July 09 2010
Lucia van der Post
Contemporary anthropologists, those who make a living out of observing the fascinating and ever-changing habits of modern man (and woman, bien sur), have been telling us for some time that the homely and the craft-based is where much of the western world’s interests are heading. It is all, they tell us, part of a search for reassurance, for traditional values, for the safer world we perceive the past to have been.
This, they say, is why designers have been exploring the aesthetics of imperfection, why cupcakes have seen an extraordinary surge in popularity and why knitting needles are clicking and sewing machines are once again whirring in the attics and studies of people who, a few years ago, wouldn’t have given them house room.
Certainly the taste for the homely and the craft-based is one of the many threads one perceives in interior design, where artisan-based ceramics, furniture, glass and accessories have long had an appeal. Put that desire alongside the wish to recycle, to give new life to old pieces, and Melanie Porter’s knitted chairs would seem to be right on the button.
Porter, who used to be a knitwear designer working for, among others, Burberry, takes old chairs of every kind, from antique Victorian nursing chairs to one of Arne Jacobesen’s 1970s Egg chairs, and she covers them with a series of hand-knitted panels, giving them new and individual life. She starts with the chair, stripping it back to the original frame. Then she restores and re-upholsters it before embarking on her hand-knitted covers.
Each cover is designed around the shape of the chair. All feature a variety of stitches, from heavy cable-knitting to plain and purl and stocking stitch. Some, like an all-cream Egg chair (second picture), are all one colour (not one for the house with children or dogs, I feel), while others, such as a Victorian scroll-back chair and an old dining chair, feature knitted Union Jacks (first picture). Sometimes she knits complementary cushions that complete the colour palette as well as adding an element of comfort. Often the frames are repainted in a toning or matching colour.
Every piece is obviously individual, depending upon the chairs she has managed to find, but if you have a favourite old chair that needs new life she will knit something to order. Her prices start at £1,200; bear in mind that each cover takes about six weeks to knit, and that all the buttons, often crocheted, are done by her. Her Notting Hill studio can be visited by appointment only.
In much the same mood is a wonderful collection of hand-knitted rugs done by Patricia Urquiola for Gandia Blasco (third and fourth pictures). It’s called the Mangas collection, manga being the Spanish word for sleeve, and each rug is modelled after a particular shape – the puff sleeve, the lantern, the bell and so on. They are absolutely enchanting and have that authentic handmade look. All are 100 per cent wool with cotton backing, and they come in lots of colours. Prices start at £1,700 from Chaplins.