Cubist-inspired furniture

Designers are reinterpreting the broken/reassembled cubist aesthetic to create sculptural furniture with a compellingly maverick spirit, says Charlotte Abrahams

24ct gold-plated Gold Quartz table by Juan and Paloma Garrido, price on request
24ct gold-plated Gold Quartz table by Juan and Paloma Garrido, price on request

Juan and Paloma Garrido, the siblings behind Madrid’s most innovative silversmithing gallery, Gallery Garrido, have cubism in their blood. “Even in our school days, we admired cubism,” explains Juan, “because of its new interpretation of nature and the linear shapes that were developed. And as designers we have always considered this to be an area that would be interesting to develop.”

Anodised aluminium Aomitsu light by Hervé Van der Straeten, price on request
Anodised aluminium Aomitsu light by Hervé Van der Straeten, price on request | Image: Cecil Mathieu

Their Gold Quartz table (edition of six, price on request) is one of the latest works to come out of that development process. Part of a larger collection of work inspired by natural minerals, this three-part segmented table has been made entirely by hand using the traditional silversmithing techniques of forging, soldering, fusing, filing and polishing. The jagged angles, which are exaggerated by the designers’ use of both matte and highly polished finishes, create interesting contrasts in relief and light, turning the table into a piece of functional sculpture.

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The Garridos adopted the cubist aesthetic early on in their career, but it is a look that other established designers are choosing to experiment with now too. Smooth edges still dominate mainstream interiors, but at the top end, where trends are set, there is disruption afoot. Even Nigel Coates – an architect and designer best known for his soft, curvaceous forms – has been embracing irregular angles. “Most of my work is zoomorphic and my usual approach is quite fluid,” he says, “but I wanted to see if I could capture that same animal spirit in a family of objects that were assembled in a cubist way instead.”

Channels walnut Column by Samuel Chan, from £1,450
Channels walnut Column by Samuel Chan, from £1,450

His Feral collection, which consists of a pair of side tables (£940 each), shelves (from £570), a bed (£4,860) and a dining chair (£590), with a dining table launching this month, is made from a combination of walnut, cherry and ash and has a cleverly jointed leg as its central motif. “It took the Italian craftsmen a long time to get the geometry right,” Coates says. “The knock-kneed legs appear to be hinged, as if they have an animal spring in them, but in fact they’re solid. The effect is as if you are looking at a cubist painting, in that you see something that seems to have been broken up and reassembled. It gives the pieces a slightly maverick spirit, which is very appealing in the age of digital design.”

Walnut, cherry and ash Feral chair by Nigel Coates, £590
Walnut, cherry and ash Feral chair by Nigel Coates, £590

Cubist-inspired furniture taps into the now well‑established fashion for unorthodox pieces that speak of the hands of their makers and are as much art as functional design. But this latest interpretation of the trend also offers something slightly different – the chance to have a statement-making and characterful piece without having to sacrifice clean edges and straight lines. It is a mix that is proving just as compelling for designers as it is for their clients.

Walnut, cherry and ash Feral side table with glass top by Nigel Coates, £940
Walnut, cherry and ash Feral side table with glass top by Nigel Coates, £940

Paris-based designer Charles Kalpakian is fascinated by the challenge of designing objects that use geometric forms to play with perspective, and has been working on a series of angular wall cabinets since 2011. “We have known these shapes for a long time. They are around us in nature, in rocks and mountains, and in our culture with artists such as Braque and Picasso. They’re surprising and ask questions – as a designer, I like that.” His Cinétisme collection is inspired by both op art and Asian and geometric motifs. The cabinets (Cinétisme IV, €9,000) deceive the eye, appearing as three-dimensional storage units and two-dimensional artworks (colours and dimensions can be customised). “I like to think of them as functional paintings,” he explains.

Lacquered wood, wenge and mirror Cinétisme IV cabinet by Charles Kalpakian, €9,000
Lacquered wood, wenge and mirror Cinétisme IV cabinet by Charles Kalpakian, €9,000

Samuel Chan, founder of UK furniture brand Channels, has also been exploring the creative possibilities offered by irregular angles. The result is Column, a series of three semi-functional (they can act as shelves) staccato sculptures (from £1,450) constructed from black walnut cubes of varying sizes, fixed together with 45-degree-angle mitre joints. “I designed Column in the 20th anniversary year of my studio,” he says, “and I wanted to celebrate that milestone by playing with basic forms, without worrying too much about commercial considerations.” Column has, however, proved rather popular, a fact Chan puts down to growing interest in art furniture. “Increasingly, consumers are investing in design pieces in the same way as they have traditionally invested in art, and so designers have to respond to that with pieces that are worth investing in. Column is complex, but has a visual purity that gives it staying power.”

Nickel-finish stainless-steel and leather Altair coffee table by Toscari, £2,575
Nickel-finish stainless-steel and leather Altair coffee table by Toscari, £2,575

Structural purity is the essence of South African designer Xandre Kriel’s monumental table Vos Altar (edition of 10, £17,160), launched at Design Miami/Basel last June. Composed of a hand-shaped black slate top held in position by two 8mm-thick steel triangles, Vos Altar is a beautifully abstract piece, but the reason for its shape is primarily functional. “The form of the base was dictated by the sheer amount of downforce exerted by the slate top,” he explains.

Mild-steel and slate Vos Altar table by Xandre Kriel, £17,160
Mild-steel and slate Vos Altar table by Xandre Kriel, £17,160

For Kriel, form was subservient to materials, but other designers have used the complexity of irregular angles to draw attention to their technical skills. Coates’ desire for jointed legs in his Feral pieces tested his Tuscan craftsmen, while the multifaceted Altair coffee table (£2,575), made by Italian brand Toscari for UK label Matter of Stuff, was inspired partly by Toscari’s wish to push its craftsmen to the limits (the natural forms of Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway were a source of inspiration too). Each of Altair’s steel faces is slightly different, so they have to be welded by hand, a process requiring incredible delicacy and precision. “Every angle has to be absolutely right, or the table won’t come together,” explains Sofia Steffenoni, co-founder and co-director of Matter of Stuff. “Altair shows Toscari’s craft skills to their full advantage and the beauty of the piece is achieved in the detail.”

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Hervé Van der Straeten is another designer who relishes the challenge of skewed shapes, and has spent his career creating furniture and lighting that play with contrasting materials and bold, irregular forms. One of his latest lighting designs is Aomitsu (price on request). The piece, whose name means “blue light” in Japanese, was inspired by the art of origami and is composed of a complex constellation of folded sheets of blue aluminium. The light source isn’t visible, and Van der Straeten admits that his creation is more “unidentified luminous object” than functional task light. “I always begin by sketching a design by hand because I have an instinctive way of making things. I then put the drawing into a 3D computer program to create a paper model. That stage was especially important with Aomitsu because it was the only way to ensure that all the components came together to make a final shape that works in 360 degrees.”

All three-dimensional objects must work in the round, of course, but the exciting thing about furniture and lighting with a cubist aesthetic is that it is rare for any two sides to be the same. This does mean that these pieces need to be placed in the centre rather than towards the edge of a room, but when walking around them brings such rich visual rewards, who could possibly object?

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