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21st June 2017

WoodMetalPlastic: Q&A with Michael Marriott

Designer Michael Marriott is not one for fuss and frills. Instead he focuses on functionality: creating objects with a distinct emphasis on materiality. WoodMetalPlastic is no different. 
 
WoodMetalPlastic is an online shop run by Michael that, after several years of the idea brewing, launched in September 2016. Much like Michael’s designs, his online shop is simple. Products are listed according to material – wood, metal and plastic – and the selection is kept small. Currently just ten products are listed for sale.
 
The genius in setting up a shop, and selling directly to consumers, is the freedom and flexibility it allows. There’s no middle man with a self-run shop, instead Michael snaps a photo or two, pens a product description and, with a click of a button, an item is listed for sale.  
Additionally, there is no set criteria for what is listed on the shop: mass-produced items sit alongside one-off designs and prototypes. This flexibility gives WoodMetalPlastic an undeniable personality – when you buy a product from WoodMetalPlastic you really feel as if you are engaging with Michael’s studio. This approach is perfectly encapsulated in several of the product descriptions. A personal favourite: “It’s a trivet. it's made from European beech. It measures 220 x 220 x 15mm thick. It protects table tops from the heat in your casserole. Buy one for your mum?” 
 
With the shop currently a little-known secret within the design world, we asked Michael to spill the beans on his plans for its future as well as the reason he set it up in the first place.  
Ernö hooks on display at Clerkenwell Design Week with the Lisbon Clock which was a special collaboration with Anthony Burrill. Photography by Dan Weill.
Last time we saw you was when you were exhibiting at Clerkenwell London for Design Undefined. How did it go?  
It went really well! In fact the installation I designed with Anthony Burrill, Room Within a Room, is on display until 15 July. So for those that missed Clerkenwell Design Week, there’s still time to see it. 
 
What’s the best thing about showing as part of Design Undefined? 
Meeting all of you properly, as well as the lovely people at Clerkenwell London. Everything went lovely and smoothly. There were plenty of smiles all round.
 
Did the exhibition throw up any surprises? Any last minute changes, surprise reactions, things you hadn’t thought about pre-install? 
It was great to meet the Harvey Lloyd team that Anthony works with, I’ve always loved screen printing so it was great to have a go at it with them, and understand a bit more about what makes it work well.
Anthony Burrill and Michael Marriott's Room within a Room for Clerkenwell Design Week. Photography by Dan Weill.
Tell us about your webshop: when did it first launch and what was the reason for setting up the shop?
It had been a vague idea for a few years. I wanted a means of selling a few small items and I wanted it to be separate from my website, which is really just an online portfolio. The webshop coincided with the launch of the Ernö hooks which launched at 2 Willow Road (Ernö Goldfinger’s house in Hampstead, run by the National Trust) in Sept 2016.

Why