Design

OBJECT LESSON: PEBBLE COLLECTION

Like brushing your hand across velvet or holding your palms out to feel the warmth from an open fire, it is human nature to reach for a pebble. Walking on any beach where they dominate, from New England to Queensland, is to tread a path through millions of miniature sculptures. There’s something compelling about the touch of them. Turning one around in your hand makes you understand how dynamic and meticulous nature is. It took us an age to create the machinery to replicate the elements that shape a pebble, while the random nature of each of those pebbles has inspired artists and designers for centuries.

“If a pebble or an egg can be enjoyed for the sake of its shape only, it is one step towards a true appreciation of sculpture,” said Barbara Hepworth, the modernist sculptor who turned her love of the Cornish coast into a whole aesthetic. “Abstract form, the relation of masses and planes, is that which gives sculptural life; this, then, admits that a piece of sculpture can be purely abstract or non-representational.” You can see pebble shapes in numerous masterpieces, from Hepworth’s to the polished brass biomorphic elements of Jean Arp’s work in the 1930s. Isamu Noguchi took his inspiration from Brancusi to reshape blocks of marble into objects that looked as if they had been shaped and smoothed by centuries of ocean drama. As well as that being the bedrock of his fine art aesthetic, he channeled it through his furniture – into the pebble silhouettes of glass coffee tables, his Burden Chair and his 1946 Freeform sofa for Vitra. In an era of clean, svelte, graphic lines and tapered furniture legs, the abstraction of the pebble fits like a bonsai in a Zen garden. Noguchi also fashioned the shapes into the landscaping of playgrounds, creating what was essentially an immersive site-specific artwork. Today, Santiago Calatrava spends more time in museums of natural history than he does art galleries – as well as birdlife, he has a perennial fascination with shells and rocks. His studio shelves are full of pebbles, hand-picked to inspire.

There is an epic nature inherent in these small objects that is profound – look at a beach from a distance and they create a harmonious tone. At the other end of the scale, naturally formed rocks can be transporting. Walk around Joshua Tree and the vast, sculptural rock formations have an otherworldly feel to them that looks deliberate. They have the animated simplicity and energy of a Tex Avery cartoon cell.

It was a single small pebble that caught Craig Bassam’s eye while walking on Cape Cod that inspired the BassamFellows Pebble Collection. When he picked it up and took it back to the studio it served as a kind of stress ball; something he instinctively reached for on his desk, turning it around and around in his hand. Its tactile nature was matched by the unprepossessing visual pleasure it offered. It was an incidental Henry Moore, no less elegant for its provenance or scale.

The Pebble Collection of stools and chairs represents an attempt to fuse naturally formed shapes with modern craft. It was conceived as a set of furniture that would look organic and harmonious and sculptural from any angle, allowing for different groupings without the need to be rigorously aligned. Just as a Noguchi table goes in any space, and a Hepworth fits visually in all environments, so the Pebble Collection represents neither round peg or square hole. Each of the pieces in the collection work as an abstract design statement in itself, but they also work together to form an integrated whole.

While these designs are visually “easy”, they represent seriously ambitious engineering. The Pebble Stool looks like one of the simplest pieces in the set, but was one of the most complex to develop. It comes in a plain wood and an upholstered version, Pebble Padded. Numerous prototypes were worked on, with incremental changes to the sculptural shape to create optimum comfort, while Pebble Padded went through numerous changes in the upholstery detailing with as few seams as possible. Rounding out the series is the Pebble Lounge Armchair, an ample, fully carved all wood lounge chair. It is the subtle sculptural aspects of the collection that are its strength. As Hepworth put it so eruditely: “Sculpture communicates an immediate sense of life - you can feel the pulse of it. It is perceived, above all, by the sense of touch which is our earliest sensation; and touch gives us a sense of living contact and security.”

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It was a single small pebble that caught Craig Bassam’s eye while walking on Cape Cod that inspired the BassamFellows Pebble Collection.

Isamu Noguchi took his inspiration from Brancusi to reshape blocks of marble into objects that looked as if they had been shaped and smoothed by centuries of ocean drama.

“If a pebble or an egg can be enjoyed for the sake of its shape only, it is one step towards a true appreciation of sculpture,” said Barbara Hepworth.

The CB-272 Pebble Counter Stool. Numerous prototypes were worked on, with incremental changes to the sculptural shape to create optimum comfort.

MARCO FAVALI

CB-630 Pebble Lounge Armchair in solid Walnut.

MARCO FAVALI

Moonhead, Henry Moore. Bronze. 1964.

The CB-275 Pebble Padded Bar Stool went through numerous changes in the upholstery detailing with as few seams as possible.

MARCO FAVALI

The Pebble Lounge Armchair is an ample, fully carved all wood lounge chair.

MARCO FAVALI

CB-27 Pebble Stools in Walnut and Oak Raw Effect.

MARCO FAVALI

The polished brass biomorphic elements of Jean Arp’s work in the 1930s served as inspiration to Isamu Noguchi and many others.

The Pebble Collection’s organic shapes allow for different groupings without the need to be rigorously aligned.

MARCO FAVALI

The welt on Pebble Padded is flush to the shell creating a tailored appearance.

MARCO FAVALI

Noguchi fashioned pebble silhouettes into the landscaping of playgrounds, creating what was essentially an immersive site-specific artwork.

CB-273 Pebble Bar Stool in Walnut and Copper.

MARCO FAVALI

The vast, sculptural rock formations in Joshua Tree have an otherworldly feel to them that looks deliberate.

LEAD IMAGE
The Pebble Collection was conceived as a set of furniture that would look organic and harmonious and sculptural from any angle,

Photography MIchael Biondo