The marquetry on Zelouf and Bell’sKoi Noir table is not your usual polite decorative borders, it is more like wood tattoos, a bold individual statement. There is a fluidity to this image that is not usually found in marquetry even with images of koi carp. (I know I’ve googled them.) It’s is the second time that they’ve used this pattern, the first time it was a coloured version for a New-York client. This time they wanted to try something more monochrome with naturally stained woods inlaid into bog oak with has been hand lacquered.
Decorative applied arts haven’t really been big in vogue with designers since the art deco period. Having been through a design school myself I understand how modernism made you feel that you were being silly if your design was anything but functional. There is definitely a snobbery about the use of certain styles, which has been gradually loosening up in the last few years, which is a good thing, as art deco never lost it’s popularity amoungst those who hadn’t been taught to look down on decoration.
At the Zelouf and Bell’s exhibition in the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, I was rather shocked by a comment in the guestbook, accusing them of plagiarism. Apart from the fact that none of their designs are pre-existing, there is no shame in producing designs with an art deco influence. They have made it their own and pushed to the limits of what they are capable of, creating something fresher and finer. This critic would probably accept a contemporary jazz musician playing a cover version of a jazz era tune, and admire what they have bought to it. Using cultural references and an understood language of styles, deepens our connection to a work. Like with fashion houses, Gaultier or Chanel, nothing is a hundred percent new, just some things that are very well expressed and perfected upon.
Zelouf and Bell’s Gazelle desk manages to be both fun and distinguished masculine and feminine all that the same time. The main body of the desk is of quarter sawn and oiled oak, which gives it great texture and strength. The rest is of ebonised walnut legs and wenge on the pulls. Not all woods have the same qualities or behaves in the same way, so it takes some quite serious expertise to play the different woods well. Like with good cooking, the results of this remain largely unseen at a glance, but can begin to be appreciated as you get close up. It is really over time, as it ages well, that is true value can be understood.
One of those close up details that’s pretty rock and roll has to be the hematite pulls, “like nipple rings,” Zelouf and Bell said. These close up details are always a charming discovery with their work. My favorite detail appears on all their work, it’s the way they sign their mark in inlaid polished aluminium, the stamp of style.
I love animal tables. Zoomorphism make furniture feel like part of the family rather than just a functional object. Like a pet dog it’s a kind of extension of who you are, only you don’t need to feed it or bring it out for walks. It also makes an excellent alternative to taxidermy which has been having a bit of a moment right now.
Zelouf and Bell constructed the leg of this table like a winding back bone. The ebonized cherry vertebrae are separated by polished aluminium discs. How it all stands up is their secret. This is one of many pieces that Zelouf and Bell have made in black, they even came out with a whole collection just in black recently. There is an old decorating trick, where you put a black object in a room and it makes all the other colours look clearer and cleaner. Black has already become popular in interiors and it looks like a trend that’s not likely to fade.
Zelouf and Bell love the adventure of collaborating with an artist. In the case of the Monolith scared and healing console the adventure was with Danish artist Jorn Ronnau, who sculpted directly on the piece with a chain saw, resulting in a sort of controlled anarchy. On close examination what is really extraordinary isn’t the grooves cut into the wood, but the bumps that are proud of the surface. After Ronnau made his cuts, the wood would have been smoothed down further, giving a clean finish that frames the cuts. It’s a juxtaposition of a silky skin and the gnarly scars, which have weathered together like an Irish landscape.
Prehistoric Dolmens must have been a piece of cake to construct compared to Zelouf and Bell‘s Dolmen table. You don’t see many slanting lines on curved surfaces for a good reason, they are very tricky to do. But I suppose when you have a team of master craftsmen there is the opportunity to do tricky things. The Dolmen table has a beautiful swish to it that would not be possible without a high level of woodcraft expertise.
There is a dramatic version of this table on bespokeglobal.com in ebony and birdseye maple, but the one that I saw was in the Irish Cultural Center in Paris, the grayed oak version. As you move around it you can really appreciate the play of the direction of the grain. It’s as if the cylinder that was the tree has been deconstructed and the wood has reassembled itself into another more ritualistic cylindrical with a new more powerful expression of the essence of the wood. Perhaps you could make a wish if you walk around it three times.
The Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris currently had an exhibition of furniture by Zelouf and Bell until April 26th. From their workshop in country Laoise in Ireland they produce an eclectic array of fine furniture. Some work is art deco inspired like this piece, but there is something a little more complex than that going on, and if I had to use some kind of style label for their studio it would be haute goth.
