A group of design industry experts, from fashion, craft, interiors and retail, met in February to discuss ‘designing for longevity’. We went along to the panel to find out more.
As well as blustery showers and the wishes of warmer weather, the first week of February saw four experts meeting at the Islington Square interiors emporium, House of Harth. Here, in front of a small, invited audience, they discussed designing for the future, celebrating craftsmanship, and longevity in interiors.
The ‘Designing for Longevity’ panel was hosted by founder and director of Elicyon, Charu Gandhi, with Cecelia Halling – Elicyon’s creative director – sitting as an expert, answering questions and giving the discussion an interior designer’s perspective. Also on the panel were founder the of Harth, Henrietta Thompson; Yelena Ford, the managing director of The New Craftsmen; and The Restory’s co-founder and head of atelier, Thais Cipolletta.
As the morning progressed, each expert shared their own experiences with the panel, offering insight into their sector of design while also discovering there were threads that tied each industry together. With both the audience and experts settled into their seats, Ghandi started proceedings, first asking the panel to define ‘longevity’, and what this idea means for luxury or high end design.
For Ford and The New Craftsmen, a company that curates, commissions and sells a range of unique products – everything from furniture to textiles and gifts – longevity lies in everything they do. The products The New Craftsmen create ask buyers to see “ownership as commitment”. “[Our crafts people have] committed their soul and hands to something, so it is of exceptional quality. It’s built to last,” Ford explains. When customers purchase a product, she sees this as a “promise to keep, covert, treasure that piece – use it – and to love it. It’s really important.”
Meanwhile, for London-based luxury interior design studio, Elicyon, ‘longevity’ is found through future proofing client’s properties. As Halling explains, “we spend a lot of time getting to know our clients – how they live their lives, how they use their homes, and we create bespoke interiors that fit them like a glove. One of the biggest problems in interior design is that houses get ripped apart every three years and redone, but if we design it right from the start to be flexible, then it will last a longer time, which is really important. We try to future proof as much as possible”.
“We sit down with the clients and discuss furniture layouts they might want to explore in the future. [This way], if the room is changed in the future we’ve already thought about how that might happen,” she continues. “For example, about 10 years ago we were advising clients to put in 4K cables which weren’t used at the time. Now the clients are really pleased because 4K is used, and they don’t have to rip out a wall to put the new cable in!”
Interestingly, Thompson mentions that for Harth, longevity lies in restoration, and curating unique objects. Launched in 2018, the brand offers a new approach to interior design, giving clients the chance to rent furniture, accessories and artwork – a world first. “[We want to make] a brand that is aspirational, that people want to engage with. It’s really important that the pieces are beautiful and desirable; I have such a belief that restoration is the future and it’s something that Harth massively believes in”.
But how do these experts balance luxury and longevity, and make sure that the design of their products or services continues to excel? Each of the panellists agreed that one way to do this is to celebrate the nuances, imperfections and stories behind any design. For Cipolletta and The Restory – a leading luxury aftercare provider, offering repair and restoration services for fashion items – this means respecting the original design, and the journey the object has been on with its owner.
“We’re always very respectful of the design of pieces we get, we’re never going to just change it,” Cipolletta explains. “There’s often been a lot of use of the item, so you need to take that in consideration: the life it’s had after its left the shop. We always communicate with the customer to see if they want to preserve marks or scuffs… It’s not a judgement on the design, it’s more like a customisation.”
In interior design, however, Halling mentions that blending longevity with good design comes from forming a narrative for the space Elicyon are working with, or creating a story for it. “We start with researching the location of the property we’re working on, and that forms part of our story, along with getting to know the client,” she says. “I think bringing in a story around materials also helps… We’re seeing much more of an openness to pieces that have heritage and provenance.”
Ford and Thompson agree that storytelling, and sharing a pieces’ history, is paramount to its design – it contextualises everything. “A story that a piece has to tell can be about its making, but it can also be about the life it’s had,” mentions Thomson. “[With] an antique piece or collectable, you can trace the story back and that makes something more valuable in lots of ways… We’re trying to change the idea that a rental piece is less valuable than something that you own, just because it’s had a life that’s been somewhere else – it can have a richer story, and tell a lot more about its past. It’s really fascinating.”
“I think as a craft maker you have an innate desire, need or want [for] the piece [you make to be] loved and used in someone’s life,” suggests Ford. “It’s a tactile, emotional connection that you’re going to have with that piece, so I think naturally design and ergonomics come into our makers’ repertoire.” Consumers, Ford continues, are also much more open to discovering a product’s story than they used to be. “When we started working with interior designers, years ago, everything was so exacting. Now there’s desire and want for the humanity to come to the forefront of the piece - like the thumb print, or the slight wobble when it’s taken off the potters’ wheel.”
One thing that all the experts agreed aids in longevity and durability, without affecting the necessary craftsmanship or design, is modern techniques and materials. At The Restory, Cipolletta explains, the team is always on the lookout for new and innovative materials; “we’re getting more ecological leather, options for new materials… There’s been a lot of improvement in that, and there are new techniques with that for us to research,” she says. “We’re always sourcing new materials, we’ve been to sustainable fairs, and we’ve been looking at using recycled rubber.”
Meanwhile, Ford is most excited by people that are “breaking the mould of their skills and heritage. There’s all sorts going on, it’s so exciting to see tradition smashing against the new, and something entirely different comes out. For example, one day 3D Printing might be considered a craft – we shouldn’t rule that out, the practice is going to be honed by skilled people who will be able to do things that other people can’t, and passed down through their knowledge.”
The panel also agreed that technology – especially e-commerce – is a necessity for all their businesses. “I don’t think it would be possible to create Harth, or for Harth to work, if we weren’t where we are, technology wise,” Thompson admits. “The traceability and the accountability that you have – knowing who’s going to be renting your piece, knowing where it’s going – that confidence and trust is enabled by the internet. It’s absolutely fundamental for us, it’s the only reason why the sharing economy exists now and I think that’s only going to get more exciting in the future.”
“The way we’re engaging in buying luxury and craft in the e-commerce sphere is really changing,” Ford agrees. “[Some customers] have never been into our shop, never bought from us before, and yet they’re spending large amounts online based on an image. That’s why the narrative, the story telling, the quality of the image is so important in craft – that’s the only thing you’ve got. The voice of the maker has to come to the fore in a very hyper sterilised world.”
In the end, the panel came to a consensus that ultimately, the durability and longevity of a design is nothing without a sustainable background. For Ford, this also includes “sustaining livelihoods and the entire heritage of craft in Britain, which is so rich and so important… on the other side of the actual object itself, the sustainability of the object is that it [needs to] last – we’re not in the fast consumption business, we’re not in the throw away culture. It’s about keeping and retaining that piece”
Halling agrees; as an interior designer, she feels a “‘sense of duty to educate clients - as they become increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment - on how luxury design can be achieved more ethically and sustainably, with the minimum of waste”. “When we talk about longevity and sustainability, I think those words can come weighed down with heavy, serious connotations,” Thompson points out. “It doesn’t have to be at all. It can be enjoyable, full of abundance and fun, and positivity.”