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The DIY Era

25 March 2021

This period is going to be called The Age of the Amateur. A time when the do-it-yourself maker loves knitting, crocheting, carpentry, weaving, repairing and tinkering with what is available. The non-amateurs have started en masse making things in the time of COVID-19. Designers started to make products from home, with or without attributes from home or the immediate vicinity, often opting for smaller editions and local producers.

Thinking about the value of locally, sustainably and small-scale produced products has gained particular momentum in the time of corona. The Trend forecaster and ambassador of Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2020 Lidewij Edelkoort talks about the focus on the countryside, a place where designers escape the hectic pace of the past years, where they can relax, reinvent themselves and design new products with found things in nature. “In rural areas, awareness of how to handle crops and raw materials in a better way is becoming even stronger, and the will to produce healthily is growing,” she says.

But that can also be done in the city. Claudia Bleeker of Studio van Clau won the jury prize of the HEMA design competition with her project HoutjeTouwtje, which she designed especially for those who have to stay at home at a time when our everyday life has changed at a rapid pace. This year's theme wasn't hard to figure out: design a solution that makes the time you spend with loved ones at home better, more fun and easier. She came up with something for a very recognizable situation: living rooms that are full of toys while the children are playing games on their smartphone or tablet. The Houtje-Touwtje set, which she successfully tested with several young families, consists of a booklet with stories that children can act out, and about twenty beautifully designed accompanying wooden construction elements. With hooks and strings, children can build a pirate ship, hut or tent with a little creativity and with the help of what is available - tables, chairs, sheets.

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Florence Zhou played with a different material at home: plastic. Aware of the huge amounts of plastic packaging we throw away every day and interested in waste systems, she already planned to do something with the daily waste that her academy, Central Saint Martins in London, produces every day. Then the pandemic broke out, she was in lockdown at home and shifted her focus to her personal plastic waste that disappeared into her bin every day. Zhou developed a range of techniques to turn this waste into everyday, domestic objects such as colourful bookends, cups, candlesticks and vases. In this way, she created a new, more circular ecosystem within the boundaries of her own flat.

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Tadeas Podracky, a graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven, also built his home nest during the quarantine from waste in and around his house, just like a bird. This resulted in a series of sculptural objects, a chair, table and lamp in which he integrated paint residues, glass and ceramic shards, wood, textiles, and spare car parts. The Metamorphosis Collection is his answer to “the mass production and industrial production processes that make products ugly, uniform and soulless and that make our prefab homes so impersonal that we flee into virtual worlds every day,” he says.

By emphasizing construction methods and the re-evaluation of materials, he proposes a new design methodology based on emotional decisions, unpredictability and expression. His chair is an example of this. The shape is based on the iconic Rietveld chair and is made of waste wood that the designer processed with a chainsaw and covered it with layers of paint, sawdust, polystyrene and foam, making the seating object look like a kind of drip candle.

Nine international designers were involved
© Connected

Many designers also built their own mobile and modular home workshop in their not always spacious homes; at academies, it was sometimes turned into a design assignment. For Connected, Design Museum London and the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) also asked nine designers to design a desk and chair for the new situation that arose during the lockdown: namely working and living from home. Designer and DDW20 ambassador Sabine Marcelis replied with a neutral wooden box made of (carbon negative) ash wood. She actually designed Candy Cubicle for her boyfriend, an architect she lives with who, since the outbreak of the pandemic, has confiscated the kitchen table as an office where his huge screen computer predominates. “Because I want to be able to store that ugly screen, I looked for something to hide it in when it's not in use,” she says. The mobile box hides what's inside when not in use, rides on hidden wheels and can be opened to create an L-shaped desk with a round wheeled stool and a trolley with bookshelves.

Planned Space Pooling
© Joost Jansen

And if you're working sustainably at home and at the end of the day you store your home office in the Candy Cubicle, knitting can be one of the most sustainable ways to make textiles. Planned Space Pooling (part of the Worth Partnership Project) has become the dream of Joost Jansen, who knitted a sweater from one long thread of yarn with the pattern already dyed in it. The design is created stitch by stitch, without the need for all kinds of balls of wool. This previously unimagined technique offers one of the possible solutions for the enormous burden of the fashion industry on our ecosystem; after all, by making yarn with the freedom in colour and pattern, we don't have to produce large numbers of yarn in all kinds of different colours, but just the right number that is needed for the production of that one sweater or hat. 

And that's how the home-based designers are thinking about creative solutions to change our wasteful and devouring production systems.