Eyes alert and lithe body darting, Omer Arbel shows the speed and form that, as a teen, won him a place on Canada's national junior fencing team. The 35-year-old principal of Vancouver-based Omer Arbel Office trained as an architect, but he's best known for his products and interiors, including contemporary lighting for Canadian manufacturer Bocci, medals for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and the design of Toronto's new furniture temple Kiosk.
At this year's edition of the London Design Festival, we shadowed Arbel on a three-day trek through the fair, taking notes on the pieces he loved. "Since the economic meltdown, designers haven't been taking risks," Arbel says. But amid the 100-plus events and exhibitions, he recognized 10 items—mainly limited-edition products and trendsetting art pieces that use materials and technologies in unusual ways—that took a chance and stood out.
1. Ash-wood-and-foam Tailored Wood Bench (TWB) by Raw-Edges for Cappellini
"Wood veneer is a two-dimensional material, but here they have used it to make a three-dimensional shape. Doing so opens up all sorts of new possibilities."
2. Wool Textile Field rug by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, previously on view at the Raphael Cartoon Court gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, now on view at the Centre Pompidou-Metz through July 30
"This roughly 2,500-square-foot carpet is great because it collapses scale. Lie on it and look up at the paintings, and all of a sudden you feel like a microbe."
3. Steel-and-foam Pyrenees sofa by Fredrikson Stallard, available at David Gill Galleries
"Upholstery is dishonest, in that you never interact with the actual material—the foam—which gives you comfort. It's covered up. Here, it is the functional and aesthetic heart of the piece. Plus I love that this introduces craft into furniture in a high-tech way: The block is hand-carved, and the green coating is electronically bonded so that it adheres to the frame."
4. Ceramic Glaze lamps by Anders Ruhwald for Established & Sons
"I primarily like the blobby, textured bases. I'm working on a blobby fireplace for a project, so the shape is on my mind. I also love the colors, because they are slightly off the standard primary hues."
5. Cellulose BioCouture ScarBodice by Suzanne Lee, featured in "Block Party: Contemporary Craft Inspired by the Art of the Tailor," a traveling exhibition from the U.K.'s Crafts Council
"The designer grew this fabric herself in a lab. It's cool and weird."
6. Upholstered-beech Ruche love seat by Inga Sempé for Ligne Roset
"It's the quilt that makes this. You can see she started with a detail and extrapolated that pattern, thinking what it would look like on the larger scale. It's also an honest use of materials. As you can see, it's just a quilt placed over a wooden frame."
7. Maternity Dress by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez, 1979, featured in "Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990," on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum through January 15
"These shapes are extreme abstractions that hide the real curves of Grace Jones' body. Alas, I'm on the other side of the spectrum when it comes to abstraction. But I like to live vicariously."
8. Clay "Form—Series 1" by Guac Roh Hoon, featured in "Tradition Transformed: Contemporary Korean Ceramics," previously on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum
"Wow! I can't figure out how this is made. And I love the gradient of positive, open space to more negative, closed space."
9. Knitted dress by Sandra Backlund, featured in "Power of Making," on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum through January 2
"This is a radical exploration of taking a pattern and working it out from the detail scale. It's a less commercial, more conceptually rigorous version of what Inga Sempe did with her Ruche love seat."
— Julie Taraska
10. Metal-and-polycarbonate Heracleum lamp by Bertjan Pot for Moooi
"Instead of trying to make LED light mimic that from incandescent bulbs, this fixture—which looks like a school of fish—celebrates the more intense light that LED lamps produce."