As we approach the launch of our first furniture collection, we sit down with Senior Designer and man behind the new collection, Jim Barrow, to talk through what we were trying to achieve with Model A & B, why we’re extending Swyft’s offering into furniture, and what the design process was.
Q: What are we trying to achieve with launching the Model A & B?
J: We wanted to continue with the smart design-led approach. The sofa collections can be assembled with no tools – and we wanted to extend this to our case good range.
In terms of the design, the coffee table and side tables had to work within a wide range of interiors, which also fit with our previous sofa designs. But, one of the most important elements was to ensure they have longevity. The product had to have the capacity to be built at ease, but also equally as easy to disassemble and transport to greener pastures, if needed.
The styling was kept simple, using beautiful materials that will last, have thoughtful detailing and come with clean lines.
In short, we had to ensure the Models A & B were styled correctly, of a quality build with longevity in mind, and simple to assemble.
Q: Why did we choose to extend the collections with furniture?
J: I guess it was a natural progression for the brand. It makes sense to create products that can be coupled with and complement our sofas. A coffee table and side table are predominantly placed in the same room as a sofa, so we simply expanded the room set offering.
The designs work with the sofas, for example the large side table sits over the arm of the Model 03, which physically extends the sofa. However, they are very flexible in their use and can be used as standalone statement pieces.
Also, we have a fantastic opportunity with access to our skilled manufacturing hub in Portugal.
Q: How did you come up with the Swyft-clik® design?
J: A lot of prototyping. It's a completely new and a patent pending design. We were trying to move away from the traditional flatpack concept, which involves screwing in a metal peg and a push-in wooden dowel.
The Swyft-clik® system aims to remove the traditional concept. It's simple, you just slide the two panels together without too much force. There's obviously no tools, but it’s a quick and intuitive function.
It was quite tricky to find a long lasting mechanism that can be assembled and disassembled multiple times. There is a screw involved, but it’s a hand screw so still no need for tools. The detail is quite nice as the screw has the Swyft logo which is an integral part of the design. Whereas, the Swyf- clik® mechanism is completely invisible.
Q: What inspired the coffee table and side table?
J: It's quite an architecturally inspired design. If you stand back and look at the side table or if you'd put all the pieces together, they create a silhouette that is akin to a sculptural composition. I wanted to work with basic silhouettes and quite geometric forms – the soft roundness of the top and edges offsets the rather blocky legs.
The legs have a really nice radius, made from solid ash. The top of the tables are squared circles which are a lovely, soft shape. It's a very controlled, symmetrical, but pleasing form. And keeping the shape simple is important, just so it sits nicely in any sort of interior. It also had to be timeless which meant working with finishes and materials that would last for years and don’t age.
So it comes in three different colours. The word is stained and oiled in three different colours; Dark Ash, Mid Ash and Light Ash, which enhances the natural wood.
From a design point of view, the inspiration came from how simple the assembly can be. So, I had a vision of these very simple shapes, slotting together perfectly. The design was a realisation of that, almost like Tetris; a piece of Tetris that you can see just sliding and slotting together. The idea of geometric shapes sliding together is very pleasing.
Q: How did you go about designing Models A & B. What’s the process?
J: Apart from the traditional form of research, sketching, CAD ideas and building prototypes, this design started with the challenge of no tools. So, initially it was an engineering challenge before moving into furniture design. We had to design the Swyft-clik®, which was the most important aspect of the project. Without a solution for no tools assembly, it was pointless designing the furniture.
The furniture design was predominantly led by the assembly, which created an enjoyable, tactile experience. We had this vision of interlocking boards sliding together. The task, then, was to expand on this idea and to create the finer details – soft edges that elevate the look etc. Getting the technical part right was crucial and involved a lot of prototyping to figure out.
The materials were also really important as we wanted to keep it very natural – this led the design in a certain direction because we wanted to use veneers or solid wood. At that stage, we weren't too sure where it was going to end up, but we knew we’d use natural materials. Every aspect of the products have been considered, even the rubber feet reduce movement and include the Swyft logo.
Longevity was also very important to the design – the longer something can be used, the better. We included a natural oil to the finish which can be reapplied to give a new lease of life, much like traditional handmade furniture. The finish is a completely natural oil, which is potentially slightly more sensitive than the alternative, but it can be reordered and reapplied. On some furniture it can be difficult to repair a scratch, but on this product because we've used a natural oil, it can be reapplied and completely rejuvenated.
The use of natural oil also means it’s extremely environmentally friendly. It comes with 0% VOC and has Eurofins Indoor Air Comfort Gold Label Certification, which means it doesn’t release any harmful toxins into the home environment.
Q: How long did it take to design the furniture, from concept through to launch?
J: The brief was handed to me in January so it has taken 10 months from initial concept. The pandemic obviously didn’t help with a fast route to market, but it was more than just a piece of furniture as we developed the Swyft-clik® assembly system which is also Patent Pending. That took quite some time to refine.
Q: From a design perspective, what areas did you need to get right before launching Models A & B?
J: It was much more involved than a classic furniture design project, the flatpack element means other considerations need to be thought about. For example, people interact with the product in a much more involved and up-close manner. And on top of that we want people to do that over and over again, so it’s not necessarily a one time assembly, it has to be disassembled easily too.
Building exceptional quality into a flatpack piece of furniture was very important. We have concentrated on the materials, finish and fixings to create something that will last – and, ultimately, breaking the negative connotations around flatpack furniture.
The packaging was also important as we wanted to make it 100% traceable and sustainable cardboard. The packaging is completely folded and thought out to protect the product in transit. And, of course that level of detail takes more time than just simply using expanded polystyrene.