The annual London Design Festival is a nine-day, city-wide celebration of design and designers from around the world. Exhibitions and events are held in nearly 150 different venues across the city, encouraging the innovative use of urban space in a display that is as much about the architecture of the city itself, as the designs on show.
Coming of age
The Norwegian presence at this year’s festival was a testament to both the quality and innovation of the country’s designers, and to the growing international reputation of Norway as a hub for interesting and marketable design.
Scandinavia has an unrivalled reputation in the modern world of European design. Finland, Sweden and Denmark in particular have been responsible for producing some of the finest furniture, glassware, ceramics and architecture of the 20th century. But Norwegian contributions have been undeservedly overlooked, and have received comparatively little acclaim.
Recently, Norwegian design has been garnering the interest and recognition it deserves, finally managing to hold its own among its distinguished neighbours. Characterised by a distinctive, purist simplicity, modern Norwegian design reflects the influence of its Scandinavian cultural heritage, while searching for innovative and experimental ways of designing practical products that fuse tradition with modernity.
The most prominent showcase for Norwegian designers at this year’s festival was ‘100% Norway’. Returning to London for the seventh time, the exhibition was featured as part of ‘100% Design’ at Earls Court, the event that was largely responsible for the establishment of the London Design Festival, and is now in its 16th year.
‘100% Norway’ provides a platform for showcasing both established and up-and-coming designers, alongside a selection of the country’s most prominent manufacturers. The initiative has proven to be an extremely valuable means of introducing Norwegian designers and their products to the British market, while also increasing awareness of Norwegian design, across both the UK and international markets.
In order to be eligible for participation in ‘100% Norway’, the designers must comply with a number of criteria and the products must be designed by a Norwegian or a Norway-based designer, with priority given to products which are manufactured by Norwegian companies. The platform always contains a combination of furniture and home accessories, new and recent launches, manufactured products, and a selection of prototypes, giving the opportunity for new designers to showcase their work.
StokkeAustad's 100% Norway frame
Jess Chandler/The Foreigner‘100% Norway’ is co-curated by Henrietta Thompson, editor-at-large at Wallpaper*, and Benedicte Sunde from the Norwegian Design Council. Since the project first began as a small exhibition in an East London Gallery in 2003, it has ‘grown and evolved beyond expectations’, according to Thompson.
“Norwegian designers have established a very sound platform from which to operate and a culture is beginning to emerge of a community and best-practice sharing. There is also a real sense of pride in national identity – a collective promotional tool that is quite inspiring,” she said.
The participants of this year’s exhibition were individually sought out by Thompson and Sunde, who travelled the country in search of the best designers. Thompson’s discoveries confirmed her belief in the central influence of the country’s cultural heritage upon the creations of modern designers, as well as affirming a sense of tradition and inheritance that has developed over many years. The designs, she believes, tell a story of their own.
“Through the pieces on show at ‘100% Norway’ we are beginning to unravel a story about Norwegian design. It is an honest and heartwarming tale that is deeply rooted in history and culture, and it is by turns both surprising and uplifting.”
‘100% Norway’s’ stand at Earls Court was designed in accordance with its ethos of resourcefulness and sustainability, reusing a structure by the design company StokkeAustad, which was on display at last year’s show. Inspired by the traditional wooden frames used for drying fish in Northern Norway, the wooden, triangular prism created a defined exhibition space, without any sense of confinement, while also acting as a reminder both of the importance of Norway’s fishing industry, it’s rich forest resources, and the natural simplicity of its architecture.
Housed within this transparent structure was a collection of furniture, ceramics, glassware, lighting, wall coverings, and other household products from a range of designers and manufacturers.
Among these were new versions of the classic ‘Aksel’ chair, manufactured by the Aksel Hansson factory, who have used the same traditional methods since 1938, and a collection of Cathrine Maske’s glassware designs, combining glass with photography. There were also new chairs by LK Hjelle and HÅG, a new lamp by Northern Lighting, combining the functional elements of a light and a table, and a selection of woven wallpaper panels designed by Scandinavian Surface.
Alongside the works of these established designers was a section entitled ‘Prototypes’, showcasing the work of designers making their UK debut. The most striking of these were Daniel Rybakken’s Right Angled Mirror, beautifully exploiting the aesthetics of the reflections and shadows created as a by-product of an aluminium mirror.
Kristine Bjaardal's tablecloth
Jess Chandler/The ForeignerAlso on display were Kristine Bjaadal’s tablecloth made of a white fabric, which reveals a hidden pattern when liquid is spilt on it, as well as Siren Elise Wilhelmsen’s Knitting Clock 365. This is a cuckoo clock, which measures time in three-dimensional form, knitting a stitch every half an hour and producing a two-metre long scarf by the end of the year in time for the cold January weather.
Every design on display demonstrated an impressive combination of practicality and aesthetics, drawing on local materials, and traditional styles, while experimenting with creative and innovative ways of making things new. Walking around the exhibition, I was made aware of the pleasure and excitement that a successful design can generate, reminded of the powerful effect of design upon the way in which we perceive our surroundings.
The design of the interior spaces in which we live can significantly impact our well-being and the playfulness of so many of the designs on display was part of this attempt to exploit aesthetic possibilities in order to enhance the quality of our interaction with the objects that surround us.
Compact and innovative
Norwegian designers also made an appearance at other festival venues, including the Norwegian Prototypes exhibition, returning after last year’s success, to Blackall Studios in East London. For this exhibition, 14 designers were invited to design a product that could be transported in their hand luggage, according to the standard dimensions allowed by budget airlines.
Kim Thorne's 'Wardrobe in a suitcase'
Jess Chandler/The ForeignerThe results of this challenge resulted in a variety of ingenious solutions. Among these were Alex Hellum’s ‘Travel Pine’, a traditional travel case that becomes a wardrobe (the ‘drawer’ (suitcase) is filled with luggage, and becomes one drawer of a stackable chest, to be added to each time you travel); Hallgeir Homstvedt’s ‘Little Big Lamp’ is a portable 130cm lamp, which folds to fit the prescribed dimensions; Kim Thome’s ‘Wardrobe in the Suitcase’ is, as its name suggests, a collapsible shelved ‘wardrobe’, which folds in a concertina to fit in your suitcase, and can then be unpacked and extended to display all of your clothes.
Norwegian designs were also on show at the most diverse and popular event of the festival, Tent London, situated in the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. The Stavanger-based design agency SLIP (making products better) provided a platform for the fusion of industry and design, exhibiting a range of products that demonstrated ‘the use of otherwise industrial techniques to manufacture interior products to the very highest industrial standards.’
Though it may take some time for Norwegian design to establish a global reputation and market, recognition of the quality and innovation of its designers is already widespread. In the current economic and environmental climate, the practical simplicity of Norwegian products, and the strong ethos of sustainability behind their development, may well become the reasons for their success.
In his welcome note to the festival, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, emphasised the values of sustainability, simplicity and usability that underlie the Norwegian design tradition.
Highlighting the importance of the country’s heritage, and the cultural habits of its people, Støre paid testament to the pervasive influence of ’the proud era of Scandinavian design’, with modern designers ’still [holding] high the ideals of purity, simplicity and modesty; the soul of the country and the ideals of their ancestors.’
The ambitions of ‘100% Norway’ perfectly reflect the responsibilities he feels as Foreign Minister, ‘to tell the story of our country and to provide foreign markets with pieces of our culture.’
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