I was recently lucky enough to be invited by Benchmark Furniture – the furniture design and production company set up by Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe – to the first of their professional development days, called “The Love of Making”.
We listened to talks from a number of different producers, including Benchmark, and I want to give you a feel for the wonderful things we looked at, and the stories behind their development. We also toured Benchmark’s workshop and saw not just their normal work in production, but as an unexpected treat we also saw the Wish List pieces – due to be unveiled at the V&A this week – as they were being completed.
I hope I can give you an overview of what was covered, and that the images below give you some insight into the day.
First up, Tom Helme from Fermoie talked about setting up his own fabric production house, having sold and moved on from Farrow & Ball. Referencing the original decorating and paint finish portfolio of John Fowler (of Colefax & Fowler), he demonstrated how they print their fabrics unlike anyone else in order to achieve an unusual lightness of touch and a greater depth of finish.
Pekka Strommer of the Finnish lighting company Secto Design then outlined the latest technical developments in LED lighting. These developments are integrated into their latest lighting in order to achieve long life but also superb colour rendering and colour consistency – two aspects which have hindered the use of LEDs in some applications. A number of Secto products are already on show in the Benchmark showroom.
Benchmark co-founder Sean Sutcliffe then provided an enlightening talk on the use of timber. Covering different types of timber, how it can be cut for different effects, colouring, staining and finishing, it was a great overview of timber manufacture, and also of the thinking behind Benchmark’s design and manufacture.
The morning of talks was followed by a tour of Benchmarks manufacturing and finishing facilities. It’s an impressive operation, with a large and diverse range of items in production – from individual pieces of free-standing furniture from their own collection, through to one-off bespoke and fitted pieces that have been commissioned for individual projects.
A great surprise though, was the chance to see pieces from the ‘Wish List‘ collection in the final stages of production. This is a collaboration between Benchmark Furniture, emerging designers, and ten famous names from the design world who were asked “What have you always wanted in your home, but never been able to find?” It’s being unveiled at the V&A this week as part of the London Design Festival before it tours around the world, but here are some sneak peeks of the pieces as they were being finished.
Zaha Hadid’s spectacular timber carafe (with Gareth Neal):
Richard Rogers’ ladder with a seat atop, to allow him to explore interior spaces from new and otherwise unreachable perspectives (with Xenia Moseley):
John Pawson’s internal door, which when closed appears slightly, invitingly ajar from both sides (with Studio Areti):
And a shed with a difference for Paul Smith (with Nathalie de Leval). The same 12ft x 12ft size as his first shop (and the first room of his recent Design Museum exhibition), one wall is all glass, and the whole structure rotates so that he can change the outward view at will:
And finally, Benchmark have a rather famous designer as their next door neighbour, and we were given a guided tour of their most wonderful gardens. A great end to the day, and thanks to Sean and all at Benchmark for giving us not just their time and effort, but so much inspiration to take away.