Real wool is indeed ‘good’. In fact, it’s better than good; it’s exceptional and remarkable in many ways. It’s remarkable because, as a fabric, wool is functional, durable, incredibly warm and aesthetically appealing. And it’s exceptional, because its natural fibres are completely organic and biodegradable. Even if disposed of or discarded, wool simply releases its valuable nutrients back into the soil with no detrimental effects whatsoever. There is no reason, however, to throw wool away. It is, after all, widely known to be a material that can be employed for far longer and in many more ways than the majority of man-made fibres.
And not only can it be reused, but it also easily lends itself to being recycled and therefore ultimately, repurposed. At the end of its life, wool that is no longer fabric-worthy can be used to create solid, textile benches, acoustic textile tiles, fire-retardant mattress padding or car sound insulation. It doesn’t even matter if it is no longer fit for these innumerable purposes; it can still be degraded down into compost and used as rich fertiliser.
One thing is clear; wool should never end up in landfill. Buying predominately natural materials – including wool, but also silk, cotton and linen - would significantly reduce carbon emissions and decrease the amount of rubbish that is currently buried. In the U.K. alone, it is estimated that roughly 350, 000 tonnes of textile waste goes into landfill annually. It is a small consolation however, that if wool does end up where it shouldn’t, in a matter of months it will simply break back down into the carbon it first was when originally in plant form grazed upon by sheep.
Of course, wool has been widely used and recycled for hundreds of years in various different ways. A cursory glance through the history books of any culture will demonstrate its importance, value and significance irrespective of time, place or people. Revered in Roman times, spinning and weaving was viewed as a sign of womanly virtue and very much appreciated and admired. Having come from a living animal, wool was believed to contain a spirit, an ‘animus’. Consequently, it was believed to have a beneficial relationship to the gods and linked to strength, health and life itself.
In Prato, a town in the Tuscan province of the same name, knowledge of how to turn wool and other used fabrics into new materials stretches back to the 12th Century and it has been this knowledge of how to use and reuse wool which has given their own, modern-day community renewed strength, health and life. The people of Prato have harnessed and finessed the skills of their ancestors and, as a direct result of economic need, used centuries-old expertise to turn traditional wool craft into a sustainable way of life that works in contemporary times. Not only do they recycle wool and other natural materials, but they have also developed ways of prolonging the life of all sorts of man-made fabrics, preventing them from being taken to landfill and reincarnating them into creations that have sustainability and good design as basic credentials.
Indeed, in a recent surge all across the world, most notably in Scandinavian countries, farmers are now once more taking up the trades of their grandparents. Instead of discarding the wool because they have lacked the means to scour it (essentially cleaning and removing the smell of the sheep), they are now establishing new, viable production lines and supply chains in order to avoid wastage and enable more people to profit more from its circular nature; the ‘animus’ is being truly reanimated.
Clustering together deep in the earth’s crust, deposits of minerals form that most beautiful and rare of objects: a crystal. Layer upon layer of these deposits – left behind once water has evaporated – cling to each other in highly organised structures. In time, occasionally after a few days but most often over the course of thousands of years, these mineral deposits become crystals. The shape of a crystal mirrors the internal make-up of its atoms so no two are the same. This uniqueness is also partly due to the differences in temperature and chemical composition wherever it is they come into being. What colour a crystal becomes is determined by the arrangement of the crystal’s atoms as well as the way in which light interacts with them. Impurities in the atomic structure are a further cause of colouration, beauty arising from imperfections. This layering of mineral deposits and the formation of a crystal could be viewed as symbolic, providing as it does a stunning visual representation of the many different attributes crystals can bring to our living spaces. Feature image - Rare crystal muscovite cluster
Crystals are much more than just decorative, sculptural pieces. Fascinating to many because of their transformative origins and natural beauty, they are also known for their religious symbolism and the belief that their use can bring about harmony and peace. Placed in the correct spot, it is said that the right crystal can encourage and energise, cleanse and renew, or calm and relieve. Belief in the healing properties of crystals is not a recent, or even semi-recent, trend. For thousands of years crystals have been highly significant to many people, people who are themselves geographically, historically and culturally diverse: the Ancient Sumerians and the Ancient Greeks, the Chinese and the tribes of South America, are just a few examples. Many forms of medicine continue to avail themselves of the powers of crystals, with each crystal regarded as holding its own individual energy or power. Natural therapy practices advocate their use, believing that they can bring our own bodies into balance and unblock mental tensions or physical struggles. It is thought that the crystals’ vibrations interact with our own chakras – various focal points used in ancient meditative practices – aligning our bodies with our souls and thus restoring serenity and equilibrium.
