Drawing historic or ancestral inspiration isn’t anything new, but this collective of creatives is taking that connection onto centre stage, expanding design horizons with work that pays tribute to bygone eras but is always forward-facing and looking to preserve traditional skill well into the future.
artisan Javier S Medina in his Madrid studio, surrounded by his woven takes on traditional animal trophy heads. (PHOTOGRAPHER: PABLO ZAMORA)

Javier S Medina

While a collaboration with luxury house Loewe thrust Javier S Medina firmly into the spotlight, it doesn’t rank as his highest career thrill. “Working with Loewe has been a dream and an honour, especially being a Spanish brand and the big support it brings to craftsmanship,” says the Madrid-based artisan. “But honestly, the biggest highlight is being able to live off my work with crafts — not easy these days — and keep creating what I imagine.”

A self-taught craftsman, Medina bends and weaves bamboo, wicker, rattan or fibre by hand at whim to create mirrors and animal heads, but his creativity also takes ancestral root. His grandfather spent his days at the Spanish National Railway Network, “but after work, he used to braid esparto [grass] and create all kinds of things that we needed for the house with it, such as chairs,” he says. “Esparto basket weaving is where the cestero [basket maker] makes baskets for use, using vegetable fibres such as esparto, white palm, reed, cat tail or wicker since ancient times.”

The nostalgic appeal of these materials and the time-honoured methods used to transform them into pieces of functional beauty only add to Medina’s appreciation of the possibility held within a strand of bamboo or wicker. His woven “ecological trophies” elevate traditional exhibited animal heads with a palpable playful character. Medina can’t put his finger on why they’ve struck a chord but feels “so lucky. It could be the combination of using a technique that has been used for thousands of years to create something beautiful, a little more artistic, and new in a sustainable way,” he says.

The whimsical weaver’s studio is housed in a charming old carpenter’s shopfront in the Malasaña neighbourhood of Madrid. “The store is me, every single piece has been selected, restored or made by me.” Treasured links to the past and handicraft form the foundation of Medina’s work; hallmarks of creativity he believes are worth protecting and celebrating. “We have to keep these traditional artisanal crafts alive because of their direct relationship with our culture, resources and the history of the place where they have been made,” he says. “They allow us to investigate our origins and return to our roots.” @javiersanchezmedina

murals by Spanish architect and muralist Elvira Solana in the Casa Josephine guest house in La Rioja, Spain.

Elvira Solana

Ask Spanish creative Elvira Solana about her work and its tangible connection to space, and she answers with as considered and perceptive a response as her dimension-defining murals. “The picture is only the graphic consequence of a concept, the result of an idea, but not the main engine,” she says. “I see a mural as an architectural project to be solved, not as an image to decorate.”

Her academic background as an architect is intrinsic to her work, which realises vistas via illustrative brushwork, spatial intimacy and patina-laden tones that combine to lend a unique, contemplative depth. Teaming her intuitive passion for painting — “curiosity and necessity led me to investigate techniques on my own” — with an expansive approach to life and work, and studying afar in Ahmedabad, Paris, Barcelona and Istanbul, she has gained further perspective to forge her creative path. “In Asia, the tradition of craftsmanship co-existed with contemporary technology, and in Europe craftwork was moving away from everyday life to become something almost rejected,” she says.

With her murals, she works with public and private clients (interior design talents Fabrizio Casiraghi and Diego Delgado-Elias among them) to uncover what context the piece will be sitting in — access points, furniture, textiles, objects — and “the intentions of the project. Unlike a painting on a canvas, a mural is always made by and for a specific context and place,” she says. “And, just like in architecture, spatial analysis is essential to defining a mural’s appearance.”

While the ‘art-chitect’ undertakes an incredible amount of research “documented in hundreds of drawings, notebooks and models, all carefully stored, awaiting their time to be shown to the world”, Solana believes that it can be a “bit dangerous” to get lost in nostalgia without using past skills to address modern needs. “Revisiting old techniques is the way to adapt any discipline to its contemporary uses,” she says. “Architecture and painting were once closely connected. Today, we live in a time when arts and skills are once again interconnected.

