Industrial design studio
I obviously haven’t been paying attention. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s eponymously-named design company has been around for quite a while but I must admit to not having heard of it until I shot some portraits – as a predominantly garden and plant photographer, a departure for me – of architects, Adam and Irenie Cossey and their children to go with those I’d already done of the interiors – another new departure – of their beautiful home in London’s Islington. Two of the Cossey kids, love the Barber Osgerby-designed Home dining table almost as much as their parents, see below.
Irenie Cossey, who trained as an architect had been involved – via the specialist retail interior design practice Universal Design Studio on aspects of the new Mulberry flagship store in London’s Bond Street – with Barber Osgerby and had several items of their furniture, including the elegant, Corian-topped dining table for Isokon Plus. I came across the duo again quite recently when I discovered that their polypropylene Tip Ton chair for Vitra, above, was a big hit at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair.
I’m writing this and have done some retrospective research as much for my own education as that of any of The Blog’s followers so, if you already know all of this stuff, just skip the next paragraph….
Looking at the list of their achievements on their simple but well-designed website, I can’t believe Barber Osgerby escaped my attention for so long. They founded their partnership as long ago as 1996 after studying architecture at the Royal College of Art, London, of which I’m also an Alumni. Isokon Plus produced their Loop chair the following year and their Flight stool in 1998. Features on them and their work began appearing in 2002 in The Observer and Telegraph magazines and in the FT. They were awarded a major arts prize in 2004 that led to a commission to design new pieces for the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea and more magazine appearances: Sunday Times Style, Arena, Blueprint. Maybe I missed those issues. Over the next few years, features on them appeared in a diverse number of UK and international magazines, including: GQ Style, I.D., The New York Times, Abitare, House & Garden, Vogue, but I somehow still didn’t get wind of them. These were followed by more coverage in the stylish Numéro and Wallpaper* magazines, Esquire and The World of Interiors. The list goes on…as does the list of clients they have produced collections for: Cappellini, Magis, Vitra, Venini, Swarovski, Flos and Established & Sons, among others; they have also collaborated with Sony. Examples of Barber Osgerby’s work form part of the permanent collections of the V&A Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Design Museum, London; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. What’s weird is that many times, on my way to the RIBA bookshop in London to flick through the latest magazines, I’ve walked past and admired the bespoke, futuristic reception desk that they designed in 2008.
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful – Dieter Rams
When Marcel Breur put the curves into Bauhaus furniture, whether he admitted it or not, he wasn’t sticking entirely to the accepted wisdom handed down via Adolph Loos, who got it and adapted it from its original source the American architect, Louis Sullivan, responsible for establishing the shape of the tall steel-framed skyscraper in Chicago, that ‘form follows function’. Breur was aware that beauty, albeit a 20th Century, stripped-down version of the notion was also an essential ingredient of design. What instantly appeals to me about Barber Osgerby’s work is that, just as great designers like Dieter Rams, Achille Castiglione and Vico Magistretti followed this same modernist ‘tradition’, each interpreting it to their very personal aesthetic, similarly the design duo are doing the same in our 21st Century. Their bold use of black and white juxtaposed against primary and secondary colours probably derives – perhaps subconsciously – from the Bauhaus via Richard Rodgers hi-tech architecture. On a more extreme level, in terms of colour, parallels can be drawn between its use in their product and the way that Donald Judd’s brightly coloured box sculptures set against his own bare sheet metal works and the severity of Carl Andre’s ‘no compromise’ minimalism made the genre approachable, opening the door for Jonathan Ive’s groundbreaking, minimalism minus the chill factor, approach at Apple.
Tip Ton, pictured above, durable, stackable, requires zero maintenance and can be used in any environment. The chair is light and made from low cost recyclable plastic; inexpensive to produce it should be available at an economical price. As well as the resting position of a normal chair, it tilts forward 9 degrees on the sledge-like ‘floor skid’ bases that connect the front legs to those at the rear. This type of position adjustment was previously only available on the more expensive office chairs with mechanical systems that allow the seat to move forward. The action is designed to straighten the pelvis and spine and improve the body’s blood flow. It looks pretty good, too.
Needless to say, I’ve only just discovered that Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby are designing the Olympic Torch for the London 2012 Games. What’s more, a monograph of the studio’s work will be published by Rizzoli and launched next month in New York at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
You can view my images of the Cossey house interiors at Arcaid Images
What do you think of Barber Osgerby’s design work?
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