WOW!House 2023: Maddux Creative and Fromental in conversation with Fabrice Bana
On the 8th of June, Maddux Creative together with Fromental launched their 3am Room (Courtyard Room) for WOW!House 2023 with an evening event, where they gave a talk with leading designer Fabrice Bana on the contents, creation and capacity of the room. Watch the full interview here.
FABRICE For those who don’t know me I’m Fabrice Bana, and on behalf of Maddux Creative, Fromental, their teams, their suppliers and collaborators and the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, we would like to welcome you to the Courtyard Room, aka the 3am Room! We’re not promising we’ll be here until three, but we can always try!
TIM Until they throw us out!
FABRICE We’re here in this extraordinary room, fantabulous, micologique, organic, rather psychedelic, which was all about fostering and encouraging communication, and bringing together community. We will have a bit of a chat together, so at any point if you want to ask questions, feel free. As you know, it’s supposed to be a room as we expect a room to be, functional and practical, but it’s not in the mundane sense of the term, and it’s very much a kind of laboratory of ideas that you’ve created and produced, something conceptual, creative, a utopian environment. I’d like to hear about the origin of the room, the concept, where it all comes from.
TIM Who’d like to start?
LIZZIE I think you guys should talk about the concept first, because I think it was your [Tim and Jo] brain fever.
SCOTT Brain fever is a very good word!
TIM Well, the way that an idea evolves is always interesting in any project. I think it was just all of us sitting together for an hour or so in our office, and just very quickly thinking about what speaks to us…. We knew we wanted to do something that was purely about the creative idea. If we’re thinking about what kind of room it is, we’d rather be thinking about what can a room be? And so, we sort of riffed on various things and a few subjects came to the fore. And mushrooms were right up there. Jo said, what do we know about slime moulds?
TIM As we delved deeper into the imagery and aesthetics of mushrooms, it opened a whole new world of possibilities. We started discussing the transformative nature of mushrooms and how they connect various elements of nature. This led us to explore the themes of transformation, connectedness, and communication. We wanted the room to evoke a sense of collaboration and inspire meaningful conversations among its occupants. The concept of mushrooms became a springboard for these ideas, and we riffed on them to create a space that reflects those concepts.
LIZZIE This fusion of concept and craft enabled us to bring our vision to life, providing a space that was both conceptually rich and thoughtfully designed. It became a place where ideas flowed freely and connections were made, hence the "cuddle puddle" and its inviting ambiance.
JO The conversation pit, that’s the idea of all us all wanting to spend time together until three o’clock in the morning, talking about slime mould!
LIZZIE The beauty of mushrooms, of the slime moulds, looking very closely at them and seeing how they can inspire design, motifs, objects, useful things like shelves.
TIM The concept of connectedness played a significant role, sparking a transformation of opposites within our design. As we laid out the circuit of flow, we aimed to capture a yin-yang essence. Scott skilfully designed a curve for one end of the room, which inspired us to explore the idea of transition through time. This led us to conceptualize the room as a retro-futurist space. The concept of retro-futurism emerged from our conversations about the past and the future. Growing up in the '70s, we were filled with excitement about the future—a time of progress and endless opportunities. However, as we reflect on the present, the future sometimes feels overwhelming and uncertain. With this in mind, we wanted to revisit the positivity and sense of progress associated with the past. Thus, we decided to create a room that embodied that retro-futurist spirit, taking inspiration from the past and infusing it with a forward-looking perspective. The room would evolve as one moved from one end to the other, symbolizing the contrast between light and dark elements. By incorporating these contrasting elements, we aimed to evoke a sense of duality—nostalgia and optimism, past and future. It allowed us to explore the dynamic relationship between opposites and create a space that stimulates thought and contemplation.
SCOTT And it was very important to balance the organic with something of man, because symbiosis is the way we’re going to get through this and continue our species or not, because now it’s touch and go, so it’s really like, we should have something to say about that – on so many levels.
TIM We explored that in many different ways.
SCOTT On so many levels!
FABRICE Which brings me also to the captions that you have, you know, that could have been one of your captions: ‘Mycelium will save us’. Do you want to tell us about this quote? [Points to quote above sliding doors]
TIM So, ‘May you remain [aware] of awareness’, it’s the quote which I have always loved, and he’s Roland – I always forget his surname – he’s one of the leading lights in psychedelic research, since the 80s through to the 90s – it’ll come back to me. He carried out all the work at Johns Hopkins, which has helped people with end of life anxiety, acute depression, post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, all sorts, and he’s used psychedelic therapy over the years for that, and what he really feels he’s found is that the most important thing he discovered in therapy is to remember that it’s about being aware right now, rather than tied up with your fears of the future and your anxieties of the past and those problems, so when he meets somebody at the end of a meeting, he hands them a medal with a quote on it, ‘May you remain aware of awareness’. The idea that you constantly should be reflecting to make your judgement, not be caught on the trammelled path of what I should do, what I might do, what I shouldn’t do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER It’s Roland Griffiths
TIM Roland Griffiths! And it connects very closely to the very idea of creativity and play, you know, if you want to be creative you need to be able to play freely, you need to play without the idea that anything you do is going to be wrong, or silly. You need to explore every opportunity that you can, because you never know where the breakthrough will be. So, we wanted to leave play for all that we did.
