Asian brands bring fresh style and function to London Design Festival

More than 300 events in festival's twelfth year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 September, 2014, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 October, 2014, 2:52pm

The twelve-year-old London Design Festival gets bigger and better every year. With more than 300 events to visit in 2014, it presented an exciting challenge to both the design aficionado and uninitiated visitor, who had to work out how best to enjoy the conceptual ideas and ingenious design that made up the terrain of the event.

Asian creativity was scattered all over town this year and South Korean designers, high on the Hallyu cultural wave, made their mark at events such as 100% Design and Tent London.

One of those was Been Kim, of Beeeen+Company, who has already made a name for herself with DrinKlip, a spring-loaded plastic device that allows cups and jars to be attached to tables and shelves. More recently, she has been busy reviving Korean traditional methods and materials, and casting them in a new light.

Kim's range of stationery (including passport holders) is created from a handmade paper coloured with lacquer tree and vegetable oils.

The material, which is water- and heat-resistant, has antibacterial properties and emits an appealing all-natural resin scent, has been used in Korea for more than a millennium as flooring in homes, temples and palaces.

"It is very rare to find this paper now, since Japanese colonisation and the Korean war devastated our country," says Kim.

She recognises the significance of the "Korean wave" and a growing interest in China and Southeast Asia, but says she is more interested in "utilising 4,000 years of Korean crafts and design history and developing it in a modern way".

Kim also presented alluring 3D wall panelling in several versions - transparent and frosted acrylic; ultra-thin concrete; and wood.

There was also a range of bowls and coasters named Dancheong because of the snowflake-style pattern derived from traditional Korean architecture and reinterpreted for the 21st century.

The mats and bowls employ a geometric and honeycomb structure, which reduces the amount of materials used and affords flexibility. They can be combined to create sophisticated patterns, or separated into separate, simple items when necessary.

Chinese contributions were thin on the ground at the festival, which ended on September 21. The Shenzhen international pavilion, the main official presence, presented a classical, sometimes tacky, take on Chinese design, which was not helped by hard-to-decipher exhibition captions and promotional bumph.

The few interesting pieces that caught the imagination included Shenzhen-based CIGA Design's sleek CIGA 009 watch, with its two slim and equally long minute and hour hands and the nifty and tactile multifunctional Night Elf lamp, which can be used as a night light, emergency illumination and rechargeable torch as well as a USB charger.

In trendy Shoreditch, stalwart British furniture company SCP, whose founder Sheridan Coakley is a fan of Japanese functionalism, showed a range of aesthetically rigorous Japanese products selected in collaboration with British-Japanese designer Reiko Kaneko and shown in the UK for the first time.

The collection included a range of ultra thin and incredibly lightweight glasses (some with a crinkle in them, others with a tapered bottom that allows the drinker to measure out a shot) by Shotoku Glass, a Tokyo-based company founded in 1922. Initially a manufacturer of glass for light bulbs, the company now specialises in delicate, amazingly strong glassware.

Also on display and on sale were ceramic bowls made by small-scale producers in the famous pottery production centre of Mashiko, a few hours north of Tokyo. Exemplifying its pledge to produce "anonymous, handmade, functional objects of beauty" was a mortar and pestle with a grating feature.

The entire collection is also about celebrating craft in mass production, says Kaneko, and getting away from the idea that "mass production is bad".

A standout at SCP was a range of simple and slightly quirky wooden furniture by Ishinomaki Laboratory, a company born out of a post-tsunami community workshop in 2011 in the devastated town of the same name.

As its CEO, Ishinomaki-based architect Keiji Ashizawa, explains, "After the tsunami all the carpenters were so busy we set up this community space to teach people how to make and repair wood furniture."

It is rare to find this paper since the Korean war devastated our country
Neen Kim, Beeeen+Company

The workshop also encouraged local companies to donate wood and was involved initially in creating seating for outdoor cinemas and venues designed to bring the local people together after the tragedy. The pieces on show included a simple stool, made by project founder Ashizawa, and a range of playful or practical pieces, by London-based designers, that exemplify this nascent company's DIY-spirit.

Examples were a brightly coloured and geometric table-and-bench set by Fabien Cappello, and Tomoko Azumi's portable Carry Stool (perfect for festival-goers).

At Tent - a large event that showcases new and independent designers as well as larger retail brands - London-based Japanese ceramics designer Ikuko Iwamoto displayed enigmatic framed wall sculptures,

Taiwan's KIMU design studio presented new additions to their New Old range of lighting combining the shape and form of a traditional paper lantern with contemporary and industrial fixtures: by pulling the shade down you can dim the light.

At the curated Designjunction event, held in conjunction with the London festival and spread over four floors of an old sorting office, new Indian brand Tiipoi launched its first homeware collection.

Created by Indian-born, London-based Spandana Gopal the line was intended to foster "a new relationship with India". It used the manufacturing capabilities of Indian regions known for working with metals, glass and wood.

"Indian design lives in the fabric of the everyday," says Gopal, pointing to Ayasa, a streamlined milk pourer made from spun copper or brass that has an extended rim allowing for drip-free pouring.

With designer Andre Pereira, Gopal has created objects notable for their colour and form. Particularly desirable were the moulded glass storage jars with cork and rosewood lids, and serving bowls and platter inspired by the Indian spice box whose lid doubles as a tray.

With prices ranging from £30 (HK$380) to £135, these products are designed to be practical, universal and functional, says Gopal, and, above all, accessible to all.

The pieces flew off the shelves, demonstrating how the best design is often about simple but aesthetically pleasing pieces that enhance everyday life. These shone with warmth and purpose.