‘I’m very St Martins,’ furniture designer Mark Laban tells me midway through our interview. And he’s not wrong. In fact, he appears to have seen the college from all sides, having studied there for foundation, followed by a BA in fine art and then worked as a technician in its workshops. This summer he graduated from the Design MA course with a series of intriguing furniture pieces that deftly combine a traditional hand-made sensibility with cutting-edge technology.
While there’s undoubtedly a debt owed to Japanese design and that nation’s penchant for a pared-back aesthetic, what really sets his chairs, stools and benches apart is the three-dimensional patterns he creates on the underside of the seats, backs and legs using a CNC machine. As he puts it, he’s working in ‘an intersection where I can see a new opportunity. I’m re-examining or re-interpreting or sometimes challenging something contemporary or something traditional with the other.’
We meet in CSM’s workshops, which are largely empty during the summer, and where the designer-maker is working once again as a technician until his business takes off – though he’s decided to cut back his hours. ‘Working here too much is like having your nose against the sweetshop window,’ he explains. ‘You want to do your own stuff but you’re constantly doing others’ work.’ He is able to use the equipment during the evenings, but he’s aware that he can’t run his business through the college.