CREATURE COMFORTS

Creature comforts embrace monster chic. From super furry furniture to killer-whale chairs, cutting-edge designers are increasingly giving their biomorphic creations a friendly face.

By Henrietta Thompson

It’s no longer enough for a product, object or piece of furniture just to be well proportioned, beautifully constructed, or even just really, really good looking. These days design has to tell a story too – cue oft repeated tales of process, heritage and craftsmanship. But could it be that those stories are getting boring already? Have no fear – keeping things fresh, fun and fantastical in 2015 designers discovered a new narrative: monsters.

Creature-based homeware is major a trend that has crept up on us softly (and that is meant literally) alongside similar trends on the catwalks. To begin with, alongside animal-inspired onesies and pom poms, we embraced an irresistible array of super furry furniture. There was Amy Somerville’s woolly Mammoth Wing Chair, Herve Langlas’s Petit Frank armchair (a fuzzy sheepskin tribute to Jean-Michel Frank), and the Campana Brothers’ furry and fabulous Cipria Sofa to name just a few of the comforting creations that have emerged from the shadows in recent times.

But as furniture fairs have became home to more Mongolian sheepskin than we have concrete to cover, at the edgier end of the spectrum designers have been evolving their own new take on the trend, and starting to bring it alive. Never mind a story; these new pieces are legends in their own right, complete with paws and personalities.

Of all the things to Instagram at Design Miami’s latest show, the prize for the most popular piece to pose in would have to go to Porky Hefer’s hanging killer-whale nest seat, taking pride of place at Southern Guild. 2015 has been Hefer’s year, hosting his first ever solo exhibition with the Cape Town gallery in September; he also exhibited with R & Company in New York, and at Vitra Design Museum in Germany, and in June he clocked up record sales at Basel. “Porky’s work pushes boundaries and perceptions of what art and design are, and ultimately what furniture is and can be,” explains Southern Guild co-founder Julian McGowan of the designer’s environmentally enlightened pieces, which range from a crocodile in avocado leather, to a puffer fish woven with Booboo Cane.

To celebrate the centenary of Robin Day’s birth, Ilse Crawford was invited by Twentytwentyone to reinterpret of one of his most enduring furniture designs, the Reclining Chair. The result has been described as a chair equivalent of Chewbacca. “We took our lead from Day’s love of the outdoors and upholstered the chair with a shaggy, brown sheepskin,” says the designer. “The effect is like being hugged by the chair.”

For LA-based design twins Nikolai and Simon Haas, whose biomorphic pet pieces have for years drawn constant comparisons with Where The Wild Things Are, it’s a theatrical gesture. Attracting collectors such as Tobey Maguire and Peter Marino, and with a patron in Donatella Versace, their surreal collections have referenced nature, science fiction, sexuality, psychedelia and colour theory, not in small part influenced by their creative family background – an opera singer mother, actor brother, and sculptor father. As their gallery, R & Company, explains, they exhibit “a mastery and unique use of materials ranging from brass, bronze, porcelain and fur to highly technical resins and polyurethane” which coupled with “their insatiable curiosity and remarkable visual intelligence, sets them apart as artists”.

This year, the Haas Bros unleashed their Afreaks at Design Miami, a collection of psychedelic toadstools and mini monsters made in partnership with female bead-workers in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township. In an attempt to avoid the clichéd culture-vulture stereotypes of making a trip to Africa for materials and inspiration, the twins have developed a now ongoing partnership, and put the women on a salary, and the bright, playful results have been their most successful yet.

Their pieces are not a million miles away from the Campana Brothers’ Brazilian Baroque collection, shown earlier this year with David Gill. Also strongly theatrical and sensual, the sumptuous gold and bronze decorated legs jumble cupids and crocodiles in a fantastical medley topped with the softest, furriest seats.

It’s refreshing when designers stop taking themselves so seriously. Just as fashion has lately had a huge dose of fun (no one can have failed to notice the monsters, bug eyes and furry pom poms popping up everywhere from old school stalwarts like Fendi to newbies on the scene Hill & Friends) we are learning to laugh at our surroundings too. And the best thing about furniture with faces? The emotional connection we develop with our favourite pieces mean we’ll keep them that much longer.

Whether it’s a backlash against years of “good taste” or a case of cocooning ourselves in the face of the 21st century’s relentless pace of change and uncertainty, it doesn’t really matter. The appeal of a furry friend to curl up with, and a good story, is ageless. Let’s hope this trend is just beginning – I sense there are many more weird and wonderful adventures to come.