Stacks of Talent

Shay Alkalay of Raw Edges has designed a real showstopper of a piece with Stack, a freestanding drawer unit. His work feels especially fresh, but maybe that is because an allergic reaction wont allow him to rework the familiar.

Page 56 571 1801 Stack 13 drawer green

‘I’m searching for something that’s not been seen before. I have this reaction’ says Shay Alkalay, screwing up his nose a little. ‘It’s called the allergic — if I draw something even slightly similar to something I’ve seen before, I don’t want to touch it.’

The Israeli born, London based designer is describing his working process. It’s a painstaking search for original thought that has resulted, to date, in Pivot, a cabinet for Arco comprising three drawers on legs that fan out; and Stack, a backless, logic defying chest of drawers for Established & Sons. With both of his first pieces in production, it’s an impressive start for a designer just three years out of college.

We’re sitting in Alkalay’s Stoke Newington studio. Littered with prototypes and half formed ideas, it is peaceful only because it’s late and most of the friends he shares it with have gone home. Alkalay is a prominent member of London outfit Okay Studio — a group of designers that graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2006. Together they share bills, and honest feedback. In the corner sits

Alkalay’s favourite Okay Studio member, wife Yael Mer, who is working busily on a project. The couple met whist studying design in Jerusalem before attending the RCA, and joined forces under the name of Raw Edges last year.
To date, Alkalay’s work deals almost obsessively with mechanism and movement — in short, it consists mostly of drawers. ‘I really like movement’ says Alkalay. ‘I spent most of my childhood playing with toys where you have to build or make stuff — it was all to do with connections.’ The first product that demonstrated this interest was a revolving fish tank he designed at college. ‘But there are not so many people who want to produce that’ says Alkalay sheepishly. It was Mer that came up with a practical application for Alkalay’s talent. I tried to make a chair but it was really bad, so Yael said: ‘Why don’t you do drawers? It’s the only furniture that moves.’

His first major exhibit was at Gradual, a design show in Kensington during the London Design Festival. He presented a version of Stack, made of rough, unfinished wood, which towered spectacularly from the floor to the ceiling of the mansion house. The piece looks like a stack of boxes, but there are two hidden metal frames running up each side. ‘People couldn’t believe the drawers worked, says Alkalay. They wanted to know what the secret was.’ Although this version of Stack got Alkalay noticed, he also had a meticulously sanded, painted and polished version up his sleeve, just waiting for a manufacturer.

While he enjoys working like a hurried craftsman, producing pieces quickly, with an endearingly quality, his ability to translate these ideas into more saleable products has made him especially successful. But the fact that both versions are equally acclaimed suggests it’s the concept that people are really sold on. Alkalay’s products successfully merge the practical with the surprising; sometimes his work is even a little cheeky.

Cut Attachez
is a parasite drawer that sticks onto existing furniture. Currently being eyed up by a manufacturer, the version is far more polite than the first, which requires taking a saw to your furniture, and then wedging the runners and drawer in. ‘I don’t like stuff to be too slick and important — it has to have some humour’ says Alkalay.

He and Mer are currently designing a piece in glass and ceramics that will look like plastic — paying homage to a material more usually considered cheap and nasty. They are also working on a series of bent plywood stools using a process of cutting and folding recently exhibited at Okay Studio’s exhibition at Aram Gallery this September. Much to the delight of their ex-tutor who visited the studio recently, the graduates have continued experimenting as they did at school. Their exhibitions abroad and in London have helped give an identity to the city’s diverse emerging talent — but Alkalay is quick to point out that the ground their work is designed on is the only linking factor.

‘In the beginning we tried to find a link between the work, but there isn’t really one’, says Alkalay. ‘At first we tried to call it London Design because we all come from different places — Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Israel — and are doing different things.’

Quite content with working among their friends, the duo have no plans to expand too soon: ‘We both suffer this allergic’, says Alkalay. ‘We just want to keep having good ideas, and work like now.’

Page 56 572 1802 Raw Edges studio

Words by Anna Bates
Photography by Peter Guenzel

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