Nowadays, the vast majority of crystals are produced naturally but sustainably. Consequently, they are no longer mined, significantly reducing if not eradicating completely the environmental impact of obtaining them. Nevertheless, with their glittering aesthetic and infinitesimal arrangements, crystals still evoke a sense of wonder at just how miraculous and awe- inspiring nature is. Illuminating any space in which they find themselves, crystals refract light and add colour to an interior, be it traditional or contemporary.
Utterly unique, no two crystals will ever catch or reflect light in the same way. Indeed their tones and colours change not only as day fades to evening, but also throughout the seasons. Crystals provide texture contrasting beautifully with other materials, such as burnished wood or polished marble. This can be especially effective in a living space, which is pared down and minimal; a carefully placed crystal will lend a touch of the dramatic to a tonal, more neutral space. As varied as their formations, they can be both small and unobtrusive or chosen as a larger, sculptural statement.
Chosen then because of their natural beauty or for deeper, personal meanings or indeed a combination of both, it becomes the case that the ancient practices of crystal healing intertwine with modern concepts of design. One thing is clear; a crystal’s visual impact is no less important than its healing properties and vice versa.
Restorative or brilliant, crystals elevate their surroundings with life-enhancing and affirming energy. Whether we strive for balance within ourselves or for our interiors, crystals can help us to replenish our reserves along the way. Meanwhile, their magnificence serves to remind us – as it has reminded our ancestors over millennia – just how miraculous both their and our creation truly is.Continue reading
An ancient artform Pojagi - an ancient form of Korean patchwork - is both decorative and functional. Although evidence suggests that it has been in use for up to two thousand years, the earliest surviving examples of this utilitarian yet exquisite art form date from the 12th Century. An integral part of the lives of every Korean irrespective of their economic class, Pojagi’s popularity remains today.
Repurposing and reusing Whatever their social rank or position, traditionally it was women who took old clothes or scraps of cloth left over from cutting out their traditional clothing and repurposed them into wrapping cloths. With nothing but remnants and offcuts, as well as a knack for improvisation, these women – forced to be frugal and prudent with what they had – turned their thriftiness into a highly creative activity. They ended up with something both highly practical and beautiful out of what would otherwise have been discarded.
Influence and style A utilitarian, working class art form Pojagi might have been, but its influence was still seen in the upper echelons of Korean society. Indeed, it was so admired that the Royal Court used it as a means of adornment and for ceremonial use. Each stratum of Korean life had a distinct style when it came to Pojagi and this was mainly obvious through colour. Silks in vivid reds, pinks and purples were commissioned specially for royalty and the material was often also hand painted with intricate patterns. The cloths of the common people were far more pared down and natural in colour. However exceptional the pieces of the Royal Court remain, it could well be the art of the working class, aligning necessity with creativity, that is perhaps most praiseworthy.
Improvisation and artistry Colour then, had its station, but the method by which the scraps of cloth were stitched together was universal. Here the maker’s own artistic tastes and skills could come to the fore and society’s dictates did not have to be considered. Whether patterns were balanced or random, the creator of the cloth, whoever they were, had the autonomy to work expressively and individually in an improvisational manner. Hand stitched with contrasting thread, Pojagi cloths were seamed ‘flat felled’ meaning that any raw edge was enclosed and finished leaving no wrong side. To give someone a present wrapped in Pojagi showed great respect; each individual stitch was viewed as a prayer of goodwill towards the recipient. Aesthetically pleasing, Pojagi was nevertheless created to have many practical uses during everyday life; it covered, wrapped, stored and carried objects. Sometimes, it was even used to deliver marriage proposals and protect sacred writings. Even today, it is believed that the Korean parliament transports documents in this historic art form.
Interior styling: reusing, recycling and repurposing It is incredible how so much of our interior’s inspiration dates back thousands of years to ancient craftspeople from all over the globe. Innovative solutions are at our fingertips if we take the time to study history, both broadening our perspectives and establishing connections. To this end, inspired by the ancient Korean art form of Pojagi and marrying it with AU’s own ideals, where the thread of sustainability runs through every facet of our business, we have created blankets and floor cushions from the remnants of our upholstery, ensuring that absolutely nothing goes to waste and what is created, is completely practical and truly beautiful.
