Furniture design of the 21st century: A critical survey presented by the Geffrye Museum

In which way does furniture design dictate the way we feel, act and interact?

The Geffrye Museum celebrates the centenary since it’s founding with a contemplative show: Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home. 

The museum is home to a unique furniture collection that explores the way homes have been used and furnished over the past 400 years. It aims to inspire the local furniture-making trade. This temporary exhibition brings together works from contemporary British designers with the objective to make us reflect on what our homes may look like and function in the near future.

The exhibition space is quite small, but the scope of the show is large. We are encouraged to interact with many of the designs, to build, to sit, and most importantly understand the design process.

Rising Chair (2011), by Robert van Emricqs is one of the many designs that enchant the viewer. It is a chair that transforms from a flat-pack of wood slats into a comfortable, elegant chair. It is beautiful. Not just the outcome, but also the whole function of the design works perfectly and gracefully. Emricqs investigates the dynamics of the materials to create an intricate yet functional design.

The most exciting part was being able to sit in this intriguing chair and see that it was actually quite comfortable!  

Sam Hecht, founder of Industrial Facility, states, ‘Successful design is much more than making something that is purely functional. The things I would regard as successful have a message and a meaning’. Although what we are mainly presented in this exhibition are innovative, creative solutions to issues such as efficiency, sustainability, durability, usefulness and beauty we must not forget that, today, design is much more than just a “solution”. Critical Design is a new concept consolidated by Professor Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, which proposes design as a means of raising questions rather than answers. It is used to make us think, spark debate and provoke action. And in this exhibition RCA graduate, David Steiner, does just that.

In House by David Steiner takes an interesting approach to production methods and outcome. The objects exhibited are all produced from the artist’s existing possessions at home. He uses different methods to transform everyday household objects into tools that replicate industrial manufacturing processes. “The project began as an experiment in self-sufficiency, to some extent a reaction against the growing prevalence of desktop digital manufacture," Steiner explains. Although these objects are not as functional as – let’s say – Rising Chair, and cannot be mass-produced, they invite you to contemplate and question production systems, reusability, recycling, and consumption.    

In House by David Steiner from Dezeen on Vimeo.

The exhibition also presents us with another design from David Steiner in collaboration with Joni Steiner: Edie Child’s Stool. Only this time we are actually able to see the pieces and build it ourselves. This design is part of OpenDesk, which is an online platform that allows users to discover a range of designs that are available online for DIY or to order from local workshops. It is a brilliant platform of open source design, taking advantage of technology to make design accessible to everyone everywhere. This is why I admire this piece so much. It encourages people to engage with design, to build and to be part of the objects they live with.

Although Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home is a small show, it brings us to sincerely reflect on the effects everyday objects have on our lives, to consider and admire the process as well as the outcome.

Useful + Beautiful: Contemporary Design for the Home is on at the Geffrye Museum until 25th of August.