JO We did play!
SCOTT Because we didn’t have clients – we were free of clients, for once! No, I love my clients.
TIM No constraints.
FABRICE It was a blank canvas, where you could push your boundaries – and has that been a very liberating experience, to see how far you could go?
LIZZIE It was like being a student again, because we were working together with the wonderful Royal School of Needlework students, and watching them work and just really freeform, we gave them something and they went with it, and in that moment I think we all just looked at each other and thought, that’s what it’s about.
TIM That’s what we need to do.
LIZZIE It’s about just a starting point and then, with just a few strict parameters, this cluster of colours, if you’re using colours as a parameter, what are you going to do with that? These are a few things that we’re confined by, then use your imagination. And watching these young people work reminded us how it should be every day. That you should be able to play and be creative every day.
JO And as business owners, you don’t really get that much time to play, and so this was our opportunity.
TIM We’ve been called towards the creative world because of this desire to play, but it’s constantly coming up against the right choice, the necessities –
SCOTT Make money, solve problems, etc.
TIM That quote you [Lizzie] said the other day, or you sent me, Alan Watts: ‘There is no spontaneity within reason’; we spend our time, lording our creativity, and our creativity makes us what we are, but it is limited in many places, and this was a place it didn’t have to be limited.
FABRICE Shall we talk about materiality? Because there is so much going on here, in the nicest way. Because there’s so much texture, there’s method, there’s different techniques, there’s some travels as well, you know. There’s a lot to look at, a lot to be dazzled by and contemplate also. Where shall we start?
JO We [Jo, Tim and Lizzie] went to Hampton Court Palace, the three of us, to work with the Royal School of Needlework, to make all the slime moulds and the felted shelves, so having decided this beautiful sort of what feels like colours reflected off a brushed stainless surface, I wanted something opposite, that was very dense and drew light into it, so peat coloured felt was the decision. We worked back into these shelves to create all these slime moulds and had a lot of fun doing that.
TIM It was very personal to do it, my brother and I made the shelves, which were then needle-felted on top.
SCOTT You guys were all, there was a constant steam of hands – for the week of installation.
TIM It was, it was like going back to school.
SCOTT But the energy of people going, you can’t rush this, you’ve got to give it the time to be able to be creative, and then created this quite zen environment around the buzz of installation, and like, hours and hours and hours of people just doing their own thing, and it all finally comes together, and…
LIZZIE It is, that was the thing, would it all come together, would we have enough to fill the room? It really was.
JO I mean I wanted there to be a small amount of furniture because I wanted the finishes on the walls to be the focus.
TIM Then taking the walling over here…
JO I rang them [Tim and Lizzie] and said, ‘I found this agatized dinosaur bone that’s so cool’ and they both went, ‘It sounds amazing!’. So Tim and I went to the factory in Kolkata to work with the embroiderers and to create the agates on the wall here and on the portal, which was an interesting process for me because I haven’t worked with an embroidery factory before, and also glorious to visit India, and I took the opportunity to visit Jaipur.
TIM And even now, those shapes, that’s a piece of hundred-year-old silver lame which we’ve had for a couple of decades –
LIZZIE Yeah, hand painted with various colours and cut off in chunks, every time I cut off a chunk, it hurt… That’s another tuxedo I won’t make for myself! But it’s perfect for furnishings.
SCOTT There’s a background element, which is kind of extraordinary, which is the airbrushed aluminium leaf wallpaper, which, setting that as your background, it’s kind of amazing to build on top of that. So we started with iridescence as your neutral, then went, okay let’s keep going!
TIM And for that iridescence to be picked up in a dark room as well, it’s all very considered.
LIZZIE I know you guys knew all about that, you probably knew this will be talked to that, this will be talked to this, I was just stuck in isolation, but then I realised that the genius of you two is that you knew it was going to come together, I was using your colours and your ideas.
SCOTT If you don’t have a little bit of risk in there you don’t get anywhere!
LIZZIE But then it all comes together, like, hey you really know what you’re talking about! No it was really good.
TIM I think what we’re really lucky with, was that the attitude of connection and collaboration was so open, it really was a play back and forth of so many ideas.
LIZZIE And so many ideas just became more than the sum of their parties, I mean that [chandelier].
JO And the gills as well, are so gorgeous.
FABRICE Can you tell us about the ceiling and the extraordinary pendant here?
SCOTT It’s nice to look at it from the floor!
JO We’ve become known for putting mirror balls in places, and I wanted to have something that felt a bit more organic, and so it acts as a mirror ball as it transmits the light around the room as a mirror ball would. And Charles Burnand Gallery who made it, we’d seen some pieces that they’d made and knew they’d be perfect, and it sort of intersects amongst the gills.
