Spanish fashion house Loewe’s installation at Milan Design Week last year turned the spotlight on the art of basketry. Its handwoven bags hung from the archway of a palazzo in the city’s Montenapoleone district, framing an exhibition in the courtyard beyond of pieces made by artists exploring the historical traditions and cultural resonance of the humble receptacle. The brand’s creative director Jonathan Anderson’s interest in this time-honoured skill was further piqued by the Irish basket-weaver Joe Hogan, a finalist of the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize, who went on to create several woven pods for the spring/summer 2019 fashion show. It was an exquisite display of craftsmanship, signalling a move towards natural materials – and the desire for a softer, soothing and more comfortable home.
This year, these influences have taken hold with greater urgency. “If anything, the time that we have spent in lockdown has reinforced the urge to create a new way of living with regards to our personal spaces and the city as a whole,” says architect-designer Nada Borgi of the Beirut studio Borgi Bastormagi. For her, the natural influence is being felt most profoundly in the rise of biophilic design, which aims to increase our connectivity to the natural environment through buildings and objects that harness nature, directly or indirectly.
“Historically, cities have prioritised cars over humans, and real estate and square feet over parks and greenery. The need for change had become inevitable,” she says. “Green façades, natural materials, biophilic design or simply the need to relate to other forms of life – whether that be through tending plants or exploring organic shapes – all suggest a more contemplative way of living.”
It’s a sentiment shared by London-based Australian designer Brodie Neill, founder of the furniture and lighting brand Made In Ratio, who believes that by surrounding ourselves with a natural palette of materials “we are seeking a better quality of life”. He cites the increasing popularity of bamboo – a warm, versatile material that he has explored in his organically shaped Stellarnova console. “It’s one of the fastest-growing grasses on the planet, and when pressed into plywood form is extremely stable, long-lasting and sustainable,” he says.
South African-born Tarryn Ginsberg co-founded Khayni last year with the specific intention of curating a collection of handmade pieces that could be combined to create calming, restful spaces. In doing so, her trove of tableware, wooden benches, stools and baskets, sourced predominantly from small communities in Africa and Indonesia, conveys a minimal rusticity that she compares to Scandinavian style.
Indeed, there’s a growing awareness of global design in the contemporary vision of the natural home. “I feel the design world is inquisitive and outward-looking, incorporating influences from Asia, South America and the South Pacific,” Ginsberg says. “But it’s important to us that what we call the ‘safari aesthetic’ is not a pastiche or ‘African themed’ – it is about contemporary living with a soul.”
Design’s global melting pot also draws heavily on influences from Japan, resulting in the creation of interior spaces that are evocative of the wabi-sabi ideal of perfect-imperfect beauty. Designer Lorna de Santos’ Casa Décor residential installation in Madrid, for example, takes its cues from nature in its simple palette, sinuous furniture and roughly hewn wood surfaces to encourage a more contemplative space.
To appreciate how striking a pared-back approach can be in a real-life home, one need only look to the Calabasas house of Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. A far cry from OTT glamour, the pale sanctuary, punctuated by warm wood, was conceived by two icons of the understated aesthetic, Belgium’s Axel Vervoordt and Vincent Van Duysen.
Alongside textured veneers, honest materials such as ceramicware and earthenware add warmth to the aesthetic. Increasingly, they are treated as luxurious finishes or introduced into a room as treasured works of art. Brooklyn-based designer Lauren Manoogian, known for her covetable knitwear, offers the latter in an edit of one-off Peruvian ceramics that she has recently added to her collection. Each piece is constructed and finished by hand before being wood-fired in the traditional manner. Manoogian has seen revived interest in materials such as wool, natural clay, undyed materials and natural pigments, particularly for walls and surfaces. “A few of the walls in our studio have a natural clay finish, while our showroom is lime plaster,” she says. “There is something really beautiful and humbling about being surrounded by walls where you can see the marks of another person’s hand. It also changes the sound quality and the smell and temperature of the room. It’s not a new way of decorating, but people are revisiting old ways.”
When asked about this year’s bohemian, 1970s take on the natural home – the grained woods, woven grass lampshades and wicker chairs recalling an era captured on film under a misty smear of Vaseline – she suggests the influence is born of a desire for something sustainable and real. “I think people were culturally on to something in the 1970s, and that is reflected in the interior spaces and what we remember as style trends,” she explains. “A lot of the things people are interested in now – healthy eating, going back to the land, natural spaces, craft and alternative living styles – were all very present in the 1970s, but they were somehow wiped away by the consumerism and technology of the 1980s.”
The search for something simpler, grounding and handmade certainly helps to explain why terracotta is having a moment – a material metaphor, perhaps, for the desire to return to the earth. Designer Cristina Celestino, for instance, has transformed traditional tiles into striking architectural details and bas reliefs.
Last year, terracotta was also introduced as an earthy colour palette (from dusky to rich shades) for the home – it is teamed with green in the 2020 update. Dimoregallery, the Italian design studio ever at the edge of innovation, showcased its latest historical inventory (an edit in which designers Salci and Moran explore past and present influences) in these Mediterranean shades. Notably, they too looked to bamboo furniture, combining a 1950s AJ237 sofa and armchairs by Arne Jacobsen with Formica wall-flap tables by Eugenio and Ermenegildo Soncini.
On the flip side of the vintage vibe is the work of architect-designer Victoria Yakusha, who uses organic materials in cutting-edge 21st-century design. At the Collectible fair in Brussels in March, she showed her Faina brand’s Ztista dinner table and chair – the pieces handcrafted from a mix of clay, wood chips, straw, linen and recycled paper, and paired with a suspended light with a supersized willow shade.
Llewellyn Chupin presented Terra at the same show – a furniture and lighting collection fusing wood and stone in rounded forms – while Haos crafted furniture with a Bauhaus-like simplicity in solid oak. Similarly, spare wood furniture was spotted at the Offsite Online virtual exhibition (held in place of online magazine Sight Unseen’s cancelled New York showcase) in the work of Los Angeles architect Christopher Norman and Berlin’s Nazara Lázaro, and from Hudson Valley-based Jackrabbit Studio and LA’s Kalon Studios.
Back in Brussels, Adeline Halot’s handmade textiles – woven with natural fibres and metallic yarn – caught the eye. According to London-based French-Lebanese architect-designer Annabel Karim Kassar, such textiles inject an extra layer of tactility into the home. “I like to incorporate natural fibres as much as possible into my projects,” she says. “Wool, organic cotton and recycled denim are great for upholstery and curtain pieces – and they are sustainable.”
It is words such as “sustainable”, “breathable” and “non-toxic” that consumers want to hear when investing in design. Eager to oblige, luxury textiles brand De Le Cuona is launching a 100 per cent organic linen this summer, which it says is the first GOTS-certified interior fabric collection (a standard awarded to fabrics that are sustainably produced from the field to the final product). Founder Bernie de Le Cuona has the last word. “I think the younger generation has seen what we are doing to the environment and our health, and have decided that there must be no more,” she says.