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Catching Up With British Designer Faye Toogood, Known for the Utterly Comfortable Roly Poly Chair

The Avant-Garde Artist Talks Dough Ceramics and Her Sandal Design for Birkenstock

BY // 07.01.21

Avant-garde British designer Faye Toogood isn’t resting on her Roly-Poly chair. Her range of cutting-edge creations includes a multitude of disciplines, from fashion and fine art to furniture. She has a special place in her heart for interiors and the objects that populate rooms — she was decoration editor at The World of Interiors for eight years before founding her studio in 2008.

Her most iconic work, the Roly-Poly chair, features a molded bowl-like seat perched on four chunky legs. First designed in 2014 in resin, Toogood later created exclusive versions including a transparent lithium-barium crystal chair for her first United States solo show, “Assemblage 5,” which debuted in 2017 at Friedman Benda gallery in New York City. Manufactured in Italy by Driade along with a Roly-Poly sofa, the original resin chair is immortalized at the MoMA Design Store, along with other greats of contemporary design.

Faye Toogood
Faye Toogood’s “Assemblage 6” collection at Friedman Benda gallery.

Toogood has a Dallas connection: She created a drinking cup big enough to be used as a stool for the Women + Design show in 2019 at the Dallas Museum of Art, which acquired the piece for its permanent collection; the Cup stool is made of cob composite, silver nitrate bronze, and lithium-barium crystal. For “Assemblage 6: Unlearning,” her 2020 follow-up show at Friedman Benda, she explored trompe l’oeil with a collection of furniture that appears to be made of paper, tape, wire, canvas, and clay but is actually cast in bronze, rough canvas, and wrought iron.

Toogood continues to push the envelope of materiality and creation with a raft of new collections and exhibits in 2021. Her new sandals for Birkenstock are made of leather, felt, and canvas, and a current show at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, uses light to refer to various 17th- and 18th-century domestic interiors of her design. Her homeware collection of curvaceous Dough ceramics and Plough hand-woven throws comes out this summer and complements her sculptural furniture.

It’s all just too good. Find them at t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com.


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What’s the scoop?
FT: Our Dough ceramics include a mug, pitcher, vase, centerpiece, platter, and bowl, all cast in stoneware and available in cream and charcoal glazes. Our Plough throws are individually hand-loomed in merino wool by skilled weavers. The most important thing was to create a range of products that are widely accessible and everyone could have on their kitchen table.

For a long time, I’ve wanted us to create our own shapes, because we’re very much about sculpture and form. The ceramics needed to have a plump aesthetic that feels homey; they’re distinctive shapes yet will fit into many different styles of home.

For the Plough throws, I wanted to combine the luxurious feel of traditional craftsmanship with an abstract contemporary design. I’m hoping to expand our homeware range to include new pieces in the coming months and years.

Faye Toogood
Faye Toogood recently launched Dough ceramics.

Your house. 
FT: Currently our house is a building site! My husband and I have just bought a house in the countryside, because we wanted to move out of London, get closer to nature and also to my parents. We’re still in the process of renovating it, which is really exciting.

Object obsession.
FT: I’d have to say my Sculptor’s table. I designed it to be a true centerpiece of a home. In our last house, we did everything on it: cooking, making, eating, painting — even dancing! It’s made from solid oak and covered in layers of car paint and therefore is indestructible.

Women’s work.
FT: Traditionally, female art and design have been limited to craft, and therefore there has always been a longstanding history of females connected to textiles. When I started out, I didn’t want to be put in the craft bracket, so I produced all this strong, angular furniture from heavyweight materials like bronze, mesh, steel, and concrete. I hate being pigeonholed, and since I was already an outsider, having not had an official design education, I could assert myself as someone who didn’t stick to prescribed notions of what a female artist or designer should be.

Over the last few years, I’ve become more comfortable working within the textiles sphere, having now produced a series of large-scale tapestries for my “Assemblage 6” and NGV Downtime exhibition, as well as for the new Plough throws.

Rock, paper, scissors.
FT: At the start of this creative process [for “Assemblage 6”], I was seeking a new geometry without any reference to my previous work. For me, the process of “unlearning” meant intuitive play rather than active design. Together with my team, I spent months making hundreds of small maquettes using everyday materials from the studio — paper, tape, wire, canvas, clay, and paint. We took this body of work and turned it into permanent pieces cast in bronze, painted canvas, and wrought steel.

There’s definitely a trompe l’oeil effect within our work as we play with materials and often shift their traditional use. Huge importance was paid to replicating the original without cleaning up or straightening anything out. Each crumple of the paper, crease in cardboard or tape had to be replicated, small scale to large scale.

As a designer, I feel I exposed myself in this exhibition, revealing my process and sharing work at its earliest point of creation.

Faye Toogood
The iconic Roly-poly chair by Faye Toogood.

Icon of design.
FT: The Roly-Poly chair’s shape is very friendly. It’s playful, rounded forms were a departure for me from the angles and hard lines of my earlier work. This shift reflected my journey into motherhood and seeing the world through the eyes of a child: Everything had to be smooth and fall-off-able. The shape really resonates with people. I’ve heard some people are reminded of a baby elephant; others see a 1960s pop chair.

Also, at the core of my work is an obsession with materiality. I try to represent a material with honesty, which often results in a basic or elemental shape. By focusing on simple geometry, the eye is drawn to the rawness and natural irregularity of the chosen material rather than being distracted by a complex form.

Right now.
FT: Currently, I’m exhibiting at the Triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. We took over three galleries of 17th- and 18th-century British, Flemish, and Dutch art, turning them into three spaces — Daylight, Candlelight, and Moonlight — that use light to refer to different domestic interiors of the time.

It’s the most total piece of work I’ve produced. There are artworks from “Assemblage 6,” new tapestries, sculptures, and wall paintings.

FT: I’m also keen to explore other materials — for example, glassware and possibly jewelry. There’s a really close connection between sculpture and jewelry that fascinates me. I’d also love to work with precious metals and precious stones.

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