Designing for the long term–SmithMatthias pairs natural, sustainable materials with progressive design
By Purva Chawla
The spread of furniture elements and products that have emerged from the London-based studio of SmithMatthias is diverse and varies in both scale and materiality.
But if there is a single, easily evident quality that unites them all, it is their timelessness.
Looking at a light fixture, chair, sofa, birdhouse or prototype bag designed by SmithMatthias, it is obvious that these will not be pieces that only pass through your home or office. Unfettered by fashion or trends, the quality of design and materials in these objects will allow them to be functional and appreciated for years to come.
Before I was exposed to the breadth of work being done by the duo of Jack Smith and Gemma Matthias and learned of their collaborations with several design brands, I was aware of their work with emerging material Piñatex™.
In December 2014, SmithMatthias were invited to create a range of prototype bags and accessories(seen in the image above) for The Pineapple Show–the launch of the Piñatex™ fabric. Piñatex™, developed by sustainable materials manufacturer Ananas Anam, is a natural and sustainable non-woven textile, produced from the fibers of pineapple leaves, which are a by-product of the pineapple harvest.
While other designers have been quick to pigeonhole Piñatex™ as a leather substitute and use it as a buzz-word in design today, SmithMatthias has chosen to build a more intuitive and longer relationship with this ethical and progressive natural material.
After receiving a positive response to the prototype bags they created, SmithMatthias have now developed a small batch of backpacks, crafted in Scotland, which will be seen at the London Design Festival of 2016. The beautiful prototypes will be on sale at the Form&Seek Pop-up Shop at BOXPARK, during the festival– an exciting opportunity, which will allow buyers and users to engage with Piñatex™ as a material, and own a truly unique product.
While these explorations with Piñatex™ reveal Gemma and Jack's appreciation of, and efforts with sustainable materials, several of their works are fabricated from very familiar materials like natural wood, cork, and metals. And yet, the integrity of their design and approach to these materials makes these pieces stand out, even more so than products created from hybrid and popular materials today.
Pieces like the March Chair–developed for Modus, in collaboration with Sir Kenneth Grange– make a simple but bold statement. Intense detailing and iterative prototyping have enabled this stackable chair to, no doubt, become a classic.
In a recent conversation with the duo, I asked them about their relationship with materials and their signature design process. Gemma said, "We both grew up in places surrounded by nature, so this gravitation to natural materials is almost innate for us." About their process, she went on to say, "Our goal is to design for the long-term, not for current trends. When we design something new, we are always questioning ourselves–Does this object have a purpose? Is it a pleasure to own and use? We strive for our designs to be considered in regards to function, cost, manufacture and impact on the environment. The quality of the products and longevity is important to us.”
This philosophy carries over to the spectrum of scales found in SmithMatthias’s work. While larger scale projects are coming up ahead for them in addition to ongoing work with prestigious brands, as designers, the duo are unafraid to create something small but incredibly meaningful.
Take the example of the Flat Pack Birdhouse designed by them. It is a small structure, born simply from two pieces of bent 1.5mm Plywood. The birdhouse is easy to assemble, and factors in just the right size of a hole in its fascia, to attract its inhabitants. Jack described this as " a happy accident in their studio." But actually, it says something significant about them as designers, and their commitment to the function and quality of each product and its users.
SmithMatthias is creating progressive design that focuses on its consumers, draws from a pool of honest and natural materials and creates vibrant and timeless results.
What more could you ask for?.
To our readers, click on the image of SmithMatthias below to visit their website and to continue to read about their work. Don't miss the opportunity to spot them at the London Design Festival, as part of Form&Seek!