Bethan and her Zigzag:Library shelf at The Aram Gallery. Photo by Fernando Laposse.
The Guadalupe daybed using Kvadrat Divina fabric. Photo by Fernando Laposse.
Making a name for herself with her distinctive use of colour and pattern in projects ranging from furniture to lighting (all commissioned one-off pieces for now), 29-year-old British designer Bethan Laura Wood was one of W Hotels’ picks for Designer of the Future last year. This year, for Milan Design Week, renowned Danish fabric company Kvadrat invited Wood to put her own spin on their signature Divina fabric. The result was a daybed with a stunning fabric collage in a kaleidoscope of colours. At the Divina showcase in Milan we found out her intriguing habit of testing colour combinations out on herself first!
Do you know how many colours were used in the Guadalupe daybed?
This project was really about celebrating the colour range in Divina, so I didn’t hold myself to only doing one colourway. There are probably four or five different colourways in the bed itself, and if there are six to eight shades in one colourway, you can imagine that will add up, numberwise.
I can see a pattern running though the colours. So there is a method to the madness?
There is a lot of mathematics to the madness. There is a set rhythm in the piece. That for me, is quite an important part in how I create patterns. There are normally quite a lot of rules; sometimes I’ll break them once they’ve been set, other times I stick quite rigidly to them. Here there is a set rhythm of pieces – somewhere between 10 and 15 different triangle shapes, and then the shapes are repeated. The pattern was based on the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico city, and I was just super excited and impressed by what you might call stained glass but are actually blocks of cast glass composed together. I’ve really pushed the colourway to match the traditional animal embroidery you get in South Mexico. When they invited me to take apart in this project, it seemed to be a perfect fit. I just started developing this pattern but I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it. And then I saw the colour range of Divinia, I thought ‘perfect’. This is exactly the right material to work with for this pattern.
The range had all the colours you needed?
Yes! It was scary how close they were to the colour samples I picked up when I was in Mexico. So it was really fantastic to be able to work with such a diverse range of colour.
Was there a brief or did you have a free rein to do what you wanted?
It was pretty much free rein. The main thing was to celebrate the Divinia range and obviously colour is a very important part of this range. But what you did with it was up to you, that’s why it’s great because there can be so many different interpretations of the fabric.
And why did you choose to do a bed?
I’ve been traveling a lot for work, and I’ve been so impressed by a lot of religious spaces. It’s not because I’m religious or you have to be religious to enjoy them, but they have this amazing calm, tranquility and stillness, but when you break them down, a lot of these buildings are made with crazy, intense patterns, especially in their stained glass windows. And I wanted to make a piece of furniture which was about this kind of stillness. That’s why a daybed seemed to really suit, as it was about taking a rest and dreaming. Those half-awake, half-asleep periods for me, are some of the most creative – for me to understand how a project should go or where I want to take it. So that’s why I felt making a daybed was really the right thing for this project.
Colour is a very big part of your work.
I think I remember colour combinations very storngly. When I’m building a colour combination, depending on the direction I want to work with, there’s something about it that kind of tastes right, when I know it’s the right direction. I love colour a lot and in the last few years, from my time at the Royal College of Arts and after graduating from it (in 2009), I realised that colour was something I naturally had an inclination for, and I should not be worried about using it in my work. When I was younger, I was very nervous about putting colour or pattern for no reason in a piece, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more confident with understanding why it’s important for me, within certain pieces of my work, to work with colour as a key component of construction.
What’s your earliest memory of colour?
In terms of design, I can’t really remember which piece it is, but I kind of remember the colours. It was a Memphis piece. People ask me about Memphis because some of my work references that design style strongly. I love Memphis now but when I was younger I don’t think I did. At that time I couldn’t quite take it – all that pattern and all that colour. I don’t naturally love some pieces but I like that they cause this strong reaction, so I think that’s probably a strong memory of colour for me.
What colours always catch your eye and make you take a second look?
In my previous work, I naturally went towards pastels and maybe a tiny bit of neon – my first very patterned colour work, like the Moon Rock and Hot Rock, were very pastel in their colour tones. It’s only very recently that I’ve either started to understand or to feel more comfortable to work with stronger colours, which I don’t so naturally lean towards. For example when I went to Mexico, which has such a hot colour range, I was super interested in understanding what was it about the proportions or mix of colour that makes it Mexican, rather than a different country that uses bright colours.
I love what you’re wearing, is this just fashion for you or does it carry a message?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a message of any sort, but sometimes I will find myself dressing or playing with colour in the way I look or in the things that I wear. It’s almost a first step for me when I am digesting a new colourway, a new direction.
You try it out on yourself first?
Yeah, a little bit. That definitely comes through. It’s quite symbiotic. I just did a residency in Vicenza and in the area where we stayed they had a supermarket, and that’s where I bought these big fur pom poms (pointing to the green furry pom poms she is wearing from her turban). Now they’ve become part of my look. Normally I wear shapes or colours that work well together. At the moment I’m in love with kimonos so I’m wearing a lot of those but yeah it varies according to what I find.
The writer, Bethan Laura Wood and a green furry pom pom
So far, all your work has been sort of design-art, bespoke or commissioned pieces. Would you consider designing for the consumer market?
I don’t say that I will never design for mass production. There could be very interesting things to do within mass production, there are a lot of tools and tooling that only suit that kind of production. As a designer, I’m interested to work with new tools and materials and I think the reason why quite a lot of my work so far has been one-off limited editions is because it suited the context of the material.
Are there designers whose work you really admire?
I always like to speak about Jurgen Bey and Martino Gamper beacuse they were both my tutors at the RCA and I think both their ways of working are incredibly amazing. Martino’s way is to just work directly with materials and with his hands and Jurgen’s way is making you think bigger, new ways of envisaging the world through objects. Ettore Sottsass and Memphis has been a big influence, and I’m also a big fan of Jaime Hayon who is a fantastic designer who has managed to make his work straddle production and luxury without losing any of the soul or the context. Also he’s just a lovely guy.
You were named one of W Hotels Designer of the Future in 2013. How has it affected your career?
It’s a really amazing award to win and I was really excited to get it. That was why I was in Mexico, for the W Hotels residency. It has been a massive influence on giving me new inspiration for work. So I was very happy to win the award.
Are there bigger expectations now?
It’s always going to be like that. You make work, and if it’s well-received, you panic if you’re ever going to make something as good again or keep up with the ever-turning wheels of design. I’m just excited to get to make work, so that’s really my main focus.
What are you working on at the moment?
When I go back to my studio, I want to develop the Guadalupe pattern more, for some different interpretations – maybe more mass produced versions as well as luxury versions, and I have a few more projects coming soon that I’ll be announcing in the next months.
The Guadalupe daybed using Kvadrat Divina fabric. Photo by Fernando Laposse.
Read about what we saw at this year’s Salone del Mobile Milano:
Milan Furniture Fair Report #1 — Our Picks From Brands We Love
Milan Furniture Fair Report #2 — The Best From Young Designers
Milan Furniture Fair Report #3 — Quirky & Unconventional Designs
MEET: Anderssen & Voll
MEET: Jaime Hayon
Read about what we saw at this year’s Milan Design Week:
MEET: Marcel Wanders of Moooi