“I am interested in remodelling what already exists: a mural is not made from anything, it is created on architecture that already stands.” @elvira_solana

Solana with a work in progress.
New York-based Korean artist Minjae Kim.

Minjae Kim

While the pandemic undoubtedly wreaked havoc, it also brought about the opportunity for contemplation. For New York-based Korean artist Minjae Kim, it provided the impetus to switch from working at the acclaimed Studio Giancarlo Valle to crafting furniture. “I loved architecture but perhaps I lacked the patience required in the field. I always found myself delving in smaller side projects, mostly furniture,” he reflects.

The creative pursuits of his painter mother Myoung Ae Lee in building worlds and identity by design always intrigued Kim. “I vaguely knew I wanted to follow her path but was advised to look for a career with more stability and structure,” he says. Architecture proved to be that avenue to channel his creativity. “The rooms or the furniture or the hardware had to be supporting the overall narrative of the project, or intentionally opposing it at the least,” explains Kim. “This still seems to be the principal logic that runs deep in my current practice.” (“Everything outside of this logic has consistently been a huge mess ever since grad school,” he adds.)

Kim’s sculptural furniture and fibreglass lighting practice, where all chairs, tables and benches are carved by hand, has developed steadily. He sold his work over Instagram, which led to commissions straight from the feed, all coveting the pieces he describes as “critters” that bring irrepressible personality and charm to spaces. “I find it challenging to repeat myself,” says Kim. “When I make a new piece, I try to give it a strong individual identity, which does lose its charm when it is repeated.”

While his work may echo the pared-back aesthetic and hero-material approach of his Korean heritage, Kim left Seoul at 17 and recognises that his education in art history and fabrication techniques is mostly Western. “I always second-guessed my decision and had a yearning for a stronger Korean identity,” he says. “I think this is very common for creative minds from developing countries, where there is a big disconnect from the traditional vernacular to their contemporary counterpart. And the result is somewhere in the middle and very personal. I have become a vessel that holds Western education and cultural upbringing but also a yearning for the Korean language of the past. My work, then, is an embodiment of both.” @mnjaekim

lacquered Douglas fir wood chair (on table); small fish carving; fibreglass and wood Lola chair (centre); Torso table, all by Minjae Kim.
Garcé and Dimofski’s furniture collection exhibition, Mensagem, inside Lisbon’s Graça Convent. (PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN DAVIDSON)

Garcé & Dimofski

Back in 2019, Olivier Garcé and Clio Dimofski were charged with opening a New York City outpost for creative maestro Pierre Yovanovitch. Partners in life and work, having first met studying at Paris’s École Camondo, the architects moved into a West Village apartment and then Covid struck. It forced them to discover the creative soul of the Big Apple in a different way, resulting in Garcé and Dimofski’s abode becoming a livable gallery with pieces by local designers finding a home where they were making their own.

“Our way of working is quite different,” says Garcé. “Clio is driven by a rigorous methodology, and I’m more intuitive and looking to step back from the work before starting to create.” In developing their own practice, the couple have taken their experience from time working in China, France, Luxembourg and the US to guide the experimental mantra behind their interior design studio, which delves into everything from product collaborations to refined interiors. “We want to be known for our aesthetic and the personality in each object we curate or develop with a designer,” says Garcé. Now based in Lisbon, Garcé and Dimofski’s first formal exhibition, Mensagem, heralded the studio’s first furniture collection on show in Graça Convent, one of the city’s oldest convents. Working with exciting makers they met in America — Ian Felton, Garance Vallée and Minjae Kim (featured on previous pages) — the installation combined craft and narrative, and showcased how transformative a space can be when past and present meet in unexpected ways. The design duo recently opened their own showroom and gallery space in Lisbon’s Arroios neighbourhood. “The main reason we opened this studio in Portugal was to bring back this balance between contemporary design and local handcrafts with no filter,” says Garcé, “a pure energy from people with old knowledge meeting new ideas and artefacts.” @garce_dimofski

Clio Dimofski (left) and Olivier Garcé with their pieces.
Moro Dabron candles, handpoured in stoneware and terracotta vessels.
Eliza Dabron (left) and Austin Moro in their English studio.

