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Moderne Day Man

RYAN FRANK // SUSTAINABLE FURNITURE

By Kelly A. Shannon

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Residing between London and Barcelona, Eco-furniture designer Ryan Frank has advanced to one of the industries leading sustainability designers. Renown for his edgy “free-range furniture,” his work often includes cultural references to his South African roots, giving his collection a depth and texture not always found in contemporary design. The eco-designer creates a wide range of products, from computer accessories to farmhouse tables. Below, Ryan talks with MMJ. about his conscious designs, the future of sustainability, and how it all began for him.


Kelly: When you’re not busy designing, what are you doing?​


Ryan: In the summer, I’m involved in helping organize a festival in the Spanish desert that explores no commerce, radical self-reliance and art. In the winter, I’m busy looking forward to the summer, and exploring Europe on foot.



Kelly: When did you build your first eco-friendly product?​


Ryan: It was around 2004/2005 - A clothes hanger made entirely from reclaimed British newspapers.



Kelly:  And how did you come up with that idea?​


Ryan: At the time, I was working for a large Architect studio in London. They had an extensive material/sample library, and this is where I discovered the newspaper material, and also my keen interest in sustainable materials.



Kelly: Do you think you look at our everyday products differently, since eventually you’ll rework them in unique ways?


Ryan: I try to - and wish I could do it more effectively - but it’s not easy. As, in a way, everyday products have reached this status because something about them works... For a product to exist for a long time, it has most likely undergone some form of design evolution. Over time, the designer/manufacturer is able to fine-tune the functionality and use of materials etc. But I’m always looking and like the challenge, and as our environment is continuously changing, so are the products that populate them and need to be re-thought.



KELLY: In the videos I’ve seen, you make putting your furniture together look so easy. On average, how long does it usually take you, from start to finish?


RYAN: It’s not easy to say how long, but what’s worth mentioning is that I always try design for assembly and disassembly. It’s important to be able to separate and identify all the materials that make up a product. This creates efficiencies during the construction phase, and allows end users to easily repair and replace, and, once the product reaches the end of its life-cycle, all materials can come apart to be sent to their respective recycling channels.


Kelly: Who are some of your favorite eco-designers?


Ryan: My favourite 'eco-designer' is not really an eco-designer, but more of a visionary: Dr. Seuss, the author of the children’s book, “The Lorax,” written in the early 70's. The book discusses the environment and the dangers of corporate greed, so ahead of its time and so brilliant in so many ways, along with a powerful sustainable message for all ages.


Kelly: What would you say your biggest accomplishment is thus far?


Ryan: Being part of a select group of professionals that received a royal invite to meet the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace. That felt like a real high point. Also, I really enjoyed being commissioned by The National Theatre of London to design their outdoor furniture for one of their main restaurants.


Kelly: Where would you want to see the world - in terms of Eco-design - 10 years from now?


Ryan: I’m not sure about 10 years, but a “Virgin Free” future is what I would like to see. If we could get industry to a point where we didn’t have to dig, cut, mine, extract any more virgin materials, but instead use the materials we already have. If properly upcycled, we would have enough pre-processed materials already on this planet to produce most of the products we need. It would require salvaging, recycling and re-using on a mass scale, which we are completely capable of doing and what is absolutely necessary. Another nice idea that could be within a 10 year period is if all manufacturers of any goods, by law, had to take back their own products if they broke or at the end of the products life cycle. This would then really encourage them to design to last, and also to be disassembled for easily recycling so the old products become 'food' for the newer products. Let’s hope.

‘Isabella’, a totem pole style stacking stool made from straw and wool. Drawing inspiration from traditional hand carved African seating, but wanting to avoid the use of exotic hard woods, the stools are made from a solid section of Strawboard. // Photo Courtesy of Ryan Frank

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The chair made entirely from recycled plastic shopping bags. It combines traditional craft techniques with recycled materials creating a striking and certainly unconventional piece. Inspiration for Inkuku has been taken from South African townships where the wrapping technique is used to create handcrafted chicken ornaments. // Photo Courtesy of Ryan Frank

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‘Enzo’ a felt-free version of the celebrated ‘Isabella’ stool, spices up this now in-demand range. Constructed from a solid section of spruce wood. // Photo Courtesy of Ryan Frank

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‘Isabella’, a totem pole style stacking stool made from straw and wool. Drawing inspiration from traditional hand carved African seating, but wanting to avoid the use of exotic hard woods, the stools are made from a solid section of Strawboard. // Photo Courtesy of Ryan Frank

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Kelly Shannon is a native Californian & journalist who believes each of our unique lifestyles creates our very own way of life; from our preferences of art & literature to fashion & music. Deeply intrigued by the creators and innovators of trends, style, and vitality, she is also the Editor in Chief of MMJ.



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