Designers are embracing an intelligent back-to-basics approach, with less bling and more sophistication shaping the top trends for the new year, writes Manisha G Harkins While there's no doubt that we're eager to usher in an optimistic new year, the impact of recent fiscal tsunamis continues to influence our lives. So it's understandable that no-frills and caution have shaped the key trends for 2010.
But that hasn't stopped creativity; it's just that designers are experimenting in far thriftier ways, with a backlash against "throwawayism". Back-to-basics is right on the button - with a stronger than ever leaning towards craft-influenced design and the handmade. This comes hand-in-hand with fresh ways of upcycling and recycling, and accepting (or deliberately creating) imperfection; it's all part of the same frugal, get-your-hands-dirty mood.
Many designers are drawing on nature for inspiration: when in doubt, head back to restorative mother earth. And a predilection for pure materials, provenance, utility and simplicity is yet another reasonable response to a shaky climate. Finally, there's a call for a new kind of mimimalism that we're calling neo-Deco. Unlike the cold asceticism of 1990s minimal, it has a warm glamour - think Art Deco, Coco Chanel and modern classics in a mostly monochrome look. Its source? Perhaps it's the comfort to be found in nostalgia and a more refined palette.
The most prevalent of the new currents is the shift towards craft in design: taking traditions like knitting, appliqué and embroidery, mouth-blowing and hand-throwing, to different levels. At its simplest, you'll see beautiful hand-embroidered or cut-work textiles, while elsewhere, it's a matter of pushing the boundaries of craft completely. Examples include the work of Ricochet Studios in Vancouver, which toys with our perception of ceramic, or the glass designer-artist Jeff Zimmerman in Brooklyn. The former has created a stir with its porcelain milk cartons (similar can be found at The Conran Shop), while the latter creates dynamic objects that explode our ideas of mouth-blowing traditions. Also at The Conran Shop is Carlo & Benedetta Tamborini's large Gomitolo knitted clock, while Azuse Hirose's delicate porcelain pieces and Lisa Stockham's knitted sculptures have been picked up by the Jordanian retailer Lina Kanafani at Mint, in London. Meanwhile, in France, Best Before is pursuing the felt work of nomadic Central Asian tribes for a project comprising baskets, saddle rugs and small furniture items.
The craft and thrift trend also brings into play all that is upcycled, recycled and imperfect. Imperfection appears as deliberately "cracked" ceramics or wonky products, while disused materials have found their way back in many forms - just as those from Fendi's production process made their way into high design in the Craft Punk exhibition during Milan's salone. Els Zijlstra, a materials expert and the creative director of the Dutch company Materia, explains, "One of the latest developments is to work with waste. There's a lot of development in maximising resources we have."
Thus, too, new materials are being made from old - and then used to create intelligently designed objects: the Swedish firm Södra's bright yellow Parupu chair is made of Durapulp, a combination of cane sugar, wood pulp and maize starch; Shigeru Ban used a new material made from waste sticky labels for the 10-Unit System chair he designed for the Finnish company, Artek.
In the shops Even the mass-manufacturing giant Ikea has captured the mood for crafts in its PS collection - successfully combining practical knowhow and the designs of Hella Jongerius with the embroidery skills of Northern Indian village women for a series of wall-hangings. At The One, you can pick up an oval, hand-beaten Loha tray, perfect for serving mint tea, Raku cracked-glaze bowls, and fantastical Odin cushions hand-decorated with beads and feathers. The White Company's Chantilly bed linen has hand-stitched and hand-drawn thread work while Crate & Barrel (opening soon in Dubai) has jacquard-weave Tamara bath towels inspired by European woodblock prints. Cape Couch Company has the wonderfully sinuous hand-woven cane Pigalle seats and lots of witty handmade metal accessories. Marina has leather poufs with Suzani-style embroidery and a show-stopping Chesterfield sofa in patchwork velvet, while Zara Home has gone plain-and-purl crazy with cushion covers (knitted ribbons), door mats (knitted twine) and poufs (knitted cotton with crochet trim). At Bo Concept, look out for hand-done thread work or tribal beading - as in the hand-stitched Aztec-inspired cushions. And at O'de Rose in Dubai you'll find Karen Chekerdjian's beaten and pierced pewter dishes, Nada Debs's updated mother-of-pearl inlay designs and Bokja's salvaged 20th-century chairs reupholstered in vintage Suzani or velvet fabrics.
