Brace Yourself: New British Design Plays With Sheathing Ply

Last summer—and purely through coincidence—I profiled a duo of glass and metal tables firmly in the tradition of the Bauhaus, and by this I mean an overt emphasis on structure, use of prominent industrial materials like glass and steel, and a heightened reverence for the triangle. Though one colleague referred to both 3Fold and The Cootie Catcher as “over-engineered monstrosities,” the celebration of the tri-corn shape is certainly deserved.

Brace Chair. Designed by Ben Huggins for New British Design.

“As every structural engineer worth his/her salt will tell you, the triangle is nature’s gift to tensile loads—sharing the burden among its three sides; bending under compression just so, but never to the breaking point.” So take offense at the aesthetic if you must, but don’t hold it against up and comer Ben Huggins, whose Brace Chair and Table set partakes of the same skeletal look, albeit in a completely different medium.



Carbon Off-Set Chair. Designed by Ben Huggins for New British Design.

The initial collection of UK manufacturer New British Design, Huggins’ work is characterized by “a constant, simple aesthetic that balances problem-solving design with experimentation and humour.” The “Brace Range Set” features Chairs and matching Tables constructed of sheathing ply. Firmly in the tradition of L’esprit Nouveau, the pieces emphasize the supportive structure. The chair is essentially four-wooden panels (constituted mostly of negative space) in which Huggins’ seamless joinery has sketched a plethora of triangular/diagonal shapes that also makes the chair functional/weight-bearing. The overall impression is that of a geometrical symphony: front and back panels reveal a synchrony of Xs and equilateral triangles, while the offset cross-brace on both sides creates a profusion of rhomboids and right triangles. The look is spare and clean yet welcoming, the geometrical design imparting a sense of adornment without using excess material—certainly a boon for aficionados of a contemporary look.

Confirming Huggins’ intention to problem-solve with a generous dose of humor, there’s also Carbon Off-Set, an easy chair made of pressed, cast hemp. Humor aside—and we all appreciate the notion that a more widespread use of the cannabis plant could offset much of the noxious stuff indeed—the chair has an intriguing stone-agey look that sells it independent of its eco-consciousness. It reminds me of what upscale design might have looked like during the era of the Flintstones, and it has an uncanny resemblance to cement-cast pieces like the Concrete Things Chair and the Cementum Fireplate. Huggins’ eye for an easy alliance of playfulness and functionality—and his willingness to risk the use of unconventional and sustainable materials—make him a designer to watch. We’ll certainly keep an eye out for what he’s up to next.

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