This project, The Crate Series, first planted itself in the consciousness of Studio Makkink & Bey in India. Architect Rianne Makkink witnessed the humble crate defining all measure of everyday environments for inhabitants of the cramped cities, and wondered how this might be tested in her own familiar surroundings. Upon returning to the Netherlands, Makkink, along with product designer Jurgen Bey, began an exploration into furniture units that could generate human scale as well as personal autonomy. ‘We have created a landscape for living and working,’ Bey states proudly. The exhibition resembles a Hejduk-esque theatre set and includes different blends of antique furniture and shipping crates, which reinvent the functional objects of our domestic lives.
The works appear deceptively raw at first glance. Soft materials wrap around the hard wood on only those introspective surfaces that are touched. BedCrate encloses a raised sleeping area, with the private interior covered in fur and leather; the material extends to a square on the floor just at the point where the rousing resident steps out of bed.
A Rotterdam warehouse played host to Studio Makkink & Bey in the creation of the Crate Series. A time constraint of two months (before the lease ran out) highlighted the necessity to pack away the furniture in containers, ready to decant elsewhere. ClockCrate is the most obvious depiction of the temporal balance between work and leisure. A 19th-century clock chimes as a work apron hangs on a hook to the left and pyjamas to the right, marking the abrupt transition from labour to relaxation.
The importance of temporary combinations that change according to the situation led the team to devise multi-functioning objects. VacuumCleanerCrate, with its ornate tea set, acts as a place for refreshment but the inclusion of a vacuum cleaner, to clean up the crumbs, flips the piece into a work tool. Paradoxically, this Crate solves a problem that it created in the first place – revealing it as a unit of research rather than one of furniture. Through latching onto the mechanisms of existing furniture and appliances, the designers have entered the project as much into a discourse on Duchamp’s readymades as one on sustainable design.
Makkink confesses to being frustrated by the politics of architecture, particularly at an urban scale, owing to the constraints of any commission. She remembers the freedom of product design upon first collaborating with Bey in 2002, transferring her skills and knowledge as architect to the most intimate of spaces.
Each piece in the Crate Series is thoughtful and imaginative, and sits happily in the gallery as products of an engaging process. The titles brand the units as functional objects, not pieces of art, as if preparing them for mass-production, with the reinterpretation of transport crates challenging the greedy consumption of consumerism. It’s an exhibition that demonstrates furniture design as firmly within the realm of architecture. The Crates are instinctively spatial: they self-consciously contain functions within particular spaces, but, equally, experiment with the blurring of boundaries between activities. Studio Makkink & Bey has crafted miniature pieces of architecture, which playfully toy with how our household objects might define and deconstruct the balance between work and play.
The Crate Series, Spring Projects, London NW5 – until January 14th