Triin Kübar

Triin Kübar is a freelance journalist, based in London.

Estonian designers take a step closer to international fame at the London Design Week

Last week, over 30 top Estonian product designers showed off their work at the London Design Week, going home with valuable business contacts and bursting of new inspiration. The Estonian pavilion at the 100% Design event at Earls Court was mainly directed to trade professionals, while the pop-up shop at the Hoxton Gallery at the popular East London design district gave opportunity to deal with the customers directly.

The 100% Design was the main event of the London Design Week, being the biggest and longest running contemporary design event in the UK with 30,000 visitors. The show had six main sections: International Pavilions, Emerging Brands, Interiors, Office, Kitchen & Bathrooms and Eco Design & Build. Estonian design was showcased at the International Pavilions section with nine other countries, among them China, Mexico and South Africa.

The organisers introduced Estonia as a “small but extremely creative country with one designer for every 800 residents” and reminded the visitors that James Bond’s legendary miniature Minox spy camera, Skype and TransferWise were all developed by Estonians.

Most of the Estonian designers had come to London themselves to present their work, change ideas, get feedback and look for business opportunities.

The design show brings connections and marketing experience

The Estonian pavilion was designed by Tarmo Piirimets, who had arranged the collection of eclectic items to create a cosy and inviting atmosphere. The main idea was not to put products on sterile sale counters. A vast array of items of different style and function came together, creating a living room experience: sofas and chairs were there to sit on, designer lamps to light the art on the walls, even the floor was custom made. Everywhere one looked, something witty caught the eye, and the designers were there to answer questions.

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Textile designer Monika Järg presented her textile and carpet collection and was impressed by the quality of the event. “100% Design is a small and compact show, where participants are carefully selected. It doesn’t inspire to fill miles with displays and to be the biggest only for the sake of it,” she said. As the show was intended for trade professionals, Järg and the other designers got valuable contacts for cooperation with colleagues abroad and with prospective distributors.

Snakefloors designer Elmet Treier was very happy with the outcome and, in addition to prospects in the UK, he has started to negotiate with companies from Chile, Italy and Portugal. Treier jested that the show was a perfect place for industrial espionage as floor producers from other countries came to check out his original geometrical designs and enquired about the manufacturing process technologies.

Designer Andres Labi was introducing his Tie & Apron collection at the show. Interior designer Labi was quite surprised of the public’s growing interest in the two-in-one garment. He got the idea to connect a tie and an apron from friend’s birthday, got recognised for the idea by the Estonian Association of Designers on “Male Thing” competition last year, and soon enough the orders started coming in. The Tie & Apron collection was so popular at the 100% Design show that the designer’s favourite item got stolen from the display. Labi has patented the design principle to connect the tie and the apron in a garment to protect his business.

Tieapron

“It is quite difficult to market Estonian products. We have excellent ideas, which often don’t make it far,” Labi said about his experience, explaining it is hard for Estonian designers to focus promoting one business idea and find backing from investors. The same idea was echoed by other designers: “Estonian design is world class, but due to the history of the country, we lack the experience in marketing and the negotiating side of the business,” Monika Järg explained.

Scandinavian style and natural materials

The Estonian pavilion stood next to more exotic exhibitor countries such as China, Mexico and South Africa. Estonian World enquired what would be the common ground of Estonian design to show off to the world as all represented designers have distinctive personal styles. Textile designer Monika Järg thought Estonians use a design language and colours close to the Scandinavian tradition, while south European countries are keen on more vibrant tones and warm shades. Andres Labi saw the connection in shapes: “Asia and southern countries love rounder shapes and flowing lines, everything is more square in the north. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the shape and colour is different in different corners of the world.”

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100% Design also showed emerging international trends. “The show has a vast array of different design directions represented this year. I would say it’s a trend to target more niche markets,” Järg noted. “The attention is on ecological materials and technologies,” Treier added.

Labi had noticed the emerged love for neo-vintage items. The Estonian OOT-OOT furniture studios sofa collection was a good example of the trend. The company’s UK representative, Avely Ahtma, said their vintage-flavoured Scandinavian looking furniture was well received in the UK and also got attention from distributors from Japan and the Netherlands.

A pop-up shop in a popular design district

While the 100% Design event was meant for trade professionals, the Estonian Design House’s temporary pop-up shop at the Hoxton Gallery showcased the best of the country’s contemporary design. The shop had a wide selection of fashion accessories, such as bags, shoes and jewellery and home-ware products, including furniture, lamps, textiles and ceramics. The Estonian Design House introduced the collection as “exciting contemporary Nordic designs, placing emphasis on stylist minimalism, the use of natural materials, ingenuity and humour”. The shop involved both established designers and first-timers, and attracted about 200 guests on its opening night.

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The owner of the food label, Hää Eesti Toit, Helmet Raja, was in London for the first time, representing Estonian packaging design. Raja has a successful tourist-oriented gourmet food boutique at Viru Street in Tallinn and doesn’t have any set plans for expanding yet. “We are just testing people’s reactions to the tastes here,” he said. At the same time he believes that well presented traditional foods would be a success abroad. “Over half of Estonia is covered with forest, which is a rare thing in the modern overcrowded world. Food coming from pure nature is truly special,” he added, presenting smoked moose-sausage, patés and a variety of preserves.

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The fashion designer, Anu Samarüütel, was selling her art and jewellery at the shop. She has had her items available in London boutiques in the past, but she prefers rather representing herself personally and connecting with her customers. “I do make my things thinking of the receiver. The selling process is kind of a change of energies, which is very important for a designer,” she said.

