While Frieze may have hit your radar as the biggie collectors’ fair this month, there was a gallery-within-a-fair in west London that was a hotbed of exciting British talent at a fraction of Frieze prices.
Beautifully handmade objects are often called “craft” but can also cross the boundary into art. The Future Heritage gallery at Decorex is curated each year by the arts and design critic Corinne Julius, who tasked 10 designers to push the boundaries of contemporary craft.
For those who couldn’t get there in person, the highlights will be online next month as Virtual Decorex (decorex.com, 16-18 November), so you can judge the talent for yourself.
I was especially drawn to one of Corinne’s designers, who was exhibiting a collection of four very different, but equally approachable pieces, all of which mark him out as a name to invest in now.
Adam Nathaniel Furman is an architect, artist, and designer, combining his multidisciplinary skills in stop-me-dead colourful, creative, finely crafted and exuberant objects for the home. On show was his Capricciosa rug (from £410, floorstory.co.uk), based on one of his drawings and named after the humble pizza. Hang it on the wall, it’s too good for the floor.
Alongside the rug were his handblown freestanding and suspended glass lights, called Glowbules (from £1,950, curiousa.co.uk), made in partnership with the Derbyshire-based lighting manufacturer Curiousa and Curiousa. These lights, softly totemic in their form, are both playful and beautiful.
Two other products were collaborations with Emilie Skaff, who runs the female-led Beit Collective in Beirut (beit meaning home). One is an ancient-meets-modern porcelain vase called Baalbek (£1,265), a delicate and decidedly contemporary work inspired by the enduring Roman city northeast of Beirut.
But the pieces I was most captivated by were a chair (Dina, around £350) and stool/side table (Elias, around £295), in his Beiruti collection.
Handmade by Beirut locals (hence Beiruti), Furman has worked in partnership with Skaff to translate traditional Lebanese wood and caning furniture into elegant modern pieces that are as eye-catching as they are intricate. They might look like retro plastic (they are much more vibrant and tactile than the images show) but the traditional Lebanese weaving (“khayzaran”) here uses a biopolymer made from caster oil. If you put them in a white cube gallery they would be sculptural, yet as “craft” you can sit on them at home.
It is against all odds that Beiruti got made at all. Skaff approached Furman to design his version of khayzaran caning, which would be handmade by the only surviving caner in Lebanon, who is 75. Then the enormous explosion happened in the port of Beirut in August last year. The fallout from this was far-reaching, says Furman, and the craftspeople in Beirut became more and more dependent on the success of Beit Collective. “In the workshop, the electrical situation became more and more of a problem,” he says, “so the design of Beiruti had to be such that they could make it without power tools, only hand tools. It has extremely robust jointing. They were made only during daylight hours and without electricity.”
Beiruti is handmade to order in a dozen different colourways and Beit will ship them to the UK within three weeks (beit-collective.com). And if a few hundred pounds seems rather little for a custom-made piece, it’s because foreign currency goes a long way in Lebanon right now. It’s a great way to support these craftspeople and another reason to swoop on Adam Nathaniel Furman.