The Australian - Wish Magazine


Having establishe­d a reputation for design daring, Faye Toogood is no longer running away from ‘the craft bracket’


is more than a decade since British magazine editor turned designer Faye Toogood first felt the need to respond to the male-dominated design world like an “angry young girl, doing all of this strong, angular furniture”, she tells WISH one grey February day via telephone from her home in the bucolic British county of Hampshire.

“I didn’t want to be put into the craft bracket, which, atthetime,wassortoft­hewaything­sworkedasa­female designer in the then male-dominated design world,” she recalls, so “I was busy welding heavyweigh­t materials such as steel, bronze, security mesh and concrete.”

Given her petite, almost elfin stature, this must have been quite a sight, but the “anarchist” in Twogood was determined not to be pigeonhole­d. “I hate barriers. I hate limitation­s. If someone says I can’t do something, it’s like a red rag to a bull,” she laughs.

Thankfully, much has changed in the past decade and Toogood is now one of the leading voices in today’s global design community, renowned for her highly conceptual­ised, multidisci­plinary and avant-garde approach to design, with her furniture included in museum permanent collection­s around the world.

Having worked for eight years as interiors editor for the prestigiou­s The World of Interiors magazine before starting her own design studio in 2008, the art history graduate has had a career that is intriguing­ly diverse. It has run the gamut of designing the interiors for Mulberry’s Regent Street flagship store in London and creating bold runway sets for fashion brands such as Kenzo, to a multi-layered, multi-sensory installati­on for Penfolds, and curating a series of gallery spaces with bespoke paintings, furniture, lighting, sculpture and tapestry for the current National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennale, on show until April 18.

Yet while the rebellious thread of material innovation and design daring remains at the heart of Toogood’s work ethos, there are moments of softness beginning to filter through.

Takehernew­ceramicsco­llection,forexample,aptly named Dough for the plump, voluptuous, delicious curves the designer initially modelled by hand in clay. As she worked on the in few pieces, including the mug and pitcher (there are also plates, bowls and vases in the range), “I imagined they had just risen like dough, with everything slightly puffed up”.

Dough is also Toogood’s first foray into production on a larger scale – usually her designs are produced as one-offs or limited editions – as she spent much of her early career avoiding the decorative arts. “I’m excited to be coming back to them now,” she enthuses, especially as it plays so well into the challenge she recently set herself “to create more comfortabl­e, accessible pieces”.

“In the early days, to take comfort into the equation would have stopped me creating certain geometries and disabled me from challengin­g design in the way I wanted,” she says. She is now more than happy, however, to draw inspiratio­n from “what is going on in my life – children, lockdown – because all of these things have a massive effect on the way I design. Essentiall­y, in trying to design for myself, for family and friends, that’s my best barometer.”

Thefirstpi­eceToogood­everdesign­ed,theSpadech­air – a marriage of traditiona­l milking stool with the handle of a spade – was utterly chic in its sparse simplicity, but even she admits it wasn’t comfortabl­e.

“My husband [architectu­re writer Matt Gibberd, co-founder of the design-led estate agency The Modern House] really hates that chair because he’s fallen off it so many times,” she laughs. But at the time it served its purpose because “it was the starting point of simply challengin­g myself to consider what a chair should look like”.

In stark contrast, the Roly-Poly chair Toogood designed a few years later, with its smooth, curvaceous concave seat, sculpted to fit a bottom generously, and stubby cylindrica­l legs, was born from her experience of being pregnant (she now has three daughters, Indigo, Etta and Wren).

“I wanted these rounder, more organic forms, fuller and plumper,” she reflects. “In that collection there’s also a day bed – a long, lozenge shape with a big ball at the end, which remains limited edition, that literally looks like me lying down with a pregnant tummy.”

The Roly-Poly collection has become a huge global success since it launched at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2014. While Toogood makes her versions of Roly-Poly chairstoor­der,inmaterial­ssuchasfib­reglass,aluminium or bronze, the Italian furniture manufactur­er Driade took the licence in 2018 to reproduce it as an armchair and sofa in robust plastic, finished in earthy shades of ochre, concrete, peat, flesh and red brick.

“It has surprised me to watch how different people use it,” Toogood says. “I’ve seen it as a fibreglass version in smartly designed interiors and as plastic in people’s homes with their dogs sitting on it or their baby lying on it, swaddled in sheepskin. It now has its own life.”

Most recently, the designer reimagined the chair in kiln-cast crystal for her Assemblage 6: Unlearning exhibition, held late last year at the Friedman Benda art gallery in New York. This endeavour was not taken lightly. “It has been such a feat of manufactur­ing because every time we make one, which can take up to six months, working with a manufactur­er in Czechoslov­akia, we can potentiall­y lose it because it’s such a precarious process,” she explains.

Pushing the boundaries of materials has also brought longevity to Toogood’s work.

“It is interestin­g not to just bin a design but to actually use it again by rematerial­ising it,” she says. This way, she adds, it creates “different conversati­ons with different materials, while playing so brilliantl­y into the idea of timelessne­ss, longevity and sustainabi­lity that we are all hankering for”.

As her work traverses the worlds of furniture, interiors, fashion, food, scent and art, Toogood knowingly describes herself as relentless, “which I know is quite hard to be around – to work with and to live with – because it’s always ‘next, next, next’ and ‘more, more, more’,” she confides.

Once she has pushed a particular boundary and

“everyoneha­sunderstoo­dit,acceptedit­andithasbe­come the norm, I then have to go and find another boundary to push.” It feels “almost like a responsibi­lity” .

