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When it comes to furniture and industrial design, Denmark is at the top of my list. Innovation, practicality, minimalism, and sustainability are some qualities that characterize Danish design. There is a museum in Copenhagen called the Designmuseum Danmark (literally translates to English as “Design Museum Denmark”) that showcases the best of Danish craftsmanship, mostly spanning from the last century until now.

Danish Design Now, highlighting pieces created on the 21st Century.

The museum is well curated and features furniture, clothing, and graphic design among others. Only a few pieces of the museum are interactive, such as the chairs in the lobby which you are allowed to sit on.

Clothes by various Danish designers

Bicycles, strollers, and skateboards

The Danes know how to create things that are both practical and stylish at the same time. Danish designers know how to incorporate their personal design aesthetics with the comfort and usability of the product. Despite being avant-garde, Danish design also leans towards minimalism. Reinventing the basic form is prioritized instead of adding unnecessary embellishments.

Reinventing the basic form
Hans Wegner’s “Shell Chair”

Denmark is one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, so it’s no surprise that Danish design also puts importance on sustainability. Most products are made from renewable or recycled materials, such as HAY’s “Nobody Chair” which is lined with felt created from recycled plastic.

I love the museum because of the retrospective curation that showcased some of the most iconic pieces that helped define contemporary Danish design. I recognized a lot of famous pieces, but I didn’t even realize that they were originally created by a Danish designer!

The Panton Chair and the Flowerpot Lamp by Verner Panton
A small room dedicated to Arne Jacobsen.

Design is one Denmark’s most important contributions to the global art scene, so it’s only natural that they would open a museum dedicated to this craft.

 

The Danish Chair, a hall featuring 110 chairs designed by Danish designers.
Haute couture by Erik Mortensen for the Balmain fashion house in the 80’s.

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Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, opened in 1960 and considered to be one of Arne Jacobsen’s most iconic projects, is a metallic, rectangular tower seemingly out of place, jutting out among the low-lying buildings of Copenhagen.

This building is designed by Arne Jacobsen, one of the most prominent Danish designers from the 20th Century, known mostly for his distinctive chair designs.

Image of Arne Jacobsen (c) Wikipedia

Although the hotel has changed throughout the past decades, it has still retained its modernist, retro aesthetic to this day. The hotel’s façade, in addition to the furniture of the hotel, were designed by Jacobsen.

Egg and Swan Chairs
The Spiral Staircase

The famous Egg chairs and Swan chairs can be found in the lobby, and the spiral staircase on the ground floor has been preserved since the 60s.

The only part of the hotel that has been unchanged and left in its original design is room 606, the hotel’s most popular room.

Radisson Blu Room 606
By Pietervandenabeele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The second floor of the hotel is open to non-guests, and there you can see more of Jacobsen’s furniture displayed outside the restaurant and function rooms.

The hotel is often regarded as being the first design hotel in the world. Everything from the hotel’s bathrooms to the cutlery used to be designed by Jacobsen himself. Although the hotel is no longer the same since the 1960s, it’s still considered to be an important relic of Denmark’s design history.

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Dover Street Market is more than just a concept-store, it is a space for artistic eclecticism. What sets Dover Street Market apart from most department stores is the unrestrained creativity it harbors. Art installations are displayed alongside designer clothing making it seem more like an art gallery than a boutique. The store is described by its owner, Rei Kawakubo – the designer behind Comme des Garçons – as an “ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos,” and this impression becomes clear as soon as you step into the store.

Previously the Komatsu Department Store from 1946, this revamped six-story building is a blank canvas for creatives to exhibit their work. Without the clothing racks and the artworks, the building would only be comprised of empty white rooms. All of the artists displaying their work inside Dover Street Market were picked by Kawakubo herself.

“Pulse” by Kyoto-based Kohei Nawa
“Bear Cave” by French studio Coudamy Design

Among the installations are “Pulse” by Kyoto-based Kohei Nawa, a set of twisting white pillars near the escalators; “Bear Cave” by French studio Coudamy Design, a wooden tree-like structure on the second floor that unfurls to the ceiling; sculptures of giant wasps by set designer Michael Howells that are scattered throughout the building; an elephant plaster sculpture by British artist Stephanie Quayle; self-portraits by American photographer Cindy Sherman; and a giant plastic rose by British artist Andy Hillman.

