Born in South Africa and now based out of London and Barcelona, designer Ryan Frank has an agenda. ‘Waste’ freaks him out, so all his products are made out of recycled and sustainable materials. Good for the planet and good for your home.
You’ve heard of free-range eggs, but free-range furniture? That’s what South-African born furniture designer Ryan Frank calls his products. His work uses sustainable, recycled materials and cultural references to traditional African design which has earned him the reputation of being one of Europe’s leading eco-designers.
Since 2005, Frank’s work has encompassed an interesting range of useful products from laptop sleeves to nesting tables. Frank didn’t start out wanting to be an eco-designer, though. In an interview to the Telegraph (UK), Frank revealed how his fascination with left-over objects began. “I didn’t mean to become an eco-designer. I was working at an architect’s firm and it had this amazing library of fun materials all laid out. I just thought, “What can I make out of that?” The first thing I made was a coat hanger from compressed newspapers.”
The result of that first experiment turned out to be the ‘Zilka Coat Hangers’, a fun, colourful and biodegradable addition to your wardrobe. Made from recycled British newspapers, the hangers can be customised with a design or print of your choice.
Frank followed the Zilka range with ‘Isabella’, an award-winning, totem pole style stacking stool made from straw and wool. Wanting to avoid using exotic hard wood, Frank instead used ‘Strawboard’, a sustainable formaldehyde-free material made from compressed straw to create the frame of the stool. This was then wrapped in 100% felted wood. Isabella comes in several colours and is a handy option for small spaces.
‘Enzo’, a felt-free version of the ‘Isabella’ stool was introduced with spruce wood replacing the strawboard. Frank uses wood from certified managed forests in Europe, which makes the product easy on the environment and light on the pocket too.
The designer’s products are not only made out of sustainable and recycled materials but are also consistently full of whimsy and surprise. The iconic ‘Inkuku’ chair, for example, is entirely made of recycled plastic shopping bags on a steel frame and is inspired by South African townships where the wrapping technique is used to create handcrafted chicken ornaments. The ‘Inja’ chair takes the Inkuku one step further and replaces the plastic with fabric cast-offs from the fashion industry, giving the chair an unexpected texture. The beautiful ‘Ishongololo’ (means millipede in Zulu) stool uses the same craft technique as the Inkuku chair.
Frank also uses a lot of recycled wood in his work. The ‘Strata’ range of furniture uses wood salvaged from old office furniture to create a set of four pieces – the ‘Bourke’s Luck’ chair, the ‘Lower Slot’ stool, the ‘Bull Valley’ coffee table and the ‘Upper Kaibito’, a full size dining table.
Recycled wood is given an edgy, London flavour with the use of authentic graffiti from London’s streets in the ‘Hackney’ range of shelving. Hackney was one of Frank’s earliest designs. To get the authentic graffiti, Frank installed blank boards around East London’s graffiti hot-spots and left them there for a few days. As his website says cheekily, “They are then left for a few days to ‘mature’.” The boards are then cut up to make the Hackney shelves, graffiti left intact.
East London has inspired more Ryan Frank products. The ‘Shanty’ is a floor lamp-cum room divider made from corrugated metal salvaged from the area. The lamp sits on castor wheels to allow easy movement.
In recent years, Frank has experimented with unusual materials like Bark Cloth, Siwa Paper and Cork Leather. The 100% Zero range of occasional tables was made with “no material budget” which meant that the whole range was created entirely out of salvaged material. The tables are made from reclaimed wood such as scaffolding planks and pallets and finished off with a selection of salvaged castor wheels or drawer handles.
The ingenious ‘Ayo’ (Add Your Own Lighting) range of lampshades encourages the re-use of everyday items like fruit crates, olive oil tins and baskets. I particularly like the range that Frank created in association with Tape, a UK-based music company. Laptop and Ipad sleeves made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified fabric backed cork and felt make being sustainable within everybody’s reach. The custom stitched edging adds a designer touch to the items as well.
The latest creation from the TapeGear/Ryan Frank stable is the innovative GRPL modular hanging system made out of grass! The design is inspired by old industrial crane hooks that can be used to hang coats, scarves, hats or bags. The GRPL system is expected to be launched in September, so look out for it.
“Waste freaks me out,” said Frank in the interview to the Telegraph. If it freaks you out too (and I hope it does), take a leaf out of Ryan Frank’s portfolio and pledge to use more sustainable materials as much as you can.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Ryan Frank