FABRICE Can anyone guess the material that they’re made of?
FABRICE Mica, yes.
TIM I love that there’s no light source anywhere near it.
JO No light source within it, it’s only lit by the spotlights, so there’s no light source apart from those.
TIM And those mushroom conversations had started everything, that was my… then I thought do we need to do anything architectural? As long as we can do it within our skills, so can we build, use silk for the architectural ceiling.
FABRICE Did it stem from a walk in a woodland or anything?
JO We were talking about it, but not really.
TIM Hmm, where did the mushroom furniture come from…
LIZZIE Walks from Hampstead Heath were bracing at 6am!
FABRICE And the doors, I’d love to know about the technique, those sliding doors, they’re extraordinary.
LIZZIE Ahh, so the doors are needlepoint, which is my absolute passion, but the design itself was informed by the walls, which are hand painted and hand embroidered. We wanted to continue through the design, using a particular stitch which imitates a woven tapestry. So I made the samples and sent it off, and when they came back, the background motif which is actually inspired by, I used a topographical map to give myself enough haphazardness, which is very easy to think of making something haphazard but then adding too much rigour to it, so I chose a topographical map of somewhere, and used that as the background to map out the shapes, and then I think I went a bit wrong in the colours. When it went up, I thought oh god, the brown is too brown, it was meant to be shimmery. But then, the lights went up, and it does, it does work. It’s just there’s always jeopardy in there. But there’s always lurex in there as well, thank god for lurex !So the idea is that once those sliding doors are no longer functional as sliding doors, they will be made into a folding screen, so they’re designed that the top and the bottom can be removed, and you just end up with the section in the middle which is pure design and that will be made into a folding screen.
TIM I thought I might put the pelmet above the bed.
TIM In fact the portal as well as a headboard, which is another piece. That’s two headboards! Equally the conversation for the portal came up when they were saying, ‘well the plans are as they are, but if you want to put a window at the end, put a window at the end’, and it felt so fake to say, ‘let’s put a window which is going to go outside’.
SCOTT Although now I’m kinda wishing we put a window in!
TIM But a window which goes to where? I like the question, the fact that you’re looking back at yourself.
SCOTT I love that, I actually didn’t know about your collage. But I think this whole room is about collage. We were sitting around a table literally collaging, tufts of yarn, images from magazines, and it was a real free-for-all, that was the impetus that started it, I think the element of collage, that things are sitting on top of one another, and when you put them together they create a dialogue that maybe you never intended or knew about, but it just happened and then that’s beautiful and natural, or feels natural, and makes a process feel less contrived. Though there’s actually nothing contrived about the process!
LIZZIE There wasn’t, it was play from start to finish, there wasn’t a point where, ‘right, you have a concept, now you’ve got to sit down, grow up and make a room’. It really wasn’t, we played throughout the whole thing, there are photographs of this, that… ‘I’ve made this! I’ve found this object!’
JO Your felted fairy lights, I mean…
LIZZIE My felted fairy lights, I don’t know. I was lying on my daughter’s bed reading her a bedtime story and she had these little LED lights, and I’m getting old so every night I’d say, ‘LED lights, I’ll turn them into mushrooms, they’re going to glow’, and every morning I would forget. Took a week before I realised that I had to write it down on my phone when I had the idea and set it as a reminder the next day!
FABRICE So a labour of love, quite full on.
Tim: We all jumped in with the same abandon as well.
SCOTT Well you guys are kind of dream collaborators.
JO How many textile designers does it take to design a room?
LIZZIE Just four!
SCOTT A few less ideas guys, a few less ideas please!
Lizzie: But I think the furniture as well was just so well chosen.Fabrice: Kind of also a visual metaphor, this room, you know, the beauty and the intelligence of the mycelium and woodland, you’ve made the invisible visible in a kind of decorative way, which is quite extraordinary.
JO It’s true yeah.
LIZZIE The mycelia are linking all the trees, this is what happens with the organisms in the wild, so you might know mycelium is one of the biggest living organisms in the world, and it does link trees, it runs between the roots of trees, it allows them to communicate with each other, little known fact, so you never see it, when you see a mushroom that’s just the flower, that’s maybe the 1% of the organism. So you never see mycelium, it’s all underground, and we really wanted to celebrate that. These rococo-like shelves are old tree stumps, on which lots of mushrooms do grow in nature, so you’ve got that and the mycelium is being made by hand by a brainwave of yours [Jo].
SCOTT This is the underground side, this is the mainstream side!
LIZZIE It was the future as we imagined it.
Tim: It was a better future in the past.
FABRICE Before we wrap up, I was just wondering if anyone has any questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER Where are the magic mushrooms?
SCOTT It's a lucky dip!
AUDIENCE MEMBER Congratulations, it’s amazing.
Photography by Shaun Cox