Michael Howells Installation
Self portait by Cindy Sherman

You’d be surprised by how simple the layout of each floor actually is. The building has no special architectural highlight whatsoever, it’s special entirely because of the art that it features and its selection of clothing.

I want to create a kind of market where various creators from various fields gather together and encounter each other in an ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos: the mixing up and coming together of different kindred souls who all share a strong personal vision.- Rei Kawakubo

Comme des Garçons S-S ’16

The featured designers were also curated by Kawakubo. A mix of avant-garde, street, classic, and obscure, it feels different from most department stores who curate their designers based on their target markets. The gothic clothes of Rick Owens, the minimalist collections of Phoebe Philo’s Céline, the timeless jewelry of Tiffany and Co., and the idiosyncratic pieces of John Galliano’s Martin Margiela are all sold under a single roof. Dover Street Market also carries all the labels under the Comme des Garçons company, such as Comme des Garçons, Tricot, Ganryu, Junya Watanabe, and Noir Kei Ninomiya. Most designers that Dover Street Market carry are very unconventional, which isn’t surprising since Kawakubo herself is a celebrated non-conformist. Some labels sold here can’t be found in other department stores, making it a paradise for those who love exploring new designers.

Junya Watanabe S-S ’16

Dover Street Market Ginza isn’t located along the main highway, but on a street parallel to it, behind the big Uniqlo store (there’s a bridge connecting the two buildings). Other Dover Street Market locations include London, New York, Beijing, and a new one that will open soon in Singapore. Every store’s design is unique which makes all of them worth going to. The New York branch is located along Lexington Avenue in Manhattan and has a different look altogether. I personally prefer it over the Ginza branch since it’s bigger and the installations are wilder, although that’s not to say that the Ginza branch is boring. If you’re not interested in shopping, window shopping, or looking at art, both branches also have cool cafés to hang out in.

Ginza is beautiful but the presence of many luxury stores can sometimes make it seem flat. Dover Street Market is certainly the most unique store around the area with its playful, artistic vibe. Like Kawakubo herself, Dover Street Market is an outlier amongst the typical fashion stores in the neighborhood, and that’s exactly why this store is undoubtedly the coolest boutique in Ginza.

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Issey Miyake doesn’t consider himself solely as a fashion designer. True enough, Miyake’s work encompasses various fields of design. His contributions to design don’t come from his concepts and ideas alone, but also in his innovative use of textiles and materials.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/744217 (1987; synthetic, metal)
Image grab from Met Museum
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/80663 (S/S 1994; polyester)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/698832 (1984; cotton, nylon, metal)

Miyake’s design philosophy lies in the principle of a “‘Piece of Cloth,’ a concept which explores not only the relationship between the body and clothing, but also the space that is born between them.” He constantly experimented on the way the clothes moved in relation to the human body. The silhouettes of his clothing can often shape the wearer or be shaped by the wearer. Some pieces have drapey silhouettes with fluid fabrics that bounce, crease, or stretch depending on the wearer, making each piece look different on various body types; some take on the shapes of cocoons or thorns  (among other things), and can be further manipulated depending on how the wearer fancies it to look. The fluidity and freedom he gives to his clothing makes them unique because it requires a collaboration with the imagination of the wearer to further highlight Miyake’s creativity.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/124785 (S/S 1991; silk)
Image grab from Met Museum
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/124782 (F/W 1992-93; synthetic)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112860 (F/W 1994-95; synthetic)

Miyake was known for experimenting with various types of materials including silk, rattan, cotton, paper, wool, and polyester for his clothing. He used cutting edge technology to playfully shape, pleat, and crease these unconventional materials. His most famous innovation was the pleated polyester fabric, which he and his team mastered in 1988 and patented in 1993.  The popularity behind this product branched into a separate line altogether, Pleats Please Issey Miyake.

The clothes are created first, then they are layered between paper and heated, creating pleats on the fabric. This technique is done so masterfully that it never flattens, crumples, or becomes deformed, making it incredibly easy to store and care for.

Another groundbreaking innovation was the A-POC manufacturing method which uses “computer technology to create clothing from a single piece of thread in a single process,” resulting in a piece of clothing consisting of one fabric with no seams.

Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112871 (creased synthetic dress; 1993)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/112865 (pleated polyester dress; F/W 1989-90)
Image grab from Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/87948 (triangular protrusion wool dress; 1989)

Miyake and Iittala

Two of Miyake’s forays into homeware design were his collaborations with Finnish homeware brand Iittala and Italian lighting design brand Artemide.

Miyake’s collaboration with Iittala includes tableware such as placemats, plates, and table napkins, but also includes glass vases, tote bags, and pillowcases. All of them have a distinct Issey Miyake look, with geometric patterns and pleats dominating the collection. The color palette was inspired by the “colors of nature” and consists mostly of neutrals but also has a muted pink shade and a rich green shade to add some life into the collection; the two hues they chose are also very versatile and complementary to the rest of the pieces. The design theme is “blossom,” probably referring to the white and pink sakura of Japan.

Both Nordic and Japanese design have similar principles such as minimalism and timelessness, which is why I think this collaboration became so successful.

Miyake and Artemide

The collaboration with Artemide was just as incredible, featuring origami-like lamps made out of recycled polyester fabric that can be flattened for safekeeping and unfurled to showcase the structure of the lamp. Because of its unique shape, light does not transmit outwards the same way it does in a conventional lamp. According to Miyake’s website, they were inspired by the Japanese philosophy regarding the relationship between the light and shadow. They used a quote from Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows:

We find beauty not in the thing itself, but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.

Issey Miyake Today

Nowadays, Miyake no longer designs the clothes but he still plays a big role in the creative processes in his company. The current creative director of the main Issey Miyake line is Yoshiyuki Miyamae, who I believe is doing a fine job in capturing Miyake’s innovation and playfulness in his own designs.

No matter how old Miyake’s designs are, they still remain timeless up to now, and the technology and techniques that he introduced have changed the design world forever.

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As environmental degradation becomes more alarming, sustainability should no longer be a trend but a need.

Sustainability is a lifestyle which includes the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the things you buy, and the little habits in everyday life. We live in a world of rampant consumerism, and this is madness.

Big businesses like to sell their products cheap, prompting people to buy more. Little  do we  know that these companies may use inexpensive, toxic materials and exploit cheap labor in order to bring down production costs.

Even though there is an increasing awareness towards sustainability, there are still certain biases against sustainable materials. Some people believe that materials like recycled fabric and reclaimed wood are ugly or gross, and they would demand products that are made out of virgin materials.

But thanks to new technologies and innovative artists, the tide is turning and sustainable design can be just as good, aesthetically and functionally, as conventional design.

Architecture

Certain elements of a building’s design can influence insulation, ventilation, and lighting. The building’s contours or orientation are important for both ventilation and lighting. It has to be designed in such a way that air outside can flow smoothly into the building and circulate inside. Likewise, openings must also be able to allow light to come inside.

Colors are also important for insulation and lighting. Notice how Scandinavian design uses dark colors for exteriors and whites for interiors. The dark color outside absorbs heat, insulating the building during the harsh winters, whereas the white colors inside diffuse light, illuminating the building despite the lack of sunlight during the cold months. These two aspects of a building alone can reduce the dependency on electricity significantly.

Materials are another major factor in sustainable architecture. Locally-sourced recycled wood is a very good option. One alternative that’s growing in popularity is bamboo, one of the fastest growing plants in the world that’s very common in the tropics; it’s as strong as steel which makes it a very effective building material. Both sustainable and functional, bamboo is almost the perfect building material.

A perfect example of an architectural project that incorporates design, sustainability, and functionalism equally is the Green Village in Bali, Indonesia, designed by the Ibuku architecture firm.

Besides the building’s foundation, the finishing material like paint is also important to consider. Boysen offers different eco-friendly options for paint such as  KNOxOUT which cleans the air, Cool Shades, a roof paint that helps bring down energy cost, and the odor-less, low VOC, lead-free Healthy Home, to name a few.

Furniture

Most sustainable furniture you can buy are sourced out of reclaimed wood or salvaged wood, both of which are recycled. Reclaimed wood refers to those that has been used for some other purpose previously, salvaged wood refers to those that come from dead trees. Both are more sustainable than fresh wood but still require a lot of work, from carving and polishing, before you can use it as furniture.

