Very Good & Proper: Built to Last
During the 2009 edition of London Design Festival, local design studio Very Good & Proper (VG&P) unveiled its signature range of furnishings made for the British restaurant chain, Canteen. Soon, VG&P’s appeal transcended the hospitality market, its products organically finding homes in workplace and residential settings. With last year’s acquisition of the storied London furniture brand Isokon Plus—Bauhaus heavyweights Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were among its designers in the 1930s—VG&P is poised to make an even bigger splash.
Here, company director Ed Carpenter shares the goals and inspirations propelling VG&P.
Since taking on Isokon Plus, what are your goals for both brands?
Previously, Isokon Plus was much more focused on the making and didn’t have a dedicated sales and marketing team, so Isokon products will now benefit enormously from ours. For VG&P we plan to continue to build on our in-house manufacturing capabilities—the flexibility that comes with this is a real game changer—and for Isokon Plus to continue to re-issue products from the rich archive, in tandem with new designs and collaborations with external designers.
Collaborations are important to VG&P. How do you seek out the designers you work with?
Sometimes it’s through a personal connection. For example, Michael Marriott was our tutor when André Klauser, the other founder of VG&P, and I studied design products at the Royal College of Art. Felix de Pass was our first intern and John Tree has been a close friend for many years. Other times we are approached directly by designers and if we like what we see we’ll take it on or give them a brief. We’ve also sent project briefs through design schools, which is fun and has produced some great results.
What are the influences behind VG&P’s furniture and accessories?
We’re all design geeks at heart, so our products sometimes reference historic pieces. Our Canteen Utility Chair is essentially a re-design of a classic pre-war British chair originally designed for the BBC, which itself was an interpretation of the tubular steel chairs designed in the Bauhaus. We also love process, and our designs sometimes develop from a particular way you can manipulate material or what’s most efficient. We also believe designs should always be functional and comfortable. There’s no excuse for designing an uncomfortable chair no matter how beautiful it is.
Can you describe one professional challenge of navigating the COVID-19 crisis?
Creating the buzz of a design office while we are all working from home. It’s difficult to recreate those spontaneous moments over the desk or during a coffee break, and it’s often these moments where the best ideas develop. One positive thing is it’s given us all time to reflect on how we structure and organize things, and I’ve been using design thinking to help us create better systems and processes. The ambition is that when we’re finally allowed back into the studio these improvements will allow us even more time to design and be creative.
What are you most looking forward to?
We were hoping to launch a new range of outdoor chairs this spring, but for obvious reasons we’ve had to put that on hold. However, this has allowed us to focus on a couple of other products we soft launched last year, like the Pino Chair by John Tree for VG&P and the re-issue of the Shell Chair by Barber Osgerby for Isokon Plus.