Moro Dabron

One year into their eponymous design partnership, Austin Moro and Eliza Dabron continue to turn to past eras to guide their future endeavours. “We are currently looking at Roman bronzes salvaged from shipwrecks and the character the ocean has imparted on their surface. There’s so much to learn from beauty that has occurred organically,” says Dabron.

Before masterminding their highly covetable perfumes and candles, the pair met five years ago working at Alex Eagle Studio in London. “We discovered we shared a strong affinity for interiors and the desire to create beautiful things for those spaces,” says Dabron.

Marrying Moro’s background in product design with Dabron’s in marketing for a furniture company, the pair developed their elegant products for the self and home inspired by ornate romantic interiors, the pioneering work of author and florist Constance Spry, and sprawling English gardens such as Vita Sackville-West’s at Sissinghurst. “Our scents are inspired by evocative images of places, people or paintings from an earlier period, which form the beginning of a scent brief,” says Dabron. “We work with a French perfumer to capture the spirit of those moments, or how we imagine them to be.” A strong belief in protecting artisanal skill, lasting quality design and attention to detail determines who the design duo works with to enhance the Moro Dabron collection and give it future heirloom status. “Our candle vessels are handpoured and fired in the potteries of a small English town, Stoke-on-Trent, using the same techniques taught hundreds of years ago,” says Dabron. “There is an inherent value in something that has taken time and skill to create.”

The pair are working on a new candle to be housed “in a patinated, metal vessel. We’re excited to explore new vessel shapes and finishing techniques that allow our products to be repurposed after they’re burned through.” With such intrinsic links to past eras and storytelling, it isn’t surprising the pair are keen to see their pieces do the same. Says Dabron: “Our hope is that our scents are both transportive and evoke emotion and memory.” @moro_dabron

Sydney interior designer Alexandra Ponting of AP Design House. (PHOTOGRAPHER: RORY GARDINER)

AP Design House

Family instilled an appreciation for creativity early on for Alexandra Ponting. “Art was a large part of my childhood,” says the interior designer. “My grandparents were avid collectors and took the time to show me how much joy it can bring to a room and the feelings it can evoke. My mother was in fashion and really understands fabrics, and the timelessness of a tonal, elegant palette.” This foundation held the Sydney-based creative in good stead as she established her interior architecture studio in 2012, after honing her skills in hotel and high-end residential design. The refined polish and craftsmanship of the past shines through in Ponting’s measured interior work, which balances sophistication with comfort, and luxury with traditional technique.

“I’m drawn to old-world beauty on a grand scale,” she says. “I adore the proportion and symmetry of Italian Renaissance architecture. And I like how things used to be constructed; ornate ceiling roses with intricate handcrafted detail, meaning no two in the one dwelling were the same. They are works of art in themselves.” Ponting’s “quite romantic and soft” approach has seen her scope grow during the past couple of years, and the care she takes in articulating her vision and collaborating with clients has led to beautifully realised outcomes. “It is a privilege to be given this task in methodically restoring the old, whilst at the same time introducing contemporary elements of design,” she says. “This is my way of softening the opulence and fussiness, giving a lightness to the older spaces.”

An AP Design House project may feature reclaimed Italian marble on the floor, a stuccoed sage-green mottled finish cast upon walls and details (lanterns, balustrades and side tables that started life as sketches) that show “the art of blacksmithing through hand-forged iron”. There is an intuitive tranquillity that Ponting brings to the spaces she designs. “My approach is minimal, but there is warmth and charm in the finishes. Each time I walk into a completed project, I find myself touching all the surfaces. There is always so much movement, variation and tactility.”