On the heels of London Design Festival, where new bioplastics were abundant, I've continued to think about alternative materials in design. I'm drawn to the sporadic stories of designers making objects out of human hair and pig bladders; making edible plates and chairs out of mushrooms. They get me thinking about the materials with which we surround ourselves—how they’re made and what impact they have.
At the Design Academy Eindhoven, where I studied, it was quite a common for teachers to encourage us to experiment with unusual media. I remember making an assemblage out of an old lawn trimmer and children’s toys (not my best work). This emphasis on experimentation explains why so many DAE alumni design not just objects, but also processes and materials.
During my studies, my eyes often rolled during class presentations. Eager students made stools out of coiled scrap metal (health-and-safety issues), lamps out of snippets of garden hose (aesthetic issues), and sewed cigarette butts onto t-shirts (yuck). Nevertheless, I stand by the value of material experimentation, particularly during a time when everyone is hyper-conscious about the detrimental effects of drinking straws and plastic bags. And as curators say that the rising use of recycling in design is "bullshit" and that instead we should all reconsider how we produce en masse. This trend toward material reconsideration is why the following objects have captured my attention.
Bahia Denim Stool by Sophie Rowley
Luxe marble? Precious stone? Nope. Berlin-based designer Sophie Rowley’s Bahia Denim Stool, named after a Brazilian blue marble, is made from fashion industry waste—more specifically, from denim. Blue jeans are arguably one of the most wasteful articles of clothing, given the number of times they need to be washed to feel broken-in. Just listen to this episode of 99Percent Invisible to learn more. But this stool upcycles denim offcuts, which are draped over a mold, adhered, and carved in to shape, revealing the mesmerizing pattern. The varied nature of the waste always yields unique results. What’s exciting is not just the eye-catching stool itself but the diverse applications that are possible with this lightweight and durable material.
SeaSalts Lamps by Nir Meiri
Design so good you just want to lick it! In this case, you may be pleasantly surprised. These SeaSalts Lamps by Bezalel Academy-alum Nir Meiri came to life as part of the designer's ongoing research into sustainable materials sourced from the marine environment. The lampshades are made from a mixture of clear resin and sea salt. When placed in a salty, aquatic environment, the lampshade gets covered by naturally occurring salt crystals, creating this fab glassy textured effect.
Structural Skin Lamps by Jorge Penadés
What have we here? Exotic wood? Layered sponges? I’m terrible at guessing. This exciting material comes to us thanks to Spanish designer Jorge Penadés's raised eyebrow in the general direction of the leather manufacturing industry. After extensive investigations, Penadés developed Structural Skin, a collection of lamps made from discarded scraps of leather. It’s an iteration of leather that I have never seen before, and the resulting sense of three-dimensionality and the range of color palettes stirs the imagination.
Waterschatten Collection by Nienke Hoogvliet
Could these lamps could be made out of gravel? Some sort of insulation fabric? Well, let me surprise you. They’re made out of toilet paper (and silicone). Each year, 180,000 tons of toilet paper is flushed in the Netherlands alone. The waste is then burned and turned into biogas. Seeing something valuable in the most repellent rubbish, Nienke Hoogvliet—a Dutch designer known for her innovative, sustainable and experimental projects—created the Watterschatten Collection in collaboration with the Dutch Water Authorities. Keep in mind, they’re not waterproof!
Well Proven Stools by Marjan van Aubel & James Shaw
Foam? Porridge? Wrong again. These Well Proven Stools are made from wood shavings in combination with bio-resin. Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw, hailing from the Netherlands and the UK respectively, teamed up to create this novel material after having learned that normal timber manufacturing produces 50-80% waste material. The designers' bubbling concoction of salvaged material is applied to the underside of the chair shell by hand, building up the material wherever extra strength is required, with results that are both lightweight and durable. Material exploration with a sprinkle of industrial waste critique? Yes, please.
S.Pot Cups & Vessels by Maddalena Selvini
Standing somewhat apart from the above projects, Italian design Maddalena Selvini is creating new materials from the waste she herself produces. Her S.Pot Cups come from remnant powders left over from other projects in porcelain and soapstone. And they're just wonderful. As Winter approaches, I urge you also to have a peek at the multi-functional cooking stones that Selvini created.
*All images courtesy of the designers
Emma LucekA British-born Pole currently based in Berlin, Emma has a background in research and design. In addition to being Pamono's Design Editor, lately she's been working on critical writing in the fields of art, architecture, and cultural theory, as well as design journalism.
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