Natural Comfort

Danish textile company Kvadrat is embracing ancient techniques in order to make beautiful fabrics that answer the most pressing issues of the day

For at least six months of the year – depending on the hemisphere – humans turn to wool en masse; when autumn dispels summer’s warmth and on cold, blustery winter days, we look for woollen comfort, be it in our garments, in blankets and in our upholstery.

Indeed, human civilisation has a long relationship with sheep and the wool they produce. The first noted use of the textile was in the European Bronze Age. Wool gained traction as a clothing fabric in Ancient Roman and Greek societies and brought staggering wealth to entrepreneurial families who controlled its distribution in the Middle Ages (such as the Medicis of Florence). Fast forward to 2020 and the wool trade has not lost its oomph. While it has largely moved out of Europe, with production centres now concentrated in Australia, the US and China, the United Kingdom still produces some 22,000 tonnes per year.

Wool’s sticking power as an industry though is not just because of its warmth and comfort, it owes a lot to its sustainable qualities. When it comes to the textile industry – which is not necessarily known for its environmentally friendly status – wool is in a league of its own. To begin with, sheep and the wool they produce are part of the natural carbon cycle: sheep consume organic carbon in plants and convert it into wool. Consequently, it’s a biodegradable fibre, which means that, if you bury wool (even an entire garment) in the ground, it will eventually decompose. Additionally, products made of it tend to have long lifespans and don’t normally require heavy duty washing. To top it off, it’s the perfect material for recycling into new products.

It’s this latter quality that is at the heart of Re-Wool, the latest upholstery offering from leading Danish textile company, Kvadrat. As the name suggests, this fabric is crafted using 45 per cent recycled wool, much of which is sourced from leftover cuttings from Kvadrat’s own UK mills. “The idea was to create both an honest and environmentally friendly textile,” explains designer Margrethe Odgaard. “It has a poetic feel to it by recycling leftover material,” she adds. As well as recycling wool, Kvadrat also stresses sustainability in terms of their supply chain, with much of their wool sourced from local UK sheep farms.

Copenhagen-based Odgaard is known for exploring unique aesthetics through depth of colour, contrast and patterns. These qualities are evident in samples of Re-Wool, but are even more apparent when the fabric is applied to furniture. “I thought of shimmering pearls on a recycled woollen base,” Odgaard says regarding the fabric. “It was important to me, that the tones of the weft had a certain glow that could lift the colour from the dark base. It reminds me of early-morning dew on blades of grass.”

Photography Sarah Blais, Creative direction & styling Paulina Piipponen

Tailor Made

The creative director of Kinnasand, Isa Glink, showcases her new sculptural curtain collection

Against the rural landscape bordering the eastern coast of Denmark, just outside the old port town of Ebeltoft, the sleek Sevil Peach designed Kvadrat HQ has found an unlikely location for one of Europe’s leading textile design companies. Isolated within a rolling green landscape, the building’s exterior appears bland and unassuming. Seemingly single storey, in fact it follows the lie of the land, with its internal staircases echoing the natural rise and fall of the underlying hills. As that fact alone suggests, the interior is entirely unanticipated from the outside. Visitors enter through an imposing metal door, which opens automatically on arrival. Walking through is like stumbling into a trove of light, elegant design spread sparingly across a string of office spaces and showrooms that blend into a single open structure. Sheltered from the wind, the air is still and buzzes with easy efficiency.

Inside we are introduced to Isa Glink, the creative director of Kinnasand, who has draped sample fabrics from her latest collection, Tailor Made, at various heights beneath a luminous skylight. Their presence underscores the company’s own unique floorplan, driving home the collection’s key concept, which she describes as ‘fine-tailoring applied to interiors’. She herself wears a fitted one-piece suit which billows at the shoulders and falls loosely from the waist, and explains how the collection attempts to channel the feeling we get when we wear well fitted clothes with a stylish cut, crisp surface and well matched colourway. It reapplies this experience to their interiors, with a building’s architecture becoming its body.

The stand out piece is a curtain called Clique, a metallic-shade of fabric dotted with metal press buttons that allow it to be pinned into any number of shapes. Glink demonstrates, bunching and draping the fabric into a series of inventive silhouettes, occasionally reminiscent of London shades, and as she does so the fabric’s full sculptural potential becomes clear. Glink explains how this inherent malleability mimics the personal tailored touches we all add to our own clothes when we style ourselves each morning, whether popping a collar or rolling up sleeves.

The range of inspirations is varied, and the collection shies away from more obvious references, or anything overwhelmingly haute couture. In fact, Glink is proud to highlight one of her more unusual designs, a series of neon-coloured mesh drapes reminiscent of sportswear. Other textiles bear visible seams or are composed of highly textural layered materials, from delicate films of tulle to a yarn woven out of ribbons. The classic patterns Glink has picked up and appropriated feel creatively reimagined and reduced for the modern interior, with tweed and corduroy as contemporary, in this context, as pinstripe and herringbone.

With Tailor Made, Glink takes a deceptively simple approach, but reimagining retired ideas in an new context relies on highly original thinking. Familiar yet fresh, the collection exemplifies the ease with which Nordic-inspired designers continue to flit between pared down practicality and playful innovation.

