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April 17, 2013
Iceland recently celebrated its biggest ever annual design festival, DesignMarch 2013. The fair featured some 150 events, ranging from fashion to furniture and architecture to food design, making the world’s northernmost capital of Reykjavik the place to be for the design-inclined.

Banners fly high in the atrium of the Reykjavic Art Museum during the opening party, celebrating the Icelandic Contemporary Design IV series of postage stamps that were released this month.  Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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Reykjevik’s magnificent Harpa Conference Center hosted many of the events. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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The festival’s branding was well done and well used. Graphic designers Jónas Valtysson and Ármann Agnarsson created large wooden architectural letters spelling out 'HönnunarMars' (Icelandic for DesignMarch).  The letters were photographed around Reykjavik to promote the festival and its many events. “In our view, DesignMarch is like an empty canvas set up for the local designers to draw on. We took that quite literally,” said the duo behind the design. Photo by: Marino Thorlacius

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Four prominent designers with different approaches were given a letter to decorate. Marcos Zotes, an Iceland-based Spanish designer, known for doing installations and projects involving urban living, created the 'S'.  He made his letter into a podium and projector stand on wheels that kept popping up as a piece of practical furniture throughout the four days of the event.

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One designer stood out from the rest: Sturla Már Jónsson. The designer's simple and adaptable Aría Table won the “Best Furniture Award” by Iceland’s Association of furniture and interior architects. The award covers the period 2007-2012 because this is the first time its been given. From now on, it will be every two years. The table is made of solid core formica with legs of oak or another wood if preferred. It comes in three sizes and is available from Sólóhúsgögn ehf. Photo courtesy Sturla Már Jónsson.

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Ásgeir Einarsson (1927-2001) designed the Sindra chair in 1962. It was re-released last year by G.Á. Húsgögn in a range of different skins for its 50th year anniversary, but the sealskin is new this year. “The designer had been very strict that the chair be upholstered only in skin, and using only Icelandic materials,” G.Á. Húsgögn’s upholsterer Páll Júníus Valsson said, adding a new puzzle piece to fit into my expanding picture of Iceland’s design story. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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According to designer Gulleik Løvskar, more than one type of furniture is needed for a long day of office work. As an alternative to the common chair, he’s created the Bended Sofa, a new kind of furniture designed for stretching and relaxing in the workplace. Lay on it, lounge on it, play on it—with its simple elegant arch, Løvskar has left the possibilities open ended. “Good ideas come up when you feel good and are relaxed, the sofa is meant for a creative break,” he said. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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The Hleðsluskápur, or “Loading Dock Shelf” in English, came from the minimalist tendencies of architect Sverrir Ásgeirsson and product designer Stefán Pétur Sólveigarson. “I like to simplify everything,” said Ásgeirsson. “We were trying to find a way to eliminate the jumble of cords you have and at the same time create a place in the entryway to put down your wallet and such.” But the power strip needed to be accessible and stationary, turning a drawer into a unique design challenge.  The “aha!” moment came when the designers realized they could reverse the drawer mechanism and slide the casing back and forth instead of the other way around. The Hleðsluskápur is made of oak wood and black mdf. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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I’ve seen chalkboard clocks before, but never one with magnets built in to keep keys tidy and easy to find. Stefán Pétur Sólveigarson’s Chalkboard Keyclock is a clever accessory to keep the day running smoothly.  Especially if your home is space-limited and you need everything in it to pull double duty. This clock and another with a minimalist wood face are hand routered by the designer and lasercut. They will start appearing in Reykjavik shops in April. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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The weekend wasn’t just about product and furniture design—fashion ranked high too with a lot of crossover between DesignMarch and the 4th annual Reykjavik Fashion Festival, which was running simultaneously. Much of the Fashion Festival took place at the Harpa Conference Center, and you couldn’t ask for a more dramatic setting. Many Icelandic designers such as Farmers Market, Huginn Muninn, and JÖR by Guðmundur Jörundsson staged runway shows, while other mainstays like Steinunn Sigurðardóttir opened their studios to visitors with special exhibits of their work. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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Metamorphosis is a scalable wall hook system—pun intended. Use just a few of the clustered hooks and you might get the illusion of whimsical clouds that you can hang jewelry, bags, pictures and other lightweight objects from. Go cluster-crazy, and you can create an entire wall of fish scales. Really, whatever suits. Let’s just hope designers Anna Þórunn Hauksdóttir & Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir don’t decide to release this one in that mint green color that everyone’s using right now. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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Many people included here will be crucial in continuing to establish Iceland as a design heavyweight, but perhaps none so much as the final highlight of this trip. Yes, we visited the President of Iceland. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, in his home. (In fact, we all enjoyed wine and canapés together). And hey, it turns out he really likes Icelandic design too, and sees it as an important contributor to his country’s success. If he believes it, it can only mean good things for the Icelandic design scene. Here, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson mingles with journalists. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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Home of Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

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0 opening party at art museum

Banners fly high in the atrium of the Reykjavic Art Museum during the opening party, celebrating the Icelandic Contemporary Design IV series of postage stamps that were released this month.  Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

DesignMarch is a relatively new event—it’s just the fifth time it’s been held. As many designers were quick to respond, Iceland doesn’t have a long tradition of design like other Nordic countries. “Just ten years ago,” according to Sari Peltonen of the Iceland Design Centre, “there were next to no written sources on design. It seemed to simply..not exist somehow?”

But it was starting to. Then, the Iceland Design Centre opened in 2008, just as the country’s economy threatened to collapse. But what could have marked the end of a promising design scene has actually had the opposite effect—design consultants such as architects turned to handicraft and product design. They had to look locally for materials and production, and they had to work with the global marketplace in mind.

What was discovered in Iceland was a vibrant and colorful capital city brimming with creative exuberance, a land ripe with inspiration in all of its raw extremes, and one that is still working to carve out a design identity of its own. No easy task when there’s already such rich heritages of Nordic design to live up to.

So what is emerging as distinctly Icelandic? Will it move Scandinavian design in a slightly more edgy or exotic direction, perhaps? It’s not a question one could answer by the end of this short visit, but it’s exactly what anyone coming to Reykjavik will start getting their head around.

DesignMarch was held March 14-17 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
For more information, click here.

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