Design

The time is now for a handcrafted revival

By Alice Morby
08-02-21

3 minute read

The most incredible thing about objects is their ability to act as markers of time.

What at first glance may seem to be a simple vase, chair or rug can present an entire story and history if one chooses to dig a little deeper. 

For the most part, as human beings, we have built a world filled with commodities. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with are much more than just decoration – they become extensions of our taste and interests, representing what we stand for and the places we’ve been. Naturally, as human nature goes, we’re drawn to different things, but when it comes down to it, we all become curators of our own collections throughout our lifetime. 

Take, for example, a simple, ceramic vase. Its decoration, construction and material present not only an aesthetic conclusion but a window into the rituals and interactions that have come about because of its very existence. By looking at the craftsmanship behind the piece, we can draw out facts, reasons and contexts that ultimately add to its value and our relationship with the object itself

“Crafts have commonly been regarded as the precursor of the modern design profession, pressed out of the mainstream economy by the advent of industrial production,” writes Nicolette Makovicky, in her essay Erotic Needlework, in which she tells the story of how a dying craft of lacemaking in a southern Polish village was saved, quite literally, by a pair of underwear. 

The fusing of craft and larger scale design production, in this case, managed to preserve an intangible heritage specific to that area. But in a world saturated with objects, it also proves itself a useful tool on the reverse, with designers and brands alike harnessing the power of tapping into the handmade. 

A case study: J. Hill's Standard

Story Jhill Standard Nigel Peake Doreen Kilfeather
Top & above: Nigel Peake; Nigel Peake x J. Hill's Standard glass vessels; photography by Doreen Kilfeather

A case study: J. Hill's Standard

Off of the Atlantic shore of Ireland in a place called Waterford, J. Hill’s Standard has been producing hand-crafted cut-crystalware since 1783. The technique, described by the brand as being both “progressive and handmade” is a lesson in combining heritage with contemporary forms, as a way of future-proofing your brand. Its latest foray into experimentation comes with longstanding collaborator Nigel Peake, whose landscape of ‘Hand Drawn Glass’ vessels have been updated with a urushi lacquer finish. 

“We are leaving behind what people associate as craft and now more than ever the lines between craft and design are blurred in the contemporary sphere,” says Amy Heffernan, Lymited’s Head of Contemporary Design

“When we’re discussing craft, we’re focusing on craftsmanship, the art of the detail, the use of materials and the skills learned by generations to create new forms and ideas.”

Craft for design's sake

Story Edward Collinson The Lasting Cabinet Bureau Da0007 5 Desktop
The Lasting Cabinet Bureau by Edward Collinson

Craft for design's sake

Carpenter Edward Collinson has a self-proclaimed obsession with what lies beneath, and as such, creates objects that are seemingly simple on their surface, but which are actually the result of hours of labour. 

From glassmakers to woodworkers, craft enables an object to be elevated from something that could be anyone’s, to something that is special and one off. The very term ‘handcraft’ implies a sensuality and tactility, which collectors are increasingly looking for. “Handcrafted design has a great collectible appeal, as there is a personal story behind each piece,” Heffernan adds. 

This, paired with the fact that society as a whole has become aware of the effects of its obsession with consumption and mass production, has made the slowness associated with handcrafted more attractive than ever. Design for design’s sake may represent where we have gone wrong, but craft for design’s sake perhaps offers a window into a better, more considered relationship with consumption, in which we choose our objects based on the story they tell as well as the function they serve. 


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