Kvadrat: A Design Family

Port travels to the new Copenhagen showroom of renowned textile designer Kvadrat, to learn more about the brand’s philosophy and conceptions of space

Kvadrat – the Danish textile company founded in 1968, beloved of architects and interior designers – prides itself on a focus on quality and heritage, just not at the expense of innovation. This unique mix of classic design and originality is evident in the brand’s new showroom in Pakhus 48, an old warehouse in the former freeport area of the Copenhagen docks, outfitted by the Bouroullec brothers, the renowned French design duo.

Having studied industrial design and modern art, Ronan and Erwan have been working together as product and interior designers since 1999. When we speak at the opening of the new showroom, Erwan tells me how they’ve fostered a relaxed and organic relationship. “We are brothers, we’ve been in the same place, and we’ve been drinking or eating the same things, so our relation to shapes and material are pretty similar. Yet, with our way of working, sometimes one of us can be much more inside something, while the other one can be in more of the surroundings.”

The Bouroullecs are long-time collaborators with Kvadrat. Since their first project with the brand, designing a display space in Stockholm 11 years ago, they have fostered a continuing partnership. The pair were asked to design Kvadrat’s original showroom in Copenhagen, as well as a number of products now sold by the brand – Clouds, a system of flexible panels, and Ready Made Curtain, a set of pegs that turns any fabric into a curtain, were originally bespoke products for Kvadrat’s offices.

The closeness of the relationship between the brand and the brothers is such that neither Erwan, nor Kvadrat CEO Anders Byriel, can remember when they first brought up the idea of the new showroom. “Anders never exactly asked, because we saw each other all the time,” says Erwan. Together, they seem to understand each other’s needs and interests and talk simply of how natural it was that they would work with each other.

During the time that the Bouroullecs have been collaborating with the brand, Kvadrat has grown from a handful of office staff to nearly 30: they outgrew their old offices and display rooms, and simply needed more space. This was the challenge for the Bouroullecs, how to set everyone at ease and return the focus to the materials at hand. Erwan tells me the first step was to set up the backdrop for the space by turning to the natural light, which floods in from two walls of south-facing glass, overlooking the expanse of the harbour and the low-lying city beyond.

Inside, the space is carefully divided up by panels of fluted glass and low lying brick walls, the physical weight and textural surface of which ground the space. Erwan points out the slight imperfections in the bricks and glass: for him, it highlights the hands that have gone into its production. The slight irregularity, as an example of resistance to industrial processes, is pleasing, even if it doesn’t please the German engineers that made them. These divide the open office space, which is filled with furniture upholstered in Kvadrat’s minimal Basel and Hallingdal 65 fabrics, and includes smaller, more intimate areas for cutting lengths of cloth. This brings a sense of humanity to what Erwan worried could have been a very empty, cold space.

Byriel and the Bouroullecs talk highly of the new typologies of bespoke products they’ve designed for Kvadrat, many of which have now entered into large scale production, for Kvadrat and for others. Here, they designed a modular and movable rail system to hang display fabrics from the ceiling. These finely machined aluminium links can be set to different heights and moved throughout the showroom to open up or close off areas. Strong enough to hold metres and metres of raw textiles with no cutting and stitching, the system presents the fabrics ready to be touched and inspected.

It’s hard not to see it as a gallery – over its history, Kvadrat has worked with artists and designers including Peter Saville, Olafur Eliasson, and Miriam Bäckström. But Byriel and Erwan are keen to emphasise the working aspect of the space. Byriel notes that a third of the entire showroom is dedicated to working space for architects and specifiers. “We have lots of people coming here every day, maybe you come with drawings, maybe you come with clients, you stand or sit and work. It’s a little bit more of a space where you interact and you touch the goods… You’re not allowed do that in art galleries.”

From the way Erwan talks, it is clear that the Bouroullecs work isn’t simply a case of installing parts to please a client. Rather, he espouses a philosophy of materiality and honesty: “It’s important to make sure that you embed inside objects a kind of a self-learning process, so that people can find out what it is… Materials have to express what they are, where they come from, they have to express if they’re fragile or if they’re strong, they have to express if they’re here forever or not, in order that people properly behave with things that are given to them, especially when they are customers.”

It seems that many people share this philosophy. Kvadrat textiles are seen all over the world, in hotels, offices, aeroplanes and recently, a concept car by BMW. Kvadrat have also worked with David Chipperfield architects to upholster the entire headquarters of Amorepacific cosmetics in Seoul, opening later this year. Likewise, Byriel has high words for the Bouroullecs work too. “In 100 years there will be four or five people who defined our times, and I really think the Bouroullecs will be one of them. Like Eames defined the mid-century, I feel they’re defining our time.”

London Design Festival 2017: The Round-Up

PORT’s design editor, Will Wiles, reflects on this year’s London Design Festival

Camille Walala’s ‘Villa Walala’, photograph by Gilbert McCarragh

Memories of the 2017 London Design Festival will inevitably be dominated by two colourful installations, both of which made inviting destinations for the Instagramming crowds. Tucked behind Liverpool Street Station was Villa Walala, a dashing inflatable pavilion designed by textile designer Camille Walala and intended as a space for play and wonder.

