Wish List itself. To make one of Hadid’s vases, the £10,000 CNC machine has to run for 17 hours. After the festival, the only person to enjoy it will be the dame herself.
Images: Petr Krecji