If you go strictly by the numbers, nearly any product typology could be said to be having a moment at the Milan Furniture Fair each year. Sofas? There are always hundreds. Cabinets? Wall clocks? Yup, those too. But scan the recent fairs not just for mirrors but for amazing mirrors, and you might be inclined to agree with Adam Štěch and Klára Šumová, curators of a show at this week’s Prague’s Designblok festival that reflects on the genre’s recent creative uptick. (These threehandmirrors alone totally slay us.) “The exhibition not only brings together our friends from the design world but also tries to define the typology of a mirror based on quite varied styles and design approaches,” says Štěch, one of three co-founders behind the creative agency and online magazine OKOLO. He and Šumová comissioned 30 designers — 15 of them international and 15 Czech — to design a new mirror for the installation, from Maxim Velčovský’s wall mirror bordered by cheap plastic store-bought varieties to Marco Dessí’s mirror that doubles as the top for a jewelry box. There are also two 1980s designs by Czech modernist Antonín Hepnar included. Thirteen of the final pieces (the ones that arrived in Prague in time for the photoshoot) are pictured in this slideshow, with images art-directed by Štěch with Matěj Činčera, Jan Kloss, and his brother Jakub Štěch both to take advantage of OKOLO’s massive paper archive and to “make compact abstract compositions,” he says. “The exhibition itself is also a kind of abstract art piece, where we weren’t thinking about function.”
When Adam Štěch goes on location for Okolo, the Prague-based design blog and magazine he founded with his brother Jakub and graphic designer Matěj Činčera three years ago, he likes to picture himself as a National Geographic reporter. Okolo’s recent Vienna Only issue, for example, became a kind of urban hunting expedition through the wilds of the Austrian capital, while legitimate business trips — like attending the Milan Furniture Fair as an editor for the Prague interiors magazine Dolce Vita — are rife with opportunities for fieldwork. After “cruising around crowded Zona Tortona in the center of design hell,” as the 25-year-old puts it, he’ll often spend a day or two searching out amazing examples of indigenous architecture to document. One such recent excursion to Lake Como entailed a curious encounter with the locals: “We were looking for an Ico Parisi house, for which I knew the district but not the exact address, and there was a single old man walking nearby,” recalls Štěch. “I approached him on a whim, explaining who Parisi was and asking if he knew the house. He picked us up with his car and dropped us off directly in front of it. I love those kinds of stories.” We love them too, which is why we asked Štěch to put together this slideshow sharing some of his favorite moments from his travels in the past few years.
For the team behind the Czech curatorial studio and blog Okolo — Adam Štěch, Jakub Štěch, and Matěj Činčera — their work is informed as much by the fact that they're based in Prague, with a front-seat view of all things fascinating in Eastern European design, as it is by the fact that they love to travel. Adam Štěch has toured the region documenting amazing modernist homes, one of which he covered for Wallpaper this fall and more of which you'll see on Sight Unseen in 2012, and the trio recently produced a print magazine devoted entirely to the city of Vienna. They also traveled to Frankfurt in November, visiting a succession of designers' studios and photographing them for the Okolo website, slotting them in between posts about new work by Tomáš Král and the deconstruction of a Phillips auction catalog. One of our favorites was the studio of artist Tobias Rehberger, known for his striking graphical sensibility and his affinity for design and architecture, recently witnessed in the award-winning series of spaces he created in partnership with Artek; we've reposted it here with additional images and text that Adam prepared exclusively for Sight Unseen. Meanwhile, look out for a more extensive collaboration we're preparing with Okolo for later this winter.
Attend an event like the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which is packed with designs by fresh-faced students and recent graduates, and you're bound to see furniture so conceptual it borders on fine art (if not naiveté or cliché). That's because students at some of the best design schools around the world are taught not just how to make things, but also how to think creatively and develop narratives — Stockholm's Beckmans College of Design among them. Thirteen members of its current graduating class exhibited together at the city's furniture fair this week, and rather than developing a suite of beautifully variegated chairs like a neighboring booth from the Lund Institute of Technology, they did some serious and deliberate navel-gazing in an attempt to develop furniture capable of manipulating its own emotional connection with users. Called "The Matter of Things," the project asked each of its participants to choose an abstract problem to solve — like bonding, treasuring memories, or making physical contact — and embody it in a not-quite-as-abstract form. Not all of the results are particularly life-changing, but they do demonstrate the kind of thought processes that eventually lead to greatness.