Jake’s Kopi Session with Chris Lefteri

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    Jake recently had the privilege of catching up with renowned British designer, Chris Lefteri when he was in town to conduct a workshop for the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC). They chatted on his short visit to Singapore as well as his thoughts on High Pressure Laminates for design which he featured at the Green Pavilion in this year’s International Furniture Fair Singapore.


    Jake: Hi Chris! Nice to see you again!


    Chris: Good to see you too, Jake!


    Jake: The last time we met was for the Green Pavilion at the International Furniture Fair Singapore. So what brings you back to Singapore this time around?


    Chris: Well, I was in Nanyang Polytechnic doing a four day workshop with the students there and was looking at 3 different things.


    One was asking them to think what materials would represent Singapore. If Singapore was a material, what material would it be? And then I asked them to explain why they made that choice. And then if Singapore was a texture, what textures would it be?


    I used these two things as a starting point to come up with inspiration for materials and structures that they had to make. So it was really using local references and local materials like bamboo or rattan. We could get them to explore the design process by making something. Not by sketching on a computer, not by rendering, but actually getting their hands dirty with some materials and seeing what they can develop from the material as a starting point.


    And then I asked them to do another very small mini project where each student has a wooden, big flat rice spoon, and they had to take the material away to make it as light weight as possible, and they had to write a 50 word paragraph to explain why they did that. So they had to explain a story, the rationale and they still need the spoon to work, they had to use it to scoop rice.


    And then I’m doing a workshop here, and on Friday for SFIC Institute. Today I was conducting one on Revaluating Materials for Sustainable Design and then on Friday it was on a materials-centric approach to design.


    Jake: I have just shown you our new catalogue for the year. This year’s theme is Form and Function. From a design point of view, what do you think of our range of laminates?


    Chris: I think there are a lot of different materials in here. I think my feeling with any kind of material supplier is you have to be able tell the story because it is not enough just to pull a book. You have to explain, you have to build a story on why this material is good. Does it relate to a trend? Does it relate to a theme? Does it relate to a particular application? So that it’s kind of building this link between the design and their imagination. I don’t think it’s about being specific, like use this material in a hotel, or use this material in the kitchen. It’s about giving them ideas.


    So I think, because for me, it’s about story telling. You have to tell story. People buy stories. You know why I buy Armani suit because it’s an Armani suit, not a Calvin Klein suit. People buy stories. They may not even know why, they may not know Armani has a culture for suits, and the use of material and tailoring, but they will buy into brands, so people need to buy into the story.


    Jake: When we visit our customers, we sometimes hear that there are some trends like maple is a trend, or oak is a trend, or walnut is a trend. Do you think there’s such a thing as a trend for different species of wood?


    Chris: Yes, I think there is a cross-cutting trend for wood textures. I think wood is not such an extreme sort of trend, it’s not like colors. I think woods tend to stay on fashion longer. We go between pale wood, dark wood, exotic grain, strong grain, light grain, straight grain. But I think wood is a classic material as we will always have wooden surfaces. Why should we live in a world that is filled with natural surfaces? Maybe we should live in a world where it’s all solid surfaces. But people like wood. It’s a very warm, familiar material that has a history, has an association, a perception about it that is stable. It’s a noble material. It’s not like plastic.


    Jake: Yes, well wood has been around since the beginning of time.


    Chris: Exactly, it’s been around for the longest time. Everybody felt wood. Everybody knows what real wood feels like. Kids at school play with wood, make things with the wood. It’s very familiar.


    Jake: Chris, you’re an expert on materials. So what do you feel about laminates, like High Pressure Laminates as a material, as compared to all other materials that you have seen for the past few years?


    Chris: I think, maybe with any kind composite material is how you recycle it, and I think that’s the biggest issue that laminates have to face. Because Laminates can be a very good alternative, you can have a very long longevity, good scratch resistance, wear resistance, you know all of these things, decorative potential, it’s very light weight, by comparison to certain things. It can be a very economical material. I think the main issue it faces is how you recycle it, and the use of more earth friendly resins, binders. I know it comes from paper. But I think you know most people don’t know it comes from paper.


    Jake: Yes that’s correct. The good thing is that our laminates are certified Green Label as well as Green Mark under the Building Construction Authority. So do you think that green technology is very important for designers? Do you think that architects and interior designers will be looking for such laminates?


    Chris: Yes, for sure. People in design and marketing want green materials, also because consumers want green materials. It’s a differentiation. I am a green company, I am a green contractor, I am a green developer. People want to tell a story, sell a story.


    Jake: Well Chris, Thanks a lot for your time. It has been a very insightful chat.


    Chris: Thanks Jake! Congratulations on your new range. Hope we can meet up again the next time I come down to Singapore


    Chris’s Singapore based studio works with designers helping them to source and apply materials within design. His studio also works with material suppliers to promote their materials to designers.