Stuart Haygarth's found-object creations bring breathtaking order to everyday refuse.
Giving second life to the lost and abandoned, British-born designer Stuart Haygarth engineers treasures out of trash.
The next time you're shopping for a statement-making chandelier, ignore the Baccarat crystal and the Murano glass and turn to trash instead. Not only is it the more environmentally conscious thing to do, but everyday refuse—when strategically collected, sorted and arranged—can be quite illuminating. Especially when British-born designer Stuart Haygarth is doing the dirty work!
Fascinated with waste and its wondrous potential since childhood, Haygarth has been turning trash into treasures for most of his life. After working with found objects as a photographic illustrator for 15 years, Haygarth entered the design limelight in 2005 with his 'Millennium Chandelier,' a giant globe of 1,000 colorful party poppers suspended together with fishing wire.
While anti-waste by design, Haygarth's creations are less social commentaries than functional displays for his finely tuned collections. Colorful, bright and filled will unusual artifacts, they're like museum showcases but better—each inspires thought and reflection while lighting up the room. In Paris to present two of his new designs at the Tools Galerie—'Spectacle,' a cascading light of rimless glasses attached by paper clips, and 'Aladdin,' a series of light-box tables filled with cheap flea market crystal—we caught the designer in between trash hunts to home in on his unique designs.
What is your definition of luxury?
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A machine that transports you.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Zermatt in the Alps.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Watching my daughter sleep.
Do you have a design in mind when you start collecting? How does the creative process work?
No, I often collect things that I find interesting without knowing what I'll do with them. They'll just linger around for a while before something happens. The idea will grow over time. My approach starts by having an interest in a particular object. I go to a lot of flea markets and am continuously looking for inspiration. For the Aladdin series, for example, I just noticed that there was a lot of this inexpensive lead crystal glass, the kind that every grandma in the UK has on her mantelpiece. I was attracted by its ostentatious appearance, despite its cheap price. I started collecting and playing with them and decided the best way to show them was in a light box. Though it's inexpensive glass, when you light it up it becomes quite jewel-like and precious. There's definitely irony to the setup: presenting junk-shop glass in a luxurious display case.
What is required to turn a collection into a design?
When I see an object that strikes me, I need to be sure that I can amass a large quantity of it. For the Spectacle chandelier, for instance, I always wanted to make a light using glasses because they are tools for seeing, but I would need thousands. So I did a Google search and bought the glasses from a charity, which is even better because I'm reusing something that would have been incinerated. I love the engineering and time that go into each pair, and then the fact that once someone has used them for 2 or 3 years, they're tossed in the bin.
By recycling refuse and giving new meaning to everyday objects, your work falls into the category of sustainable design. Was that intended or coincidental?
I'm certainly not an eco-warrior, but I do hate waste and dislike our disposable society. But like many artists, I also see a lot of beauty in things that are thrown away. It was really with the Tide Chandelier that I earned my reputation for eco-oriented design, because it was made from plastic refuse that had washed ashore. But before that, I had decided to do a project on a stretch of coastline, a beach where I go often to walk the dog and have a break from London. It's a very interesting beach, and there's always stuff washed up. It grew from that. I just collected lots of things I found and realized that there were trends in what I had discovered.
In your designs, the individual banal object is transformed when placed within a group. Is this a statement about the beauty and power of the collective voice?
Sure. There is always power in numbers, isn't there? I'm very much interested in rejected objects that can be quite ugly individually, but that once brought together as a family—reunited by color or form—become quite beautiful as a collection. I think that massive quantities of things change the meaning of the individual objects.
Your creations are always in limited editions, given the materials used. Would you like to work in larger quantities and would you conceivably work with non-found objects?
Actually, I was recently approached by a company in Paris to design homeware, but I haven't had much time to think about it in detail. It's very different from my work; it's kind of Habitat in style. Initially, I thought that I really didn't want to design household utensils, but then I thought: why not think of it in a different way and apply my approach to the design? I'll probably do something simple, like a ready-made, using something that exists already and changing its use. In general, I'm not very interested in designing for the mass market, nor in doing product design. I just feel that there are so many products already in the world. How many more kettles do we need?
The other show that you're currently in, Objet d'Art at the Alexia Goethe in London, examines the blurred barriers between art and design. Do you feel that design is art?
I think that design has become more conceptual and narrative in ways that are similar to art. Just because it's functional does not mean it's not art. I think there will always be an awkwardness between art and design. I remember when I was doing design and photography at school, the fine art students were really arrogant and wouldn't mix with the designers.
You spend a lot of time collecting and arranging the objects in your design. Is it difficult separating from the design once it's sold?
Yes. As with most artists, there's an emotional relationship to the work that develops. I've walked miles and miles on beaches to find this stuff, or spent days scouring flea markets for glassware, so there is a lot of heart and soul that has gone into these pieces through searching for things. I'm always very happy when they sell, but it's always interesting to know where they're going to be.
Which artists and designers do you admire most?
I'm a big fan of Tom Friedman; he's an American whose work is humorous and always well-crafted. It's quite diverse: a lot of model-making craft, infused with humor. Tony Cragg. Jeff Koons. I really became interested in design through Droog design, because they're a lot more interested in concept then functionality. I especially like the work of Tejo Remi, who created the set of recycled drawers with the strap around it, as well as Marcel Wanders.
What are you working on now?
Without giving too much away, I'll say that I'm working with found items less as actual objects and more as inspiration. For the last few years, I've been collecting broken side mirrors from cars. They're beautiful when cracked and flattened. So I'm doing something with those without actually incorporating the physical object into the work. I've also been working on a piece for a long time using items from confiscated hand luggage at Gatwick Airport. I started the piece in 2002 when security was stepped up in airports after 9/11. I've broken the contents into categories, such as vanity, tool, drinking/smoking, scissors, then arranged them and photographed them; but I've also created installations out of the objects that can be sold in parts. It's still unfinished, because I need official authorization to be given custody of the objects for an installation piece.