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Cover photo: Estonian pavilion at the 100% Design event at Earls Court, London Design Week 2014.

Estonian “Noa” house among the highlights at the top UK home design show

Estonian architect-inventor Jaanus Orgusaar’s garden house, the Noa, was one of the highlights at the UK top home show, Grand Designs Live, held at the London ExCel Centre from 3-11 May 2014. The show had over 500 exhibitors and was attended by 111,000 visitors last year. EstonianWorld had a chat with the CEO of online architecture shop katus.eu, Tiit Sild, who was promoting the Noa project at the ExCel Centre.

What is Noa and how did it end up at the Grand Designs Live?

Noa is a 25 square-metre six-sided garden house standing on three feet. It is an easily adaptable sustainable living space, which is perfectly suited to a variety of landscapes and environments. Its angular shape allows adding extra modules to extend the living space. The designer based the wooden cabin on the shape of a rhombic dodecahedron – a convex polyhedron with twelve identical rhombic faces. Round fish-eye like windows give a great view to the outdoors. The inside walls are plastered and painted warm yellow.

Estonian Noa house interior

Jaanus Orgusaar built the extravagant geometrical summerhouse for his family in 2010, and it became a real international internet craze at the beginning of this year. The project was picked up and introduced by tens of popular architecture and eco-design websites.

Tiit Sild explains that it was probably on one of those websites where the Noa caught the eye of the Grand Designs show TV presenter and design guru Kevin McCleod, who personally invited the Estonians to participate at the exhibition. The Noa is built as one of the five sample houses at the Grand Village section of the property show. Showing in the Grand Village section is by invitation only and all the participants reflect the ethos of the Grand Designs: unique architecture, innovation and environmental awareness. The Estonians were the only team invited from abroad.

Estonian Noa house by Terje Ugandi

What followed the short notice invitation was five weeks of stressful logistics to transport the bulky prefabricated house modules to London and arrange a team of Estonian builders to erect it just in three days. The house was then furnished with items also designed by Jaanus Orgusaar to make a visitor’s experience complete. A sturdy plywood shelf, table with lace like cut outs, and a shadow casting round lampshade make the interior inviting and cosy. The house and furnishings will be sold at the end of the exhibition. Due to the differences in climate, Noa could actually be used year-round in the UK with proper insulation.

People need to see the Noa to believe it

The fact that the house has already been built is in Tiit Sild’s opinion one of the main reasons for Noa’s popularity, in addition to its original design: “Architects often present pretty pictures of fantasy dwellings, but people still need to see the project materialised to be convinced. It is hard to get a true feeling of a house if you don’t see how it settles in the surroundings. The emotional impact is so much bigger if one can actually walk in from the door and see the interior by oneself.”

Estonian NOA house in London

The huge international interest in the project and the positive feedback they have received took Estonians by surprise, as the house didn’t get much publicity in Estonia after the prototype was built in 2010. Sild reckons that the reason for modest attention might be the fact that Estonia has a really long history with timber houses – they are very common and people are used to seeing them around. “For urbanised people abroad our tradition really is something very special, the concepts of sustainable materials and eco buildings combined with modern design are great selling arguments,” Sild says, praising the high production quality of Estonian timber manufacturers.

Estonian Noa house model

“The response of the public at the exhibition has been wonderful. I think it is due to the strong character of the building – people really notice it and are not shy to step in and ask questions. The house seems to have great energy and for some reason really draws the attention of passing children.”

Online architecture shop offering top design prefabricated houses

Orgusaar isn’t keeping the idea to himself and has joined the online architecture outlet www.katus.eu. Katus is a project bank, offering modern prefabricated houses by top Estonian architects. At the moment it has about 40 different designs to offer by 10 timber manufacturers, and 12 of the projects were also exhibited on posters next to the Noa at Excel Centre.

Tiit Sild by Triin Kubar

The shop has only been open for a year and thus far they have concentrated mainly on the Scandinavian market. Sild explained that the idea of the enterprise is based on the common dilemma of a person building a house – they can choose between an expensive custom-made project built from scratch or a more affordable conservative-looking prefabricated house by an unknown architect. “This was a question we tried to solve – why can’t our best architects design progressive and contemporary houses that apply the principles of low cost and fast assembly without forgoing good design?” Sild contemplates about their quest to make modern architecture more accessible.

The architecture shop Katus is now organising an architecture competition to expand its selection of projects, and is working together with a real estate developer in Norway who will get the best designs built.

The CEO of Katus appreciates the opportunity to introduce Estonian architecture in the UK at the Grand Designs exhibition. “We also hope to find contacts with local builders in the UK: so far we have had our Estonian team coming over to erect the houses, but we do need someone on the site preparing the foundations for buildings and dealing with local planning permissions.” Sild therefore calls out to Estonian builders in the UK to contact him.

What is good designin modern architecture?

“In my opinion a good design isn’t only a matter of personal taste. I do believe in modern architecture, it has to be innovative and progressive; a house has to have ambition. Many new houses are modern only inside: using air conditioning, heat exchangers and solar panels. There is no need for them to look overly conservative. I’m not saying that a modern house needs to have a crazy design – it doesn’t need to be a funk-style building with a flat roof to be cool. Change in attitudes and habits comes in small steps, it is important to offer people choice,” Sild explains.

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Cover photo: “Noa” house in the garden of its designer, Jaanus Orgusaar. Photo by Terje Ugandi.

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