Jim Biddulph In Conversation with Relay
With almost 10 years experience in seeking out and representing some of the very best furniture, lighting and surfaces around, Relay Design Agency know a thing or two about design. Founded in 2009 by Neil Walsh and Richard Healy, the Spitalfields based agency is synonymous with elegant and contemporary products with a strong scandi inflexion. Indeed, they represent a number of leading Scandinavian based brands, which you may have seen featured at Clerkenwell Design Week over the past number of years. This month they return with their biggest show yet Relay represents, which will offer visitors a new design destination within the fair. I caught up with Richard during the build up to the show to find out more about it, their Scandinavian connections and their link to this cement, a key ingredient in this months material of focus, Concrete.
JB: I first became aware of Relay Design when I discovered Baux, the modular tile made from cement and wood wool that you represent here in the UK. Can you begin by telling me a little bit about it?
RH: Baux is a Swedish producer of acoustic wall and ceiling treatments. Designed by Form Us With Love and produced by Traullit, it is a clever combination of design and ecological considerations. What we love about it is the opportunity it provides designers and end-users to create specific acoustic designs.
JB: And how did you come to be the UK representative?
RH: Petrus Palmer, one of the founders, had asked co-director Neil Walsh for feedback on the original Hexagon tile before it went to market. We saw the potential immediately. Neil took the samples around to a few architects to get their feedback for the team at Form Us With Love. The feedback was universally positive. Since then we have worked incredibility closely with Baux.
JB: There’s a strong Scandinavian presence within the portfolio of brands you represent, did you deliberately make this your focus or has it been an organic process?
RH: From the beginning, Relay sought out contemporary design brands producing locally and ecologically. This naturally drew us to Scandinavian manufacturers, however both Neil and myself have always had a strong affinity for contemporary Scandinavian designers like Jonas Wagell, Folkform and Note Design Studio. It seemed like a natural fit for us to collaborate in this way.
JB: You mentioned acoustics, for which there has been a real awakening in the world of interiors over the past couple of years. On first inspection, you wouldn’t necessarily think Baux would offer many positive acoustic properties, but there’s actually far more than meets the eye.
RH: Yes, there definitely has been a shift in how acoustics is now viewed as a valued part of a scheme. Previously it’s been brushed off as optional extra or something to be “value engineered” out of the scheme. Now it’s become a priority, especially as spaces need to perform across multiple uses.
As a surface, Baux works practically and visually. It absorbs sound and is fire resistant as well as being thermally regulating. So in many ways, whilst it does it very subtly, Baux offers far more than most surface materials. Plus, visually it allows the designer to utilise colour and pattern, even to produce wayfinding. It ticks a lot of boxes so designers can provide a lot of benefits to their clients.
JB: This month we’re focusing on concrete, and one of its key ingredients, cement is actually at the core of Baux and it’s positive properties. Can you explain why and how it’s used?
RH: Baux is made up of 48% Portland Cement, which is mixed with water and spruce-wood sourced from the Baux forest – which has a sustainable FSC rated program. The cement is a fantastic binder, providing a lot of the benefits of the Baux range including its strength, moisture resistance and fire protection. Other benefits stem from the fact cement has a naturally high Ph-balance, meaning Baux is anti-mould, anti-rot, freeze-thaw resistant and termite & vermin resistant – all of which makes Baux suitable to be used outdoors as well.
JB: Surface materials are far from all you do though isn’t it; you work with a number of furniture brands. Can you tell me a bit more about the Relay Design portfolio?
RH: We are agents for six contract brands covering furniture, lighting and acoustics. We made our selection carefully; each brand has a specialism that allows all six to be considered individually as well as part of a cohesive portfolio. +Halle produces beautiful and bold upholstery for high traffic environments like Westfield and Heathrow; Friends & Founders provide a more graphic sensibility with a beautiful range of materials like marble and glass; Mitab work with an exciting roster of young designers to produce designs in metal and upholstery; Orsjo is a heritage lighting brand from Sweden and Zeitraum is a German contract company working exclusively in solid timber.
JB: Your stands at Clerkenwell have always been a highlight but this year you have even bigger plans than ever. What can we expect from you this year?
RH: Relay is embarking on a large project for Clerkenwell Design Week, Relay represents – a new design destination for the festival. The 300 sqm exhibition will focus on cutting-edge interior design, covering acoustics, furniture and lighting.
It will host over 25 UK product launches including designs by Form Us With Love, Folkform, kaschkasch, Formstelle, Note Design Studio and Ida Linea Hildebrand.
The aim with Relay represents was to expand the traditional trade fair format and provide a curated, social and engaging environment – a place to meet and discuss new design. With this in mind, the exhibition will be supported by a series of talks and presentations by leading designers like Form Us With Love as well as Note Design Studio and Friends & Founders.
As well as the exhibition itself, Relay represents will also host talks from the likes of Form Us With Love.
For more information visit https://relayrepresents.com/events/