More formal, but no less jazzy, was Gateways at Granary Square, designed by ceramicist and writer Adam Nathaniel Furman. This was a sequence of four arches laid out in front of the Central Saint Martins building, each with a differently shaped aperture and all faced in colourful tiles.

‘Gateways’ by Adam Nathaniel Furman, photograph by Gareth Gardner

Gateways was intended to promote Turkish ceramics, but it far exceeded its brief, becoming the visual focus for the whole festival. This underscored the growing importance of Granary Square, home to an expanded Design Junction, and the multiplying locations of the festival – the traditional poles of 100% Design in the west and the London Design Fair in the east are now joined not only by King’s Cross but also by Somerset House, home to Design Frontiers (in an off year for the London Design Biennale). Kvadrat’s “My Canvas” exhibition of 19 emerging designers was the draw to the latter.

Kvadrat, ‘My Canvas’

Away from the big commercial shows in the Shoreditch heartland of the London design world, there was as ever much to be discovered and enjoyed in backstreets and unexpected corners. A particular highlight was Universal Design Studio’s “On Repeat” pavilion for The Office Group on Rivington Street. The pavilion’s simple, orthogonal wooden frame is given life by a ceiling of paper lanterns which sway and stir in the breeze like a shoal of fish. These lanterns are made by visitors to the pavilion as an example of pavilion’s guiding idea: the soothing, focusing power of repetitive creative activity. It formed a space for other demonstrations of the principle, such as a sushi-making workshop. See our interview with co-director of Universal Design, Hannah Carter Owers, here.

Interior of the ‘On Repeat’ pavilion

A few minutes walk away, on the far side of Old Street Roundabout, is Established & Sons’ new home on Tilney Court. Sebastian Wrong has again taken the helm at Established, the brand he founded in 2005, and has marked the occasion at LDF with the revival of new versions of old favourites. Barber & Osgerby’s Zero-In coffee table makes a welcome return, and there are refreshed additions to the Wrongwoods range, furniture stamped with Richard Woods’ distinctive wood patterns.

Established & Sons’ ‘Wrongwoods’ table

Another welcome return could be found at the Fritz Hansen showroom in the West End: the company is reviving Arne Jacobsen’s Oksen armchair, first launched in 1966 but only made for a few years and unavailable for decades. Oksen is a surprise for those familiar with Jacobsen’s sweet-tempered Scandic modernism: it’s an angular, charismatic, leather-clad brute well suited to the Bond villain or crime boss in your life. We wanted one immediately. 

Arne Jacobs’ Oksen chair


The Future of Fabric

Danish trailblazer Kvadrat is turning end-of-life textiles into furniture with the help of Max Lamb and upcycling initiative Really

Benches by Max Lamb, images courtesy of Angela Moore

“Some of the very first designers for Kvadrat were artists and architects,” says Njusja de Gier, head of branding at Denmark’s leading textile manufacturer. “That has always been a huge part of our identity.” Creative partnerships have driven the company’s reputation for innovative design since it was founded 1968 and, through collaborations with figures such as Raf Simons, Peter Saville and Olafur Eliasson, Kvadrat has advanced textiles beyond the modish world of product design and into the realm of experience. “We want to inspire people and show that you can do more with textiles than just upholster a sofa or a chair,” she says. “We’re trying to push the boundaries.”

Despite Kvadrat’s roots in the Scandinavian design tradition, one reason for the revolving roster of collaborators is to forge an international outlook. In-house engineers regularly team up with designers who have a technical understanding of yarns and weaving, such as Asa Pärson, or designers who work conceptually, such as Patricia Urquiola. These partnerships ensure that Kvadrat remains relevant, furnishing architectural landmarks such as MoMA, Guggenheim Bilbao and the Oslo Opera House, while also remaining popular in private homes, hospitals, airports and public transport.

After launching its fourth collection of soft furnishings with Raf Simons at the Academy of Design in New York in March, Kvadrat has now teamed up with ‘upcycling’ initiative Really, and designers Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma to present a collection of furniture made entirely from end-of-life wool and cotton. The launch exhibition at Salone del Mobile will detail the making of the solid textile board using cut-offs from the fashion and design industries, as well as unwanted household textiles. 

“Upcycling is necessary,” says Njusja. “We saw this as the next step in Kvadrat’s sustainability strategy. Naturally, we have a lot of cut-offs, and this is a way to do something beautiful with them.” The solid textile boards come in four colours – blue, white, slate and brown – based on their textile source, and can be used in many of the same ways as solid wood. 

“We approached Max because of his material research. He’s already experimented with engineered marble so we knew he would take an interesting approach,” Njusja explains. “He has designed 12 benches for us in such a way that we can recycle each piece and make new textile boards with it. It’s completely closed-loop.” 

Max Lamb and Christien Meindertsma’s designs, along with their research and prototypes, will be on display from 5 April at Salone del Mobile 2017