The fan desk is one of those objects that in all simplicity is an elegant tour de force of design and skill, executed in macassar ebony and iced koto. There is a large volume of storage space which doesn’t make it visually heavy. Over all there is a fantastic balance to it, this piece seems to put it’s weight on the central two pairs of legs and then lean outward to rest stabilized on the outer leg. I reluctantly say that it’s feminine as there is nothing girly about it at all.
Zelouf and Bell told me about how the worked with the client, and the room with two columns overlooking the sea that it was made for, and how, just as the desk was finished they weren’t too happy with the tone of the wood inside the drawers, it was too yellowy for their taste, so they ripped it out and did it all again. There’s some dedication to detail for you.
In the Museum of Childhood in Powerscourt House just outside Dublin, I recently visited Tara’s Palace, an extraordinary replica 18th century dolls house, built by Irish master craftsmen over 20 years. The dolls house was commissioned by Ron McDonnell of the Irish Antique dealers association, just after the association’s disappointing loss at auction to Lego-land for Titania’s Palace, a similar dolls house, in 1978.
Much of the pieces of furniture are valuable antiques which work in with the twenty two themed rooms that are in keeping with a large Irish 18th century estate house, such as the silver room, the garden room or the nursery. The Ivory room is one of my favourites, where there are tables carved by French Napoleonic prisoners of war, from the bones found in their food.
The Museum of Childhood is run on a benevolent basis to donate to children’s charities. The entry fee is not expensive, it’s free for tiny ones, and they also sell a book about Tara’s Palace so I don’t want to give too much away. When I visited with my children they were in the play area a long time before I was ready to go, so it’s not just for children. There are also the Powerscourt house and gardens to visit, and the Avoca shop and café where I had just as much fun at one of their tables with a fantastic lunch.
This magnificent Capstan table from the Guinness estate in Ireland that I found in the the Baker Stately home collection changes in size from 70cm to 87 cm. Here is a quote from their catalogue -
-”The Guinness William IV mahogany Capstan dining table, the sectioned swirl mahogany top with fluted frieze, extending with eight additional stripe mahogany leaves, by a mechanical turning action similar to a ship’s wheel; the massive fluted central baluster supported by four curved and fluted legs terminating in fine cast and gilded brass toes. Irish circa: 1840.”
Irish advertising agency Boys and Girls hired abgc architects to transform their new place of work that used to be stuffy solicitors offices in an old Georgian building . They removed the finishes and treated the spaces very minimally, painting everything white and creating something hipper, simpler and younger. Then came the design for the agency centre piece, the boardroom table, with the company name in 3D in a valley in the Lego.
This Lego boardroom table plays on many levels, novelty, nostalgia, the big picture and the details, the design approach is best explained on the abgc architects site, they show great images of the design evolution, not a common privelige. As ever with Lego it is the construction process as much as the final object that is valued, so have a look at the film of the table construction which went viral. It’s funny seeing computers pulled out to check where little plastic bricks should go.
Kelly Mcerlann and Esther Doorly are an uber creative couple who live in Blackrock Dublin Ireland, not far from the sea and within ear shot of the fog horns. He’s the head honcho at the New Media Technology College in Dublin and she is an actress, acting teacher and script writer. Their motley crew is completed by their four fine sons. So what more appropriate gathering point for this gang and their many blow-ins, than one made from a salvaged Indonesian pirate ship. I like to imagine that the boat lost it sea worthiness in some filibustering battle on the high seas. Most probably Captain one eyed Santoso, fancied something more sporty in fibreglass to go pillaging in, so the old wooden one ended up in the breakers yard.
Here is how Esther recounts it’s origins, “ The table was one of three which had been purchased by a New York based furniture dealer, they were eventually shipped to Ireland after the dealer could not afford to transport them to New York. The dealer here paid the remainder of cost and had 2 * 4.5m tables for sale as well as our 2.5m table.”
It is amazingly heavy as it is make of ironwood. This type of wood is so dense that it is used to make sculptures mallets. You can see the many colours of it’s weather beaten paintwork , the writing (photo below) is either incomprehensible or illegible. This boat’s builders would have been pleased with it’s transformation, the reusing some of the elegant forms that they had cut, and it’s nailless assembly. They’d probably be equally pleased that it’s still populated by a band of adventurous renegades.
Where Am I?
You are currently browsing entries tagged with Ireland at