Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
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‘The Design Work of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’

Furniture and product designers Edward Barber, left, and Jay Osgerby are the Astaire and Rogers of 21st century minimalism. Objects they make -- be they oak choir benches for a cathedral or plastic clothes hangers for Levi’s jeans -- look effortlessly graceful. The British duo, shown here at work on the prototype for the Tip Ton chair for Vitra, specialize in pricey limited-edition pieces, which explains why they are barely known outside certain design circles. But the recent release of a handsome monograph, “The Design Work of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby” from Rizzoli may change that, delighting existing fans and winning over other design enthusiasts interested in the marriage of computer-generated design with old-fashioned craft. (Barber Osgerby Studio)
Though they were awarded the title Royal Designers for Industry in Britain in 2007 and have designed for Italian firms including Cappelini and Magis, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby are barely known in the United States. Perhaps their most recognizable work to the general public: a folded aluminum facade for the H & M store on Sunset Boulevard. (John Edward Linden)
Barber Osgerby’s Iris table, shown here during construction, was a 2008 piece for Established & Sons of London. It’s made from identical anodized aluminum parts that fit together to create a base for a glass top. (Barber Osgerby Studio)
The finished Iris table. “There’s something very invigorating in a mass of color,” Barber says, “something uplifting in a country garden filled with flowers or a bookshelf packed with rows of different colored spines.” (Barber Osgerby Studio)
These five designs in wood by Barber Ogersby are, from left: the prototype frame for De La Warr chair, later made in cast aluminum; the Hula stool, which can be used as a rocker or flipped over to be a stationary seat; the Saturn coat stand, designed to have a sculptural presence when not in use; and the Saturn stool, which sits on the bent birch plywood Flight Stool, manufactured by the Italian firm Cappellini. (Lee Mawdsley)
Barber and Osgerby were commissioned to design choir benches and music stands for the 13th century Portsmouth Cathedral in England. “The project felt like an unusual commission at the time as our work, until then, had been associated with a very contemporary design world,” they write in the new book. “Our idea was to produce an anonymous-looking design so that the bench did not appear either traditional or too contemporary and would both contrast with and complement the architecture. We were required to use oak, which is a heavy wood, but its inherent strength enabled the sections of the bench to be very slim. The end result was an elegant seat that was strong enough to seat three choirboys or two adults.” (Barber Osgerby Studio)
The Filo sofa was designed as a private commission in 2008. Barber and Osbergy call it a “deconstruction of the traditional sofa.” In the new monograph they write: “We stripped down the sofa and designed a framework upon which simple upholstered quilts could be laid. With all of the internal stuffing and padding removed to reveal the wooden structure, six loose layers of brightly colored quilts are used to create comfortable seating rather than a skin for the structure. The quilts can be alternated to give variable color combinations.” (Junction 11)
An overhead shot shows the simple geometric shapes and materials that the two designers use in designing household objects. From left, the 2007 Tab lamp for Flos has a bent aluminum shade that can be swiveled to illuminate a desk or a wall. The orange and white Lanterne Marine vase was designed for Venini. They sit on the ultra-lightweight Carbon Fiber table. At far right, the Saturn stool, made from lacquered beech, has a base adapted from a coat rack that Barber Osgerby designed in 2008. The manufacturers wanted a stool to accompany the coat rack, as a place to sit while removing one’s shoes. “We felt that designing a product with a totally different function while adopting the style of another was an awkward starting point, " the duo write. “However, we experimented with the form and it turned out to our surprise to be a rather charming piece.” (David Brook)
In 2004, the two designers were commissioned to design furniture for the newly restored 1935 De La Warr Pavillion, the first widely acclaimed modernist building in Britain. Replacing the original chairs created by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto was a tall order. “The modernist, rectilinear volumes of the building demanded a sculptural solution,” they write. “We observed that many chars, particularly dining chairs are viewed from the rear, positioned against a table. It was this fact which led to development of the rear skid leg, the purpose of which was to create an enclosed volume. ... The holes in chair seat and back reduce the weight of the chair and help to increase the structural integrity.” The chair was painted an orange-red in reference to the original color of Aalto’s wooden chairs. (David Brook)
Sketches, left, and the finished Bottle Table, right, made of two pieces of white Carrara marble. “We wanted to explore the idea of using one material for the whole table and decided to design a pedestal table that would seat four people,” the designers write in “The Design Work of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.” The neck of the bottle-shaped base fits into a hole in the table top, which is cut so precisely that gravity locks the top into place. (Barber Osgerby Studio)
“The Design Work of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby,” $75, is published by Rizzoli.

More books: Check out our looks at Stephen Orr’s “Tomorrow’s Garden,” Leslie Williamson’s “Handcrafted Modern” and Melba Levick’s “Cottages in the Sun.” (Rizzoli)