To see AU’s collection of Pojagi inspired textiles, please click here.Continue reading
Among AU’s carefully sourced collection of tables, there are those carved from marble and also, travertine. At first glance, the differences in the two stones may be barely discernible or even, noteworthy. But what exactly is travertine? How does it differ from marble and are we justified in thinking it deserves equal standing in our interior spaces?
Being both natural and a type of limestone, travertine – just like marble - is a terrestrial, sedimentary rock. The key difference in the stones, however, is their formation. Although both come about as a result of limestone being placed under enormously high pressures and temperatures, travertine’s metamorphosis only takes place in geo-thermally heated springs or caves. A product of the precipitating deposits arising from carbonate minerals in ground and surface waters, travertine can be recognised by its honeycomb structure, the holes of which are due to carbon dioxide evasion during its seemingly alchemical creation.
Renowned for viewing as artisanship those tasks often considered elsewhere in the world as merely rough, manual labour, Italy has long perfected the exquisite craftsmanship necessary to work with travertine and the unrivalled ability to transform it into elegant, sophisticated pieces of art. Thousands of years ago, the Romans used it in their general construction and it can still be admired in many famous monuments today, the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome being one such well-known example.
Cream Travertine Pyramid Coffee Table
This combination of a centuries-old legacy and revered workmanship means that still today, travertine of the very best quality originates from Italy. Indeed, until the 1980s, the country’s quarries were known as being the only real source for the stone. These days, it is possible to obtain travertine from all over the world; Turkey, Iran and Mexico are just a few of the countries that export it. Although much of this travertine is also remarkable, unlike marble, it is not sold from the quarry out of which it was mined, so it can be difficult to ascertain its actual quality before setting eyes on it. Consequently, obtaining Italian travertine – always consistently exceptional - has become even costlier than buying marble.
Vintage 1970's Italian Travertine Console
Coming as it does in a multitude of calm, muted shades including ivory, cream and beige, travertine provides interior stylists with a palette full of true neutrals. But, depending on the amount of iron or other organic impurities found in the original limestone, travertine can also take on many hues ranging from walnut through to gold and a myriad of purples, oranges and reds.
Italian Travertine Leaf Shaped Coffee Table
Just like marble, travertine is worthy of that rare accolade of being both highly aesthetic and undeniably functional. Long beloved in interiors because of this simultaneous beauty and versatility, the stone is frequently employed as flooring and wall tiles or simply admired as a sculptural object in its own right. Able to be polished to a smooth finish or honed to be matte, it can even be chiselled or brushed so as to be uneven or rough and all without any of its natural magnificence being diminished.
Providing instant texture whilst remaining a true neutral, its elegance can be structured yet abidingly simple. With their timeless quality and an appeal that transcends interior design trends both travertine and marble have the ability to transform and unite in equal measure. Being natural, organic stones means that each and every piece is unique. It is futile to compare the two: far better to delight in using both. Browse through AU’s collection of travertine and marble tables here.
How this simplest of objects has had the power to span millennia transcending cultural barriers. The pestle and mortar is ubiquitous; found in every culture, its use can be traced back through each millennium. Evidence of its place in the lives of humankind dates back to Ancient Egypt and 1550BC, but it’s estimated that this simple yet highly functional tool was actually put to work more than 6000 years before the existence of the Pharaohs. Essential for preparing medicine in Roman times, the pestle and mortar was an early symbol for apothecaries or pharmacists. In Malay and West Asia, it’s still used today to grind meat, whereas in the Philippines its function continues as a rice de-husker.
The pre-Hispanic cultures of both the Mayan and Aztecs used the pestle and mortar to grind spices. Indeed, they’re still employed for exactly this task in modern day Pakistan and India. And it’s long been understood that in Papua New Guinea, pestles were carved into elaborate birds’ heads, whilst the Chalon and Mutsun peoples of California’s Salinas valley chiselled shallow depressions into bedrock in order to grind up their grains and acorns. Browse the Internet today and you will find numerous articles describing the best way to go about choosing the pestle and mortar ideal for your modern kitchen.
The longevity of the pestle and mortar’s design is astounding; it has changed very little over the course of thousands and thousands of years. From culture to culture, it has merely adapted in order to suit the materials to hand, the only caveat being that the user – whoever and wherever they were – must be able to crush and pound. And even though modern kitchens might have access to industrial grinders, many chefs prefer to use the traditional pestle and mortar to bring the best out of their ingredients; much like bread enthusiasts often choose to enjoy the immediacy of kneading dough by hand instead of machine. One place where the cuisine is just as diverse as the population is Africa. As varied as the food is over this vast continent, there’s a tool that is the common denominator: the pestle and mortar. Essential for preparing everything from staples to spice mixes, the use of the pestle and mortar was once so prolific that it was the custom in some West African cultures to give one to every new bride. Traditionally, the African mortar is a large, heavy vessel made of wood on a pedestal base. Between one and one and a half feet high, most have a diameter of between 24 and 30 inches.
The design of the pestle is a slender rod form with a ball-shaped end and therefore a larger surface area, thus making the grinding process less time consuming and more effective. Cleaning was simple: water, a clean rag and time to dry naturally. Modern technology has made the process of grinding easy and - on the African continent - food processors, blenders and powdered staples have all but rendered the need for this handcrafted tool redundant. Except for one thing: flavour. For a tool that predates agriculture, many have made the mistake of considering the pestle and mortar obsolete and inefficient. However, the pestle and mortar cannot be underestimated for its unrivalled ability to create rich, authentic aroma, taste and texture. Simple, organic and seemingly as old as time itself, it’s not very often that form and function come together to create such a joyous and long lasting union.Continue reading
Kuba cloths are so admired for their elaborate designs and craftsmanship that mathematicians have gone to great lengths to study their intricate, complex geometric patterns. Unique to the Kuba Kingdom of central Africa – now the Democratic Republic of Congo and formerly Zaire - vegetable dyes are used to give the fibre of the Raphia Vinifera Palm leaves a variety of earthy tones. Then, Kuba cloth is woven from the leaves’ strands. Traditionally used in a multitude of ways, from the prestigious (including ceremonial court adornment and dance regalia) to the more prosaic (for example, as wrapping, sleeping mats and even currency) the cloth remains highly coveted.
Textile production is firmly rooted in a cultural practice where the division of labour is based on gender. Men are wholly responsible for cultivating the palms and weaving the raffia cloth, whereas it is the women who engage in hand-stitching embroidery and appliqué or the technique of cutting the pile as a form of embellishment in itself. Traditionally rectangular, two main types of Kuba cloth are most prevalent: cut pile, which has been shorn in such a way to form a surface similar to velvet in texture and flat woven, which is the most often decorated. What is common to each piece of Kuba cloth however, is its individual nature; meticulous craftsmanship ensures that every piece is unique. The geometric patterns on the Kuba cloth speak of far more than the artisanal skills of their makers; they’re also illustrative of the extent of the exploration that has taken place by the Kuba people into the formal possibilities of geometric variation. It has been clearly evidenced that – in their repetitive border designs - the Kuba people use every single geometric possibility. Of the seventeen geometric designs able to be used on a surface, they have mastered twelve.
Being adept at geometry however, with an innate understanding of its facets does not mean that the Kuba people confine themselves to this patterning alone, especially on larger, open surfaces. That said, their geometric designs – especially when layered and placed in bright light – work rather like a three-dimensional puzzle, giving the eyes and mind a sense of space and upward movement. Indeed, the designs on the cloths have often been described as creating true magic and visual alchemy, which is one of the reasons why the cloths were so coveted and prized, especially during ceremonial occasions. The mathematics behind Kuba cloths is both fascinating and deeply impressive, as is the textile’s cultural history and its relationship to African music and other African art forms. Their elemental colours and intricate patterns will add warmth, depth and - perhaps surprisingly for some, an historical mathematical element - to any interior. For AU’s carefully sourced collection of vintage Kuba cloth cushions, click here.Continue reading
Fine craftsmanship and collaborations with iconic designers of the 20th Century, mean that Peill + Putzler’s sculptural glass shades and futuristic globular forms have always been highly sought after pieces. Rising from the ashes following the Second World War when two successful German manufacturers merged to become one company, Peill + Putzler unifed their respective expertise in glass blowing and lighting. Fusing their skills together, they took light manufacture beyond the mundane and prosaic transforming it into an aesthetic and intuitive art form.
Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke, 1958 From 1952, under the direction of Günther Peill and Hans Ahrenkiel, the importance placed on innovative design and intricate work meant that Peill + Putzler became one of the founding members of the German Design Council. The significance given to good design also meant that the glass works consistently worked with notable designers such as Ferdinand Gangkofner, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Helmut Demary, William Brown and Horst Tüselmann, amongst many others. Rapidly becoming admired in architectural circles, this was not least because of the high standard of Peill + Putzler’s production as well as its attention to detail. Two periods of collaboration are of particular note. During the early 50s, the workshop joined forces with Wilhelm Wagenfeld in order to evolve lighting design. Then between, 1953 and 1958, they partnered with Gangkofner during which time a vast number of models for lighting and goblets were produced, including the timeless Iris glass, which was still made and sold, well into the 1980s. Developing numerous new techniques enabling glass lighting fixtures to be inflated, Aloys F. Gangkofner was instrumental in bringing these methods into industrial production. The art of light making had always been somewhat hampered by an inability to break free from the reliable - though somewhat rigid - ways of fabrication, but as a consequence of Gangkofner’s innovative, experimental approach with good design at its core, suddenly lighting was able to become an art form in its own right. In 1994, Peill + Putzler relocated their glassworks to Slovenia, Poland and Chechnya. Although a small number of lamps were still produced on the original site in Düren, the company was declared insolvent in 2004. The legacy Peill + Putzler leaves behind, however, is manifest in the world of interior design and styling today. Entrusting its designers with the freedom to put truly good design and artisanship into practice and by developing manufacturing techniques to realise those designs, Peill + Putzler moved lighting from being something overwhelmingly practical into an art form. Function becomes multifaceted; the lamps don’t even have to be switched on to be admired.
Peill und Sohn (Peill and Son) was founded in 1903 in Düren, a small town in the west of Germany. Leopold Peill, a prominent citizen in Düren was well known for both his glass works and his philanthropy. The Putzer brothers from Penzig (Pieńsk) had extensive experience producing petroleum lanterns for street lighting. Previously part of Germany when annexed by Prussia in 1815, Penzig once again became part of Poland following the defeat of Nazi Germany and consequently - expropriated by the Polish government - the Putzer brothers joined forces with Leopold Peill. Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke was therefore rebuilt as both a glass works and lighting company; the first glass was melted in 1948. By 1950, the company owned five glass ovens, adding two more in the 1970s. Employing 1,500 people at its peak, the glass works was the largest employer in Düren.
Peill + Putzler Glashüttenwerke, 1958
From 1952, under the direction of Günther Peill and Hans Ahrenkiel, the importance placed on innovative design and intricate work meant that Peill + Putzler became one of the founding members of the German Design Council. The significance given to good design also meant that the glass works consistently worked with notable designers such as Ferdinand Gangkofner, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Helmut Demary, William Brown and Horst Tüselmann, amongst many others. Rapidly becoming admired in architectural circles, this was not least because of the high standard of Peill + Putzler’s production as well as its attention to detail. Two periods of collaboration are of particular note. During the early 50s, the workshop joined forces with Wilhelm Wagenfeld in order to evolve lighting design. Then between, 1953 and 1958, they partnered with Gangkofner during which time a vast number of models for lighting and goblets were produced, including the timeless Iris glass, which was still made and sold, well into the 1980s.
Developing numerous new techniques enabling glass lighting fixtures to be inflated, Aloys F. Gangkofner was instrumental in bringing these methods into industrial production. The art of light making had always been somewhat hampered by an inability to break free from the reliable - though somewhat rigid - ways of fabrication, but as a consequence of Gangkofner’s innovative, experimental approach with good design at its core, suddenly lighting was able to become an art form in its own right.
In 1994, Peill + Putzler relocated their glassworks to Slovenia, Poland and Chechnya. Although a small number of lamps were still produced on the original site in Düren, the company was declared insolvent in 2004. The legacy Peill + Putzler leaves behind, however, is manifest in the world of interior design and styling today. Entrusting its designers with the freedom to put truly good design and artisanship into practice and by developing manufacturing techniques to realise those designs, Peill + Putzler moved lighting from being something overwhelmingly practical into an art form. Function becomes multifaceted; the lamps don’t even have to be switched on to be admired.