Other than sourcing, sustainable furniture is ideally handcrafted, rather than mass-produced in factories. It gives employment to more people and keeps the artistry of furniture making alive. A good example of sustainable furniture would be those by Filipino designer Benji Reyes who uses only reclaimed wood. His furniture is distinctly Filipino. Functionally, they are unbelievably comfortable to sit or lie down on despite the wooden material. He manages to make his furniture comfortable by shaping them in such a way that it “fits” the human body.

Benji Reyes Furniture
Benji Reyes Furniture

One notable invention made was a machine that turns PET bottles to fiber which can be woven into a fabric. This material was used for the Nobody chair of Danish furniture company HAY. Designed by Copenhagen-based firm Komplot Design, this minimalist chair is created completely with the use of the fiber, molding it to its shape rather than using it as a lining, making this the first monoblock chair using only textile for construction.

Fashion

An iconic innovator who was way beyond his time is the Belgian designer Martin Margiela. Although he no longer works, the legacy he has left in the fashion industry is an enormous one. His style revolved around deconstruction and silhouette experimentation, but what made his work truly distinctive was the use of recycled materials. He would use the most mundane materials such as surgical gloves, combs, hair, and belts; he also never hid the fact that his clothing were created with these materials. They added character to the pieces and seeing them leaves you in awe of Margiela’s brilliance. It takes a lot of creativity to turn such commonplace items into high fashion.

Sustainable fashion doesn’t stop at high fashion though. Affordable fashion brands such as H&M and Levi’s have made use of new technology to create clothing out of recycled materials. H&M uses the fabric from donated items to weave into new clothes once more whereas Levi’s uses a similar kind of technology to HAY’s, using PET fabric for their jeans.

Quality and design don’t have to be sacrificed for sustainability. Nowadays, they often come hand in hand. It only takes creativity to incorporate these elements well to make something that is both environmentally conscious and beautiful. Sustainability should not be a trend, but a global, lifelong movement that aims to diminish our negative impact on the environment.

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Up until I was 21, I lived in my grandparents’ ancestral home. It was a late 50s/60s bungalow with huge, flower-filled gardens and enough space to accommodate four generations under one roof. While I have only a few memories of my grandparents before they passed away, living in the same rooms, sitting on the same furniture, and seeing little reminders of them every day made me feel connected to them. But it was never really my own room or home—it was someone else’s.

Building A New Home

While I was in college, my parents decided to move out of the ancestral home and build a new house. It was a long and arduous process from finding a village that was safe, accessible, and had the right atmosphere, to planning the house and going through every little detail. Even I don’t remember much of the construction now!

Building the house literally from the ground up was a new experience for me and my parents, but of course designing and decorating my own room was the most personal. Up until last year I slept, studied, and lived in a room occupied by countless family members before me. When I moved into my old room as a grade school student, this meant I only had control over the color of blinds and a few decorations. The walls had just been repainted blue the year before, my furniture were all hand-me-downs from my aunt, my mother, and my grandparents, and there was very little space to be creative with the arrangement. I don’t even have any photos of my old room because believe me, it wasn’t photogenic at all.

My Very Own Room At Last

So you can imagine how excited I was to have total control over the design, decor, and overall look of my new space. I had to pick everything from the color of my bathroom tiles, to the color of my bedroom walls, down to the handles on my walk-in closet drawers. I even got to decide whether I wanted a bigger room or a bigger walk-in closet! (I chose the bigger room.)

I wasn’t fussy about most parts of my room especially the tiny details like how many light bulbs or the placement of drawers and shelves, but I did have a few requests.

I wanted a corner window, as big as possible. My old room was dark and didn’t have much light shining in because the windows were smaller, so I was dead set on having a bright and cheery room. The one challenge: the windows couldn’t be floor-length because they’d have to add a balcony, which would be useless space for me and my family. But even so, I got my wish! When I’m in my room during the day time, my room is so bright that I only need to pull the blinds halfway up to light the whole space. I wake up to a bright and cheery room every day, which definitely puts me in a better mood!

My Favorite Colors

Next, I wanted my walls to be pink and lavender. I debated against this for a while—thinking that I was 21 already, a working girl, and that maybe I should pick a more “grown-up” color scheme. But then I thought: this is the first time I get to decide on the color of my room, I should choose colors I genuinely like. I ended up choosing a very, very light shade of pink for 3 of the walls, then a soft lavender to create a striped accent on the 4th wall. Needless to say, my accent wall is now the perfect spot for IG-worthy photos.