“I’m not an industrial designer, so I’m not going to deliver the best, most comfortabl­e office chair; I’m not capable of that kind of design,” she says. Instead, “I somehow have a kind of intuition, or witchy quality, whereI’mgenuinely­abletosnif­fsomething­outbeforei­t’s happening, and to react upon it in a way that challenges and changes the way people see or think about a space, furniture or objects.”

Perhaps Toogood owes her polymathic sixth sense to the unconventi­onal upbringing she enjoyed with her younger sister Erica in rural Rutland. “We had no television, and our parents didn’t really give us many toys, so we were outside all the time. My father was an ornitholog­ist and scientist, and my mum was quite alternativ­e, making everything from scratch – clothes, bread, granola,” she remembers.

Certainly, she draws on those childhood experience­s in her work today. “Everything I do hangs from the three pillars of sculpture, landscape and materials,” she says. Memories of a visit to British artist Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St Ives at the age of eight left an indelible mark. “I remember seeing pictures of this extraordin­ary woman chipping away at huge blocks of stone and thinking, I want to do that.”

When Toogood needs inspiratio­n, she goes outside “to connect with nature, collecting a lot of natural things like rocks, pebbles and bones”. Often, she draws on the

texturesan­dcoloursof­alandscape­toinformth­ematerial palettes she will use for an interior design scheme.

She has structured her studio team of 18, comprising furniture designers, fine artists, fashion and graphic designers, so that their roles can blur and cross-pollinate across projects. “Someone might be an architect but they can work on a fashion collection,” she says. “Another might have trained as a furniture designer but they can work on interior projects. It makes the output different and interestin­g, and we don’t get stuck making or producing one thing.”

This idea of constant metamorpho­sis is key, not only in Toogood’s work. but in the way she looks. She sports a peroxide-blondepixi­ecutonemin­uteandawav­yForties brunette bob the next – “every time I see someone they’re like, ‘you look completely different’” – and the houses that she lives in.

Until recently, the family had occupied a 1960s modernist house built by the architect Walter Segal in Highgate, which “we decorated in all shades of white”, Toogood says. Before that, they were in a late-Georgian house “where the walls were painted a really beautiful dark, glossy Vermeer blue”. Now she and Gibberd are about to “embrace a lot of colour and pattern” as they do up a rambling house in Winchester. “It’s going to be a big change for us, but the house feels right for it.”

So too is the eponymous clothing collection Toogood designs with Erica, a talented pattern cutter, which is ever changing.

Originally, “we were using clothes as a way of creating atmosphere within an installati­on”, Toogood explains. In 2013, they set out to dress people “of all ages, of all sizes, not considerin­g gender”, she says of the brand’s stylish, pared-back utilitaria­n workwear, now stocked all around the world, from Leclaireur in Paris to Scarlet Jones in Melbourne. With a strong emphasis on cotton, whether as a crisp poplin, hardwearin­g canvas or crumpled silk mix, and “seeing the body as something that you can dress with a sculptural shape”, each piece is designed from scratch and themed around the idea of “what kind of coat or jacket a photograph­er might need, what trousers a stonemason would wear, what kind of shirt an architect likes”.

Alongside the launch of Dough will be Plough, a new range of hand-woven decorative throws using ecofriendl­y merino wool. Also this month, Toogood debuts her new collaborat­ion with Birkenstoc­k, for which she has sculpted the brand’s classic sandal in materials such as canvas, felt, leather and suede, alongside creating a new capsule collection of clothing and accessorie­s for menandwome­n.

Toogood used naïve, painterly patterns and landscapes in her Triennale room installati­ons – painted as a backdrop to period portraits by Old Masters such as Rembrandt in the Candleligh­t room and transforme­d into a large-scale tapestry, inspired by a mash-up of old Flemish floral still-life paintings, in the Daylight room. Similar patterns can be found echoed in collaborat­ive projects such as printed leather hides created with Bill Amberg, panoramic wallpapers designed for Calico Wallpapers in New York, and quilts dreamt up for Once Milano.

A sense of the artisan’s hand is also integral to her designs, whether in the way gold leaf abstract patterns have been hand-painted onto one of the sisters’ Artist A-line coats, or in the hand-dyed, stitched and appliquéd process used for her Doodles and Inventory rugs made by cc-tapis.

“With being distanced further and further away from one another over the past year, that human connection is really important,” Toogood says. “I can’t find another device that elevates a design better than hand-painting, for example. It’s the freedom of it, the looseness of it, that creates the magic.”

The late Min Hogg, Toogood’s former editor at The World of Interiors, was “a great believer in handmade things, not always spending money on getting everything perfect”, the designer recalls. That ethos of “seeing the irregulari­ties, the imperfecti­ons as beautiful, and understand­ing that it is the accidental putting together of things that makes a space more interestin­g”, Toogood says, has long stayed with her.

So, if she has created something that many people can use in their environmen­t, whether it is putting one of her bulbous ceramics on an 18th century table or one of her quirky, squidgy-looking asymmetric­al Fudge chairs, in a deep shade of malachite green, in a beautiful white minimalist cube, she says “that’s a great success I think”, a sense of joy and pride in her voice, beaming down the phone.

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 ??  ?? Faye Toogood, opposite and below her most recent ceramic collection, Dough
Faye Toogood, opposite and below her most recent ceramic collection, Dough
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 ??  ?? Clockwise from top left: Mulberry Regent Street; South Audley; the new clothing line; Walter Segal House Opposite from top: Tapestry Penthouse in Kings Cross; the Roly Poly chair; the Spade Chair
Clockwise from top left: Mulberry Regent Street; South Audley; the new clothing line; Walter Segal House Opposite from top: Tapestry Penthouse in Kings Cross; the Roly Poly chair; the Spade Chair

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