What have you always wanted in your home, but never been able to find?
This is the question Sir Terence Conran put to ten of his friends, who happen to be the world’s leading designers. Their answers make up ‘The Wish List’, an exhibition of fantasy objects come to life, launched last month for London Design Week and on show at the V&A until 24 October.
Conran’s rather unusual starter for ten gives him the role of Fairy Godmother in a story with collaboration as its central plotline. A partnership project between the American Hardwood Export Council, (AHEC), and Benchmark furniture, the 'Wish List' pairs each of the illustrious names approached by Conran with a younger, up-and-coming designer, charged with turning their dream objects into a reality.
The results – no surprise, here - come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from beautiful everyday objects like pencil sharpeners (Foster & Matsumoto) and kitchen stools (Brooks & De Pass) to rather less conventional creations such as “the ladder that likes the wall” an umpire’s chair of sorts which allows you to explore “the lost corners of the room”, (Richard & AB Rogers, Xenia Moseley). All objects were made in the Benchmark workshops in one ‘Making Week’ and subject to Life Cycle Assessment, a scientific tool that enables designers to establish the environmental impacts of each piece. By some distance the largest piece comes from recent Anglepoise® collaborator, Sir Paul Smith. His contribution to the ‘Wish List’ shows him to be a man like any other: all he ever wanted was the world’s best shed.
Enter bespoke furniture designer, Nathalie de Leval, his partner-elect with the requisite know-how to ease his transition from the world of tailoring to the less familiar arena of making buildings to measure. Not that de Leval, herself, was entirely on home turf. She speaks of the unique difficulties of designing for outdoors, the need for an exceptionally stable structure, and the challenge of crafting the 360° rotating base on which Paul’s shed was to pivot. Eventually opting for thermo-treated ash, a first for Benchmark, even the choice of material brought its own uncertainties: “We’re unsure yet as to how it will colour – whether it will eventually go grey or maintain its lovely toasty brown colour.”
Sir Paul Smith with Nathalie de Leval at the V&A installation
What’s less uncertain is the pared-back beauty of what they’ve come up with. Standing at 3m x 3m, (the same size as the Paul Smith’s first shop in Nottingham), the shed’s simple lines and elegant craftsmanship faithfully articulate the designer’s longing for a serene, unfussy space, wilfully out of kilter with the frenetic pace of our modern world. Not that this makes it any ordinary hiding place; with its glass façade and rotating base, the shed’s most remarkable feature is its ability to chase the sun round on its daily commute across the sky.
Of course, we’d happily find space for Paul’s shed in our own back gardens. But in all likelihood that’s one wish too far; Smith has a grander location in mind, imagining it eventually atop a hill or a forest where, in his own words, it can “inherit the countryside.”
This will have to wait, though, for a little while longer. Perhaps the last remnant of this year’s London Design Week, ‘The Wish List’ remains on show at the V&A until October 24. Go and have a peep while you still have the chance.
Paul’s Shed is designed by Nathalie de Leval and Paul Smith
Structural engineering by Andrew Lawrence at Ove Arup
Built by Nathalie de Leval and the team at Benchmark furniture
Interior by Paul Smith and Nicholas Chandor
Photographs by Petr Krejci
Words: Tom Tytherleigh