Jewelry has long been treated as frivolous ornamentation, too wrapped up in feminine vanity to ever be real works of art. But what if it were enlarged to match the scale of architecture and transformed into furniture and interior decor? English designer Bethan Laura Wood aims to reclaim the value of decorative objects and make them too large and tangible for even the most sexist critics to dismiss with “Ornate,” a new solo show at Nilufar Gallery on Milan’s Via della Spiga.
The collection marks 10 years of collaboration with Nilufar and its founder, Nina Yashar, and presents new pieces alongside older works. Crystallizing the various cultural influences that inspired the designer, these lamps, cabinets, desks, headboards, and other objects are rendered in curvaceous glass, wood veneer, and CNC-milled aluminum.
Pondering how the pandemic has led many people to feel a deepened appreciation for their personal spaces, Wood uses the visuals of the British Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau to translate the intimacy and sensuality of a woman’s boudoir to each piece. Describing the boudoir as a “private space for both spiritual contemplation and physical cultivation,” Wood invites the viewer to “travel through her mind’s eye” to past travel destinations like Europe, Mexico, California, and East Asia to see the colorful textiles, ceramics, and glasswork that inspired her.
“Quite often, a man’s collection of wooden spoons is somehow seen as a more legitimate collection than a woman’s collection of jewelry,” Wood told Dezeen. “But jewelry has, in the past, been one of the key ways for women to show a point of view and identity and embrace a political standpoint. So I like the idea of taking those small elements off the body and using them as an anchor point to create ‘jewelry’ for larger architectural spaces.”
It’s hard to choose the most compelling pieces from the lot, especially since they’re all so unique and unusual, further cementing Wood’s personal artistic aesthetic as one-of-a-kind. The “Ornate bedhead” is a standout, however, with its assemblage of metallic squiggles, alongside matching Ornate sconces. The two Meisen cabinets, large and small, began as a way to equate furniture hardware to jewelry, but later morphed into undulating ripples of hand-painted veneer inspired by the Ikat weaving seen in Meisen kimonos.
The floral Wisteria sconce, made with hand-dyed PVC, drips with blooms in shades of blue, purple, and red. A series of more abstracted floral lamps, like “Bon Bon” and “Criss Cross-Bloom,” were designed as part of a commission by Design Miami Basel Designer of the Future award, and inspired by a need to slow down foot traffic to elevators at the W hotel Mexico. Wood imagined that sculptural sconces in the long hallways and staircases resembling the graphical displays of flowers seen in Mexican folk art might inspire people to pause and examine how the colors of the glass change when viewed at different heights and from various angles.
Known just as much for her iconic personal style as for her work, Bethan Laura Wood founded her multidisciplinary design studio in 2009. Artisan collaboration, investigation of materials, a passion for color, and location-responsive design enrich her vision of everyday objects as cultural conduits and instigators of emotional connections.