Most furniture and lighting follows a fairly predictable material palette. Typically they are made from wood, tubular or flat bar steel, cast and extruded aluminium, plastics like polycarbonate and polypropylene and on occasions, glass. From time to time something out of the blue comes along to spice things up – compressed hemp, bamboo pulp or turned cork. In the last decade pencils, concrete, string and smashed plates have all been used for light shades while in furniture, designers have pushed the boundaries of materiality by using the likes of resin soaked rope (Marcel Wanders), compressed clothes (Tejo Remy) or corrugated cardboard (Frank Gehry). The Campana brothers are quite partial to this type of material exploration and over the years since their ‘Vermelha’ chair (upholstered with 500 metres of rope) was first launched in 1998, they have used everything from scrap wood to plastic tubing and stuffed Panda bears in their work.
While chairs made from bedsprings and lights made from polystyrene cups can be a breath of fresh air, it’s a far more ordinary material that has inspired this post. Steel reinforcing bar (or rebar as it’s also known) is an industrial material normally used in the concreting industry to give concrete strength and to allow it to span larger distances. In the right hands this inexpensive building material is capable of providing the framework for some pretty interesting furniture and lighting designs. The ease with which it can be bent and welded makes it quite expressive, while its signature spiral ribs add a delicate decorative quality.
Sylvain Willenz is a name that pops up fairly regularly on this blog. The young Belgian designer creates minimal designs that often feature a very intelligent use of one material or another. Back in 2009 he exhibited in Milan as part of a group of Belgian designers at Gallerie Bonaparte and showed an entire collection made from rebar including shelving, table and floor lamps, a chair and several tables.
In 2012 he was selected by Cappellini as a young and up-and-coming designer of note and his ‘Candy’ side tables in rebar were exhibited as part of Cappellini NEXT during the Salone del Mobile. The concept was expanded the following year into a range of sideboards and cabinets for Cappellini that showed the full potential of the unassuming material.
The pictures above show how the 'Candy' tables are made. The process is quite industrial, using basic ironmonger skills of heat bending and welding..
Having always liked Willenz’ Candy collection and the cabinets in particular, I was delighted to come across someone else working in contemporary furniture design that had explored the use of rebar. Italian architect and designer Sara Bernardi, whose company MICROmacro is based in Beijing, designed a collection in 2012 called CON-tradition, inspired by traditional Chinese furniture archetypes.
Based on the "apparent contradiction between the essential nature of CONtemporary style and the preciousness of the TRADITIONal Chinese antique style", Bernardi has removed any applied decorative elements and used rebar to draw the familiar shapes in fine graphic lines. The results are astonishingly light even when partnered with concrete elements - as she does in several of the designs.
The collection includes an intricate screen, along with a series of concrete and rebar stools and several concrete, glass and rebar tables. The discovery of MICROmacro’s work got me thinking about who else had worked with this basic utilitarian material. It's not a long list at present but it has great potential.
Sara Bernardi and MICROmacro showed a new range called 'Geometry Made Easy' during Milan's Salone del Mobile 2014 at Ventura Lambrate. The lights expressed fundamental shapes in black painted rebar. Super simple, the lights become symbols, casting lovely shadows on surrounding walls and surfaces.
While the lights are totally flat and can be packed accordingly for global sale, they possess a strangely 3-D quality because of the interplay of shadows.
Chilean design duo Losgogo (brothers Nico and Lucas Aracena) produced an entire range of furniture and lighting pieces in 2013, setting themselves a target of an entire collection (which turned into 6 mirrors and 11 furniture pieces) to be made in two materials – rebar and wood - in just 21 days. The range called ‘Poligono’ includes a floor lamp, several different chairs and small tables, a coat stand and shelving. The simple, slightly agricultural designs were inspired by furniture commonly found on building sites and constructed by workers out of sheer necessity with no attention paid to aesthetics.
And finally, just to show that it's not only suitable for furniture and lighting, I remembered that Australian restauranteur and floral / landscape designer, Joost Bakker, had built the exterior walls of his own house in a massive grid of rebar. Installed in each square is a terracotta pot planted with wild strawberries - 11,000 of them! This same concept, albeit in a much smaller freestanding form, is sold under license through Schiavello, suitable for installation in city gardens and balconies.
All this creativity from a knobbly bar of steel. Who'd have thought?
One more little gem: The 'Gran Confort sans confort' chair by Swiss architect and designer, Stefan Zwicky is a homage to the famous Le Corbusier 'Gran Confort' armchair produced since the 60's by Cassina. Zwicky's version replaces cushions with solid concrete blocks set within a framework of rebar. To have a look click here.