My Bathroom Design

My last design request wasn’t aesthetic but practical. A dirty, wet bathroom is one of my biggest pet peeves. As a kid I traveled and toured a lot with a children’s choir, and I’ve seen the worst of the worst when it comes to bathrooms. I can’t stand it when water from the shower stall splashes on the toilet! So this was the one thing I had to avoid in my own bathroom, no matter what. I made sure of a few things. First, no shower curtains! I think I’m in the minority when I say that I absolutely hate shower curtains. The solution? We installed a glass shower enclosure. The second solution is something I requested for all the bathrooms in our new house: the shower door and toilet should face the same direction, and the door should not, under any circumstances, open to the toilet. I’ve seen this mistake in so many bathrooms (probably in an attempt to save space) and it causes most of the dirt and splashing water. So even if the floor plan is a bit inefficient, I think it’s worth it.

That’s it for the design part of the journey to a room of my own! It was fun to look back on the process and appreciate the little things that made my new room so much more comfortable and personal. I’ll be back for part 2, where I’ll share how I decorated my space once we moved in.

Take a look around: at the tumbler keeping your coffee warm, the chair you’re sitting on, the room you’re in, the screen of this strange device you’ve been staring at the past few seconds. Someone, somewhere out there has either made your life ten times easier or noticeably less enjoyable (to my desk and chair at home, my stiff neck sends its regards), all thanks to design.

The most obvious examples are those we barely give a second glance. Take the humble paper clip, a common detail in everyday life that usually never merits a second glance. But the reason people are still using it today since its birth sometime in the 19th century is it does what it’s supposed to do in the easiest, most straightforward way possible.

Another example is door knobs. Imagine carrying a heavy stack of boxes and trying to open a door with a round, twist-style door knob. It isn’t exactly a monumental effort, but to people with physical ailments or disabilities, alternatives like lever-style door knobs and push-pull doors make getting around on a daily basis much, much easier.

Design is everywhere. It’s entwined into our daily routines, constantly pointing us in the right direction and improving the quality of our lives behind the scenes. It exists without us really noticing it’s there, and that’s the beauty of it.

Take a look at smartphones. Notice how some of them use an envelope symbol to tell you that this is where you send your messages, or an address book for your contacts. Kids these days probably haven’t even seen a real-life address book, yet the meanings of these symbols have become so universal and familiar to us, and designers know this.

When presented with something new, people need to be able to quickly learn how it works and how to use it. People know what to do when they see a handle on a door or a switch on the wall, but for more complex devices like smartphones whose functions aren’t inherent in their physical design, this isn’t so obvious. How much people end up liking and wanting to use something will heavily depend on how easy it is to use. No matter how beautiful or cool the latest smartphone looks, if it’s a pain in the butt, people will find something else. That’s why designers need to place accessibility and ease of use above all else.

image by Julian Hayon | unsplash.com

But design truly stands out when form seamlessly meets function, when something does what it does well and looks good doing it. Apple designs its products for their customers. They guide you every step of the way and make sure you understand how their products work without much effort, even if you’ve never held an Apple device in your life. They cater to your experience of the product. That, plus gorgeous aesthetics, is why so many people choose Apple.

The same principles apply to interior design. Most people think that an interior designer is there just to make our rooms look pretty. In truth, they design for people, just as much as any other designer does. They’re tailoring a room for a specific person with individual tastes and needs. If they’re designing a room for someone who loves order, that room should strive for a symmetrical visual balance that evokes order and familiarity.

image by Gabriel Beaudry | unsplash.com

Likewise, a bedroom that’s practically in-your-face with garish colors and visually un-relaxing elements isn’t a room you’d like to come home to after a long day’s work. No matter how beautiful and perfect a room you’ve just put together, if it doesn’t fulfill the needs that room was meant to fulfill, then it isn’t a good room.

Design matters and helps us in meaningful ways, whether overt or unnoticed. It has the subtle power to influence our behavior and how we interact with the world. So to all the people we’ve never met who’ve made all our lives so much easier with all the cool stuff around us, we thank you for it.