In pre-Renaissance times, aristocrats lived with fine chandeliers and opulent thrones, and most everyone else made do with candles and functional wooden slabs. But Minale-Maeda’s Survival Furniture, an homage to medieval craftsmanship, is a postindustrial hybrid of peasant and prince: It’s made of plywood but covered in a fine silk brocade.
“It’s simple woodwork with simple joints, and even the silk weavers we used work on a small scale,” explains Mario Minale, who, with longtime collaborator Kuniko Maeda, runs the two-year-old Rotterdam studio. (The pair may be best known for their Table Manners collection, which proposed—among other things—the use of deli meats as a tablecloth.) “Back when life was more about survival than convenience, technology was at a very human level. We wanted the collection to be handmade and universal,” Minale says.
Rather than serving a purely decorative purpose, the silk upholstery is patterned to resemble the grain of beechwood, referencing the furniture’s humble frame and serving as a reminder that wood itself can be ornate. The motif also brings modernity to a centuries-old weaving method: The brocade is made by craftsmen in the Neapolitan community of San Leucio—not far from where Minale was born—in a technique that was brought to Italy from France in the 18th century for use in royal courts.
But it’s the court of Charlemagne that Survival Furniture evokes most vividly; one might imagine swigging mead with a bar wench underneath the circular chandelier. The collection also includes a multifunctional shelf, a bench, a three-legged table, a mirror with the silhouette of the Madonna and Child, a freestanding door with an upholstered knocker, and a medieval-style bidirectional chair on which one could face, say, a window to catch daylight and a hearth to watch the night embers glow. (Or, in somewhat less simple times, a MacBook during working hours, and a flatscreen HDTV at cocktail time.)
It was the Survival Bench—which has storage space and is topped with diamond-shape tufting—that caught the attention of Droog’s Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers when Minale-Maeda debuted the collection at last April’s Milan Furniture Fair. Droog will release both the bench and table in time for Design Miami in December, and the entire group of Survival Furniture is currently available in limited editions through Paris’s ToolsGalerie. Prices weren’t finalized as of press time, but prospective buyers might want to start spinning straw into gold. —Liz Arnold