To Die For

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Deadgood’s Loved Up Chair

 

It might be said that roughly two approaches dominate the canon of contemporary good taste when it comes to furnishing our homes and workplaces: the Minimalist and the Maximalist. It’s not difficult to go out and secure every item of furniture necessary whether you fit into either camp. The Minimalists, for example, can buy in at any price range from a home filled with designs by the masters of 20th-century modernism all the way down to high-street emporia offering a decidedly Japanese simplicity. On the either side of the divide, up-market antique dealers, companies specialising in particularly opulent design or even flea markets will offer up any number of readymade objects to achieve any look from Scots Baronial to Neo-classicism. Advocates on the opposing sides of the divide might pooh-pooh each other’s taste, but begrudgingly respect that it constitutes a valid aesthetic choice.

What then of those who dangle precariously over the chasm dividing these two strongly-held positions on how we should furnish our lives? The hundreds of thousands who like simple modern design, but can’t help feeling that it’s all a bit sterile; all a bit lacking in comfort and fun. What of those who find historic reference or an occasional opulent gesture as something reassuring and cosy? This group have traditionally been snubbed as “confused” or “uncommitted” by hardcore Maximalists and Minimalists alike. However, the success of British design studio Deadgood Ltd would not only tend to suggest that their numbers are legion but, like the studio itself, there are many who no longer believe that the once rigid divide between the two dominant aesthetics and mindsets accurately define our contemporary lifestyles.

For a start, Deadgood is vehemently eclectic. At the very heart of the company’s output is the notion that craft, fun and a strong design culture are every bit as important as those once radical – but now something that even a child knows–  concepts such as form following function. Thus, the company’s offer includes everything from the simplest and most functional modernity to playful dramatic pieces drawing on design culture’s own history.

Furthermore, there is something appropriately English about products by the company that Dan Ziglam and Elliot Brook set up in 2004 with its HQ in Newcastle. It’s hard to pin down exactly in what way because Deadgood’s output very much operates in the international contemporary design arena, with clients as diverse as the BBC, Phillips and Google and is stocked in bijou outlets ranging from Lane Crawford in Hong Kong to La Rinascente’s flagship design showroom in Milan. And, no, that quintessentially English element is not simply about the sense of humour. A quirky sense of humour is something that we can find in strong contemporary design from Italy to the Netherlands as much as in Deadgood’s output. Perhaps, it lies more in applying that sense of humour to the very particular relationship that British design culture has with the past.

In the hands of Deadgood, the British love-hate relationship with clinging to the past comes out in complex ways. Certainly, Deadgood is posited on the tradition of British craftsmanship and, much like other UK ‘heritage’ brands, places a lot of importance on the fact that its designs are produced drawing on noble British traditions such as cabinetmaking or particular types of upholstery for which the UK was once renowned. Yet, nor does it look down on the future. Deadgood deploys traditional craft techniques hand-in-hand with cutting-edge contemporary technology.

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But, within the content of some of the designs themselves, there is a certain tongue-in-cheek approach to Britain’s notoriously class-defined notions of taste. The Parq Life range by award-winning young designer Lee Broom not only functions of as a striking capsule collection of practical furniture, but it additionally plays as parody. At first glance, its rich Art Deco stylings appear to be the real thing, though we soon recognise that, rather consisting of the ‘rich’ material of marquetry that might be found on some grand original, here the simplified forms are covered in the much more modest material of parquetry, the stuff of which floors are made.

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Deadgood’s Harvey Sofa offers a similarly ambivalent gesture. The sofa is effectively a reworking of one of the common styles of cheap and nasty furniture that was sold to the British working class throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the original form, naturally, the body was covered in cheap synthetic leatherette, the upholstery, of poor quality. And, yet, in remaking the form to the highest level of craftsmanship in the best materials and tweaking the design, something miraculous happens. Practically illustrating the old adage that the working class and the aristocracy share more in common with each other than either do with the middle classes in the UK, the Harvey Sofa becomes something bold and new and simultaneously deeply familiar and comforting, able to be welcomed into any home, regardless of social status.

If these and other Deadgood’s designs challenge notions of taste in the way that much good contemporary design does, then they do it in a particularly English way; one in which that notorious British societal phenomenon of class is never far away.

But Deadgood is not only about selling furniture to people who are interested in combining an acid-tongued nostalgia with familiar and comfortable forms reinvented. The company does a strong line in utilitarian practical furniture suited to the needs of the contemporary home or workplace. For example, the various collaborations with David Irwin see a range of minimal, pragmatic designs that do smart things –such as stacking or packing small– entirely suited to the spaces in which many of us live. And all of the output seems to be underpinned by the assertion that you don’t have to choose between the minimal and the theatrical. Quite clearly, the benefit of being eclectic, according to Deadgood, is that you can have it all.

 

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