With sustainability on our minds, it's no shock that many designers are taking their cue from nature. The look is coming through in both the forms of nature (branches, twigs, antlers, insects) reworked in witty and surprising ways, and the elements of flora and fauna (leaves, flowers, butterflies) used in print and surface treatments. As Tricia Guild of Designers Guild says, "We all like to capture and bring the natural beauty found within the landscape into our homes." Designer's Guild's new collection is full of botanical prints: among them Ramblas features large abstract roses, while Boqueria has birds, butterflies and flowers drawn in a simple almost child-like hand.
Tord Boontje has incorporated pressed flowers into a table for Moroso, while Bodo Sperlein's silver plated tea utensils are inspired by twigs. Look also for red-hot designer Nendo's Antler chair for Cappellini; Jürgen Dahlmann's stark yet striking rug in bluey-charcoal and white, representing frozen water; Graham & Green's resin antlers and bird coat hooks; and Diffuse Lighting's stunning pendant lamp shade: a ball of porcelain butterflies.
In the shops At Ikea the dandelion-like PS Maskros pendant lamp by Marcus Arvonen is ethereally beautiful. Elsewhere, 2XL has table lamps with laser-cut wooden bases in the form of trees, and taffeta cushions with embroidered feather motifs. At Zara Home you'll find Arbol - gold-toned tree hooks - and metal Rosa hooks; at The One, the Lalang floor stand of twisted leaves, and Blossom, a free-standing screen of black wood with an etched cherry blossom pattern. Crate & Barrel has a range of Marimekko Lehtimaja botanical prints, while nature is readily accessible in ID Design's "upnordic" line, which includes the monochrome Blackberry bed linen, Nordic Leaves wallpaper, Lovebirds wall stickers and heavily forested Sherwood cushion.
In line with the back-to-basics ethos, there's a strong trend towards utility, simplicity, purity and the honouring of materials and their provenance. We're seeing it expressed through plenty of ash, bamboo and walnut woods, beautifully rendered ceramics and unembellished glass or metal. Witness David J Irwin's pleasingly thick Timber Stacker chairs for Deadgood, all things Max Lamb - granite seats, cast pewter side-tables - or Naota Fukasawa's Hiroshima series of unpainted beech and oak furniture for Maruni. Keep an eye out too for Todd Bracher's spare Tavola cooking-cum-serving utensils for Eva Trio; Georg Jensen's Forma bamboo block with a neat rill to collect drippings; Moooi's naturally stripey Tree floor lamp in zebrano wood, and the surprisingly strong Biomega bamboo-frame bicycle by Ross Lovegrove.
In the shops Excellent examples include Bo Concept's large driftwood sculpture, The One's Molave pedestal side table - a solid block of natural wood - and Make bowl, which appears as if carved out of a log, and Marina's Trunk range - beautifully shaped pieces of retrieved wood that have been "carved" by nature. Crate & Barrel's Pixie candle holder is a pure sculptural glass pedestal set inside a clear glass cylinder, while Flamant uses jewel-coloured glass for its exquisite, turquoise Bathilde underplate and Breschia silver-bordered teacups and saucers in chic plum, coral, lilac, berry, chocolate and flax. ID Design boasts the sublimely soft, nutty leather Incanto Isernia sofa-cum-chaise by Giovanni Sforza, or solid soap-treated Ocean oak bed by Rikke Frost.
Seemingly distinct from the other trends, the renewed affection for the clean lines of Art Deco and modern classics arises from the same need for familiarity and comfort, along with a desire to resurrect the glamour of past eras. It's expressed through monochrome looks, crystal, bevelled mirrors and clean metals from chrome to brushed steel. Coco Chanel black and white piping appears in Helena Johansson's Linie sideboard, while nostalgia is evident in Innermost's witty Jeeves & Wooster bowler and top hat pendant lights, the Clarence crystal pendants from Heal's and almost the entire Armani Casa collection.
In the shops Check out The White Company's Deco pendant light and Natuzzi's white, buttoned leather Queen chairs. Coco would be proud of Bo Concept's oh-so feminine Dione black floor lamp and clear crystal Sif pendant, or Zara Home's monochrome, geometric Quant Rug, Marcel doorknob and Cone porcelain ashtray with two-tone stripes. Marina has slick picture frames on chrome stands, a silvered urn on a pedestal, a chrome-and-leather chaise-longue that vaguely channels Mies van der Rohe and a lovely small sideboard in silvered wood. Bang on trend at The One is Zip, a quilted white leather pouf and the Venus chrome-and-glass trestle table.