MILAN 2016

The Art of Simplicity


18 April 2016

“There’s not too much to tell really,” says Shay Alkalay, co-founder of London-based design studio Raw-Edges, of the practice's latest project Herringbones.

It is a frank admission, but Alkalay has a point. Herringbones, an exhibition on show throughout Milan Design Week (12- 17 April) at Spazio Sanremo, a disused garage located in the city's 5vie design district, was remarkably simple, both in its process and resulting designs.

The exhibition comprised a series of wooden furniture – tables, chairs, and a room divider – dip-stained in colourful dyes to produce jagged herringbone patterns. The process of dying the objects is so simple that it could be done on site: planks of wood were lowered into containers of dye positioned at a 45° angle. Shades of colours were then layered to build up more complex patterns. “It is really quick, really simple and a very plain design for the object,” says Alkalay.

A transparency in the making process was evident throughout the exhibition. Positioned amongst the furniture were drying racks holding recently dip-stained planks of wood, while containers of dye were dotted throughout the large exhibition space. “For us the principe is so simple,” says Alkalay. “But people really need to see how you make it for them to understand. There is still an element that people find surprising.”

As a result, the opening night of Herringbones became an occasion of serendipitous do-it-yourself dip-dying. “Our idea was that we would dip the wood to show people the process behind our products but people wanted to do it themselves,” says Alkalay. “We thought ‘Oh god that is amazing.’ So we started to encourage more people to do it.”

Raw-Edges was founded in 2007 by Royal College of Arts graduates Alkalay and Yael Mer. Since late-2014 the studio’s focus has been predominantly directed towards Endgrain, an ongoing project devoted to creating sculptural, curvaceous furniture that is soaked in dye throughout its grain to create colourful three-dimensional patterns.

While the objects exhibited as part of Herringbones are only surface dyed, the pieces displayed bear similarities to Endgrain. The project uses the same wood – jelutong timber and southern yellow pine – as Endgrain, as well as the same type of dye and colourings. “We wanted to use the same wood as we use in Endgrain because we feel that this is our wood now,” says Alkalay. “Now it is our wood, we are going to stick with it whatever we do.”

However, while Endgrain is defined by its curved forms (a technique that demonstrates the way in which the stain fully soaks through the wood), the Herringbones pieces are assembled from flat, slat-like pieces of wood. “We almost wanted the object to be a background surface for the pattern,” says Alkalay. “It is not so sculptural like Endgrain where we revealed the curves, instead it is really flat.”

Like the decision to create less sculptural forms, Raw-Edges opted to showcase the project on furniture purely for pragmatic reasons: “We needed big surfaces to show the pattern on,” says Alkalay. “A table was the first idea because the herringbone pattern is like a runner that you put on tables. For example, for Stella McCartney [in 2010 Raw-Edges created stained oak parquet flooring for the Stella McCartney store in Milan] we would take a pattern from a textile and embed it in the floor. It is similar: we take away the textile but we take the pattern from the textile. It is sort of like a runner on a table.”