Does the world really need another beanbag chair? That was the question that presented itself to the Stockholm-based trio Form Us With Love when they visited the factory of Swedish furniture manufacturer Voice in the summer of 2009. “We were led on a tour of the facilities by the managing director,” they say. “Upon arrival at a production line of beanbags, the director stopped. The facility, once churning out bags by the minute, now stood motionless. Trend and low-quality copies had severely stunted production. The brief was concise — design a piece of furniture that would make the machines run again.” The group — made up of Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren, and Petrus Palmer, who met as students in the first-year design program at Kalmer University — responded the only way they know how: By stripping the beanbag of its passé, dorm-room connotations, and using a powder-coated wire frame and a sophisticated color palette to recast it not as a piece of childhood ephemera but as a contemporary take on the easy chair, fit for any modern-day living room.
Form Us With Love came together in 2005 when the designers joined forces for their final project at university, and in the short time they’ve been together, they’ve built a sturdy portfolio of designs that have similar creation stories. The three have a knack for zeroing in on the unloved, the workaday, and the unfashionable, and turning those things into objects of beauty. Take their Cord Lamp, which debuted in 2007 with Design House Stockholm. By using a rigid, black-and-white checkered textile cord as the main design element, the trio elevated what they call a typically “disturbing decorating detail” into an instantly recognizable archetype and a killer piece of design.
And so goes the rest of their work: Construction lights plated in shiny gold and chrome, elegant pendants fashioned from industrial-grade rubber, and their latest project, which involves creating a sound-absorbing panel from a mixture of wood, wool, and cement. They seem to be fascinated by the tension that comes from mixing the old and the new, the ramshackle and the refined: For the past few years, their showcases during the Stockholm Furniture Fair have taken place in buildings in various states of decay or renovation. In an abandoned church next month, they’ll present five of their current projects: a concrete bench for the Spanish company Santa & Cole, two lamps, a new concept for the flooring company Bolon, and those sound absorbers, designed for the distinctly un-designy company Träullit. Five products and five manufacturers seems a lot to balance in one launch, but as Palmer points out, it speaks to the entrepreneurial side of three designers who have never worked for anyone but themselves. “We’re often more influenced by the companies we work with than by other products,” he says.
But that’s not to say they don’t find inspiration in their creative peers and all around them. We recently spoke to the young trio to find out what outside forces have shaped five years of successful designs.
If there’s one thing that’s defined a Rich, Brilliant, Willing product since the studio’s three members graduated from RISD in 2007 and banded together to make furniture, it’s the idea of the mash-up. In most of their pieces, seemingly disparate materials and odd colors come together in a sort of joyful schizophrenia — a lamp with differently colored, awkwardly placed dowel legs, a wood-and-metal coat rack with copper, steel, and plastic pegs, and even a candle holder crowded with tapers, birthday candles, and fat, number-shaped votives. But a funny thing happened this spring: The trio released a series of cast-glass pendant lights with the Los Angeles–based design company Artecnica that were notable not only for their pretty, industrial aesthetic but for their adherence to a single, monochromatic material. “It’s unusual for any object to made of a single part these days,” says Theo Richardson, who with Charles Brill and Alex Williams makes up the trio, their surnames forming the basis for the studio's cheeky name. “Most of the time, things are glued together, screwed together. But for us, this was going from assemblage work to something that’s made of a single piece.”
For Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham, pattern is everywhere — in the flaking paint of street bollards and the crisscrossing beams of scaffolding, in the fashion photography of Mel Bles and the banded stiletto heels of Parisian shoemaker Walter Steiger. Together, Murray and Winteringham run Patternity, a studio and online resource for pattern imagery where each photo is curated, sourced, or taken by the designers themselves. Spend some time on the site, and their obsessions become clear: One week it’s rocks and strata; another it’s the vivid African textiles that line the stalls of the Ridley Road street market that runs daily in Dalston, the East London neighborhood both women call home.
If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum. But while it's true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear.