“As someone who is creating stuff, thinking consciously is my responsibility as a human,” says Max Lamb, who produces furnishings and design objects—often of recycled or virtually indestructible material—for the likes of Acne Studios, Kvadrat, and Hermès. During 3daysofdesign in Copenhagen, the British designer challenged the architecture and design industries to rethink their resources. His approach offers a few surprises.
Lifecycle Trumps Material
Take polystyrene, often used as a packing material. “A byproduct of the oil industry, this material has a bad rep,” says Lamb. However, the designer believes that conscious design is driven by not just the material but also the use of the material.
“Polystyrene has got amazing insulating properties,” Lamb explains. “But if you are going to use it to drink a hot cup of coffee for 10 minutes and then throw it in the bin, and do that maybe three times a day for your whole life when recycled paper works just as well…well that is just not a great use of that material.”
Lamb carves polystyrene and sprays it with a hard, innovative rubber that is both water- and weather-proof to create his Polly Furniture series. Most recently, to produce his Thermal Spray collection for gallery Salon 94, which made its debut at Design Basel Miami this spring, Lamb took polystyrene scraps from his production process and sprayed them with a metallic thermal spray. Collectors took note of the quirky, one-of-a-kind pieces in bronze, aluminum, and steel, and the entire booth quickly sold out.
New Use for Existing Materials
Who says granite should only be used for flooring and counters? For Milan’s new Acne Studios flagship, Lamb designed tables and stools made out of Rosa Baveno granite,a material he also used last year for the Campione chair in tonalite granite for Pedretti Graniti. Developed from a project connecting British designers with Italian manufacturers, the sculptural furnishings are meant to demonstrate the wider market available to a stone manufacturer.
The Challenge of Recycled Content
While Lamb uses recycled polystyrene when possible, its application has limits. “When I am using a density of 20 kilograms per cubic meter, I will use the more flimsy, recycled version. But I am also using up to 55 kilograms per cubic meter, which is much more rigid and much more durable.”
Complicating matters is the lack of transparency on the part of suppliers of the recycled material:
They can’t make polystyrene using 100 percent recycled material.
“It has to be mixed, and they will not tell you what percentage of it is recycled. So there’s nothing distinguishing about it, and there is no guarantee that what you are buying is what you are getting. It’s all a bit of a farce.”
Beautiful and Sustainable Material
Lamb credits an outdoors upbringing and military influence—his father was a survival instructor in the Royal Air Force—for his valuing every scrap of material.
At Salone del Mobile in Milan this past April, Lamb launched Solid Textile Board Benches for Danish sustainability startup Really. and textile manufacturer Kvadrat. To create the line of 12 benches, Lamb used discarded cotton and wool, demonstrating what can be done with a new material—solid textile board. Patented by Really, the boards are a mix of textile scraps and a special binder.
“The purpose of this project from our perspective was to launch the material and demonstrate the material’s properties and beauty,” Lamb says. “But in this case, we also added value by taking something that would otherwise be disposed of and turning it into something that has a lifetime of worth and a lifetime of use.”