Barber Osgerby: lessons from design's Dynamic Duo

Barber Osgerby: lessons from design's Dynamic Duo

Barber Osgerby, an award-winning team famous for their sleek homeware and the Olympic torch, are on a mission to make us think.

Make sense of manufacturing: Ed Barber, right, and Jay Osgerby hope to inspire young designers Images: Daniel Lynch

Jay Osgerby and Ed Barber are the award-winning design duo behind products ranging from the 2012 Olympic torch to the Tip Ton chair for Vitra, first created for schools.

Their work includes the pricey - such as their marble Tobi Ishi table for B&B Italia, and a limited-edition handmade aluminium Iris table for Established & Sons - and the practical, such as the aluminium and steel chair designed for the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, or their plywood Loop table. Their approach embraces industrial design, architecture and art.

loop table
Design classic: Barber Osgerby's Loop table was their first furniture success

The pair, now in their early forties, met while studying architecture at the Royal College of Art and set up their architectural practice in 1996. They started designing furniture for their architectural projects, and the Loop table, their first success, was designed in Barber's then home in the brutalist Trellick Tower in Westbourne Park. Their numerous accolades include the Jerwood furniture award in 2004 and the Design Museum's Design of the Year 2012, for the Olympic torch. They were both awarded the OBE last year, and their Shoreditch studio is expanding to cope with new projects, such as more furniture for Vitra and B&B Italia, to be launched in Milan. Barber lives with his partner in Bayswater, and Osgerby lives with his wife and three children in Brockley.

map table
Ergonomics in mind: Map table and Tip Ton chair, designed for Vitra

While they have dallied with design art pieces, including their show, Ascent, at the West End's Haunch of Venison gallery, their hearts lie in more accessible design and, above all, what Barber describes as "the wonder of making".

Osgerby's childhood fascination with making things, combined with a technical curiosity, has become an integral part of their design process, while playing with materials and methods is key to their success. "We draw and don't use computers. We make objects in our workshop. That way you get to understand what you are designing and how it will function and how it looks." In their new exhibition In the Making at the Design Museum, they want "to show how an object comes from being a raw material to being something you own, and how along the way an object can have lots of different moments of beauty or intrigue or fascination, well before it is finished," explains Osgerby. "We want to show how things are put together, constructed and built and made by very brilliant people, and that things aren't just commodities that you order online. We want to unveil some of the secrets of the objects for people who never have chance to visit the manufacturer."

aluminium table
Limited edition: Iris solid aluminium table, designed for Established & Sons

The show reveals the birth of all kinds of everyday items, from the £2 coin they designed to commemorate the Tube's 150th anniversary, to a light bulb, by way of a sofa. The 20-plus objects are all shown at a moment in their production. Barber says: "Often the half-made object is as beautiful, if not more so, than the finished product. We are displaying them on flocked plinths as if they were precious jewellery."

Osgerby brandishes a willow cleft for a cricket bat and says: "It's like looking at a child and wondering what it will be when it grows up."

It isn't just the objects they want to show, it's how those objects demonstrate the processes behind their manufacture, from the mundane stamping and pressing of a fork blank, or extruding of an engineering brick, to the craft skills of glass blowing a halogen bulb, and the digital skill of laser cutting the Olympic torch. One of the most intriguing pieces on show is a Tip Ton chair stopped halfway through the injection moulding process.

The duo are on a mission to make manufacturing exciting, to make visitors appreciate the ideas and skills behind the objects they use daily, to inspire them to be involved in making and, hopefully, to inspire a new generation of designers.

blue rug
Colour counts: Homegrown Blue rug, £700 a sq m from therugcompany.com

In The Making: The exhibition is open daily, from now until May 3, 10am to 5.45pm at Design Museum, Shad Thames Street, SE1. Admission £12.40 adult, £9.30 student. Members and under-sixes go free. Call 020 7403 6933 or visit designmuseum.org for more details.

Where to buy Barber Osgerby: Mews Tile Collection: Domus Tiles (domustiles.co.uk) Tobi Ishi marble or lacquered table: B&B Italia (bebitalia.com) Tip Ton polypropylene stacking chair; Map table: Vitra (vitra.com) De La Warr aluminium & steel chair: Established & Sons (establishedandsons.com) Loop table: isokonplus.com ¦Barber Osgerby, 35-42 Charlotte Road, EC2 (020 7033 3884; barberosgerby.com). 

 Images: Daniel Lynch

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