Once upon a time, it was nearly impossible to have a creative career without immersing yourself in the artistic community of a large metropolitan area. But with the ease and connectivity that comes with living in the golden age of the Internet, it’s become more and more common to see people working in places most would consider more than a bit off the beaten path. Take ceramicist Giselle Hicks: In 2011, after completing an artist-in-residency program at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, Hicks relocated to Philadelphia for a six-month stint and found that she wasn’t cut out to live the big city lifestyle. “The city felt like an obstacle course. It overwhelmed me. I felt like I was just keeping my head above the water," she remembers. "I longed for the big sky, open spaces, and the beauty and ease of life in Montana. I love the culture and diversity and opportunities a big city has to offer, but in my daily life and studio practice I need quiet and lots of space to grow and evolve."
Every summer, the Stockholm-based, Scottish-born designer David Taylor retreats to his family's cottage in the Swedish countryside for a spell and spends his days foraging in the woods. It isn't greens and mushrooms he's after, though, but slag — the decidedly un-edible clumps of waste compounds left behind in the production of metal. Taylor's cottage happens to be in a town called Hälleförsnäs, also home to an iron foundry that was built in the 1600s and shut down for good in 2006. "Slag can still be found just about everywhere around here," Taylor says. "It’s a worthless by-product that was produced in huge quantities and mostly just dumped out of sight in the forest for centuries." For a recent project that debuted during the Saatchi Gallery's Collect fair in May, Taylor gathered up chunks of the stuff and upcycled them into a series of colorful candlesticks.
Despite being closely associated with the UK, and with top Brit designers like Simon Pengelly and PearsonLloyd, there's nothing particularly British about Modus's actual furniture: Sleek, modern, and mostly solid in color and material, its sofas, lights, and chairs have a kind of pan-European or even slightly Scandinavian feel. So we were surprised to see the brand celebrating its new London Design Festival launches (pictured after the jump) with a companion exhibition of striking photographs by Angela Moore, which document the otherworldly landscapes of rural Somerset, England — the home of Modus HQ. "Shooting the local landscape is a little random for us," says Modus co-founder and Somerset native Jon Powell, who credits London creative agency Studio Small with the idea. "But it actually made sense to us to say look, we’re British, and we’re committed to sustainable design." In addition to all eight of Moore's images, which are on view this week and next in the show "Out of Sight" at Modus's London showroom, we asked Powell to tell us a little bit more about the brand's home base, and what it's like making very urban furniture from a place that's anything but.
We talk a lot on this site about inspiration, and with most of our subjects that conversation assumes a certain measure of materiality — that we’ll be discussing the things they’ve amassed over the years or the places they return to over and over again on their travels. But for the British artist Sam Orlando Miller, it’s the lack of these things that gives him the energy and space to create. In 2000, after spending more than a decade in London building up his interiors firm, Miller and his wife, Helen, left it all behind for a quiet life in the Le Marche region of Italy, a mile from the nearest village, close to the coastline of the Adriatic Sea. But though they live in an admittedly enviable location, Miller says, “it didn’t need to be Italy. It just needed to be somewhere that was wilder than London, away from the culture I’d been immersed in. I found it difficult to think when surrounded by all that stuff. Here, you have to think about your own creativity and what your voice is. When you’re surrounded by nature, all of a sudden you’re on your own, psychologically.” And so rather than things, Miller collects thoughts and sketches and conversations, running over them again and again in his head until one bumps into the other and becomes a full-fledged idea. That’s what happened with his most recent body of work, The Sky Blue Series — a collection of mirrors and objects commissioned by the San Francisco gallery Hedge for a solo show, on view until this coming Monday, that marks Miller’s American debut.
On gloomy New York days like today, we begin to think that Axel Peemöller might be on to something. The German-born graphic designer studied in Düsseldorf, moved to California, and eventually settled in Melbourne, but a few years ago he gave it all up for a studio at sea. Aboard a 40-foot-long 1974 Trintella — which he purchased off eBay from a Barcelona woman for a song — Peemöller lives with his girlfriend and works remotely for clients and studios, docking when he needs to visit a colleague or use power to light a photo, and flying clients in to whichever port he’s landed. And while it’s not to say that life at sea is never gloomy, Peemöller finds that a fluid perch makes for a clearer head: “To do creative work, you need to have a balance between life and work and fun,” he says. “Here I can go diving, watch dolphins, catch octopus: I guess the not-working days are like holidays for other people, but for me it’s my usual life.”
When Paul de Zwart founded Another Country a little over a year ago, the name wasn’t meant to be quite so literal: A small furniture company that focuses on affordably priced, well designed, but not overly trendy wood pieces, Another Country initially wore its Made in the UK status like a badge of honor, crafting small runs by hand using FSC-certified timber from a tiny workshop in the Dorset village of Semley, two hours east of London. De Zwart, who co-founded Wallpaper with Tyler Brûlé in the mid-‘90s, had originally devised the idea for Another Country after searching in vain for an affordable three-legged stool that might fit as well in the country home he was refurbishing as it would in his London flat. The proportions and rounded peg details of the stool De Zwart ended up designing in collaboration with Dominic Parish — a furniture-maker in Semley and now De Zwart’s business partner — eventually informed a 10-piece collection that debuted to fanfare and high praise during 2010’s London Design Festival. Fast-forward to now, and the brand is thriving, having just released a second, more angular furniture series and recently expanded into small goods like pottery, candlesticks, clocks, and desktop accessories. But ask De Zwart where the hub of Another Country’s production now sits, and the answer might surprise you.
To move the studio of Boym Partners from New York City to Doha, Qatar, would seem an act of sacrilege, like relocating Ai Weiwei from China to Portland, Oregon, or Ed Ruscha from Los Angeles to Munich. After all, as co-principals of the New York–based firm since 1995, Constantin and Laurene Leon Boym have made their mark in part by commenting on the cultural iconography of American life. And yet a year ago, the couple quit their DUMBO studio, picked up their 14-year-old son Bobby and their cat Ozzy, and moved everything into a high-rise apartment that sits 17 floors above the Doha Bay. The occasion was Constantin being named director of graduate design studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, but in the year since their arrival, it’s become clear that their work there is not just about getting a fledgling design program off the ground but rather about helping create a whole design culture from scratch. “Design here is still largely considered to be a more decorative, applied discipline,” Constantin told me via Skype from the new studio last week. “You decorate a hotel, a restaurant, or a villa. Design as a critical tool for exploration doesn’t really exist.” Adds Laurene: “You have to remember that people lived in tents in this very spot 20 years ago, and now we have a W Hotel across the street.”
Like a lot of American designers fresh out of school, Todd Bracher found himself, in the late ’90s, a newly minted graduate of the industrial design program at Pratt designing things like barbecue tools, remote-control caddies, and spice racks. “I remember scratching my head, thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is what design is?’” he recalls one morning from his studio in Brooklyn. Convinced there was something he was missing, Bracher applied for a Fulbright and ended up at age 24 heading to Copenhagen to pursue a master’s in interior and furniture design. What followed was a nine-year boot camp in the rigors of designing for the European market, studded with turns in Milan at Zanotta (where he was the legendary Italian company’s youngest ever designer), London at Tom Dixon (who poached Bracher to help build his London office) and Paris, where he taught part-time and eventually opened up a studio. But personal reasons brought him back to the States in 2007, and the director at Pratt — one of the only people Bracher knew at that point on this side of the ocean — hooked him up with the space he currently occupies in the no man’s land that is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “My fear, in some ways, is having a place that doesn’t feel like me — which is hard because I don’t necessarily feel like myself in America,” says Bracher.