Title: Colour-coded supplies
Author: Hilary Gelson
Text: Colour-coded supplies
The Supplies Division of the Department of the Environment is possibly the largest buyer of textiles in this country and this month's display at The Design Centre of a new colour coordinated range of carpets and upholstery fabrics designed by Bernat Klein illustrates its approach. Hilary Gelson outlines the problems of producing a range of furnishing textiles equally suitable in a reception area at 10 Downing Street, an army barracks or a British embassy
To most interior designers the task of integrating carpets, textiles, furniture and accessories into a given space is both time-consuming and exacting. To the Supplies Division of the Department of the Environment, it is a full-time occupation - involving close cooperation with manufacturers, experiments with new production techniques and extensive performance trials on different materials before finalising design details. "Standardisation is essential when one is faced with the problems of designing and furnishing on a large scale," says division controller Howell Leadbeater, whose area of responsibility covers the furnishing and equipping of all government property-from the entrance hall of a provincial museum to the lavish interiors of Malborough House.
"First of all, it allows us to cut costs, speed up deliveries and impose a considerable degree of quality control: it also means that the user can order new materials direct from the manufacturer, thus avoiding unnecessary paperwork." Design standardisation, however, inevitably involves a loss of variety and diversity and in order to overcome this problem, the Supplies Division asked Bernat Klein to develop a limited range of colour coordinated fabrics and carpets, which could be used in a number of different permutations. "Before embarking on the project, we had to consider the question of maintenance very carefully since, as a result of rising costs and the scarcity of skilled labour, it is often cheaper nowadays to buy a new chair than repair an old one," says Leadbeater. "In an attempt to combat the problem,
Single drawer anegre veneer desk with upstand, above, is part of rationalised range of furniture designed by Supplies Division. Colour coordinated fabrics will be appearing in Ministry of Defence interiors, hospitals, universities, and embassies. Loam carpet teamed with Autumn, top right a screen printed nylon jersey stretch fabric. Dining chairs, right upholstered in Morello tweed against a background of pink and vermilion Cerise carpet with apricot coloured Sunset bouclé drape
we have spent two years developing a series of performance specifications for carpets and upholstery fabrics, which would successfully meet the needs of everyday wear and tear."
The Supplies Division team, led by Bernat Klein, first looked into the possibility of producing a range of stretch upholstery fabrics which would involve relatively little maintenance and virtually no replacement problems. Since existing patterns on the market did not come up to the Division's design requirements they set about producing a technical specification for a new range, in collaboration with various British manufacturers. "In order to establish reliable performance criteria we deliberately issued a set of stretch covers, without any after-care instructions, to a number of service families living in married quarters," explains Leadbeater. "In this way we were able to determine the effects of general wear and tear and, at the same time, obtain the necessary feedback required to produce accurate specification."
Meanwhile, selected carpet samples were similarly tested in heavy duty areas throughout Whitehall, local government offices and museum entrance halls. The two ranges were finally assembled for colour coordination, together with a limited selection of woven fabrics for use in prestige interiors.
Curtain fabrics were deliberately excluded from the exercise in order to achieve a further degree of variety. "As soon as we had decided on a basic colour theme throughout the carpet and upholstery ranges we gave the colour references to selected curtain manufacturers and asked them to submit a series of designs for our approval, " says Leadbeater. "At the same time, we have tried to preserve a similar concept of variety throughout our furniture ranges by rationalising components and devising a series of white painted carcase units which can be inserted with wood veneer or coloured door panels and drawer units.'' The final furnishing textile now includes 11 stretch fabrics, 13 traditional woven materials and 22 carpet designs - eight of which are for use in heavy traffic areas. The stretch fabric patterns are mostly random designs, chosen so that they don't distort when applied to different chair shapes: the carpet range consists of a series of three colour plain designs, as well as several abstract patterns based on close-colour contrasts.
The project has also been taken a step further with the production of a three-volume catalogue of colourcards, enabling the directors of Supplies Division depots throughout the world to select an entire scheme at a glance. The catalogues contain 66 alternative design schemes based on the new furnishing textile and carpet range and, as a result, orders - even from the most far-flung embassies abroad - can be processed with speed and efficiency.
Other attempts on the part of Supplies Division to brighten up the
Quartz a brown, cream and silver bouclé, top right, with a selection of nylon double Jersey screen printed fabrics. Top left: Sierra (khaki and olive); centre left: Thicket (emerald green and olive), bottom left: Nasturtium (pink, khaki and yellow): centre right: Coral (pink on pink): bottom right: Autumn (brown, yellow and green)
proverbially grey surroundings of government buildings include the development of a range of gaily-coloured office filing cabinets and desk chairs; a system of glass-fibre furniture for staff canteens; and a new range of tableware. "The textile project symptomises the efforts we are making to improve the standard of furnishing and interior design throughout all government property," says Leadbeater. "It has also enabled us to encourage British manufacturers to promote good design on a large scale and at the same time explore new production methods, with a view to supplying the private sector in the future."
Rationalised furniture in anegre veneer or white-painted finishes, is to be marketed to the furniture trade by its manufacturers Jarman and Platt. Cupboards, with or without top unit and matching chests of drawers come in 600mm, 800mm, 900mm, and 1000mm sizes