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Max Lamb partners x Tate Modern director create a legacy at London Design Festival 2019

Ten of the world’s most prolific designers have partnered with the leaders of London’s cultural institutions to explore the creative process of collaboration and the concept of “legacy” for an exhibition at the V&A during London Design Festival 2019

Max Lamb partners x Tate Modern director create a legacy at London Design Festival 2019

At London Design Festival 2019, ten of the world’s most prolific designers have been invited by Sir John Sorrell, Chairman of London Design Festival (LDF), to partner with the leaders of London’s cultural institutions. Together, they will explore the creative process of collaboration and what goes into creating a piece of “legacy” design. The project is sponsored by the American Hardwood Export Council and each piece is crafted in American red oak and will be exhibited at the V&A during LDF and then passed onto the commissioning creatives.

(L-R) Maria Balshaw and Max Lamb on his ‘Valet’ project for Legacy. Photo by Mark O’Flaherty.

We spoke to Max Lamb and Maria Balshaw to discover more about the Legacy project and the piece, ‘Valet’, that was commissioned by Balshaw and brought to life by Lamb.

“A normal week for me consists of meetings all day then openings in the evening,” says Balshaw. “I generally have to get changed [and] at the moment, I hide my dresses in a cupboard down the hall [from my office]. I couldn’t describe the object I was after exactly so I told Max I needed ‘a hanging-mirror-screen-storage-help-me-get-changed-unit’. He came back to me and said, ‘What you need is a valet’.”

With this idea of Balshaw’s office being almost an extension of her home as a starting point, Lamb began to design a free-standing dressing screen with soft forms and protrusions that would act as hooks. “I wanted this thing to have a human quality,” he says. “It’s almost like a person standing in the room handing Maria her clothes to put on.”

“It is a kind of ghost creature with various elements that are a bit like limbs,” agrees Balshaw.

Both Lamb and Balshaw wanted the piece to be simple, and so Lamb took inspiration from the way the components of flat-pack furniture slot together, elevating the concept to create an elegant and refined piece of design.

While Lamb would usually be designing and making the piece in his own studio, the Legacy project was a departure as British furniture brand and manufacturer Benchmark were the makers for the Legacy pieces. “A lot of the design and development in my work happens during the making process through material experimentation and testing techniques,” says Lamb. “So, it was essential for me to start the design process by making samples and doing colour tests with the American red oak because I knew from the beginning that Maria was interested in colour.”

Responding to the open porosity and prominent growth rings of red oak in comparison to other woods, Lamb applied a teal blue dye – one of Balshaw’s favourite colours – to the timber surface, pushing it deep into the pores and then letting it dry and sanding back the wood. This technique allows the colour to be present without disguising the natural colour of the red oak, creating an interesting dialogue between natural and artificial ornamentation.

The resulting work is a celebration of the material that intimately responds to the needs of Balshaw as a client – and offers a legacy for future Directors at the Tate. “Since Valet is just as good at holding a shaving kit as a make-up box, it is going to be there waiting for the next director, whatever gender, or genders, they might be,” says Balshaw.

“A legacy piece is when the owner develops a relationship with the piece. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how precious it is, it is not about financial value. It is about a sentimental appreciation or connection,” says Lamb. “The way the project started, with direct communication between commissioner and designer, makes it almost impossible for this not to become a legacy piece. The process is driven by a real understanding of what one person needs.”


Other partnerships for this ambitious project include:

  • Tomoka Azumi with Kwame Kwei-Armah, the Artistic Director of the Young Vic
  • Martino Gamper with Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of the English National Ballet
  • Jasper Morrison with Dr Tristram Hunt, Director at the V&A
  • Sebastian Cox with Amanda Nevill, CEO of the British Film Institute
  • Terence Woodgate with Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House
  • Studio Mama with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries
  • Marlène Huissoud with Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group
  • Raw Edges with Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery
  • Juliet Quintero with Sir John Sorrell
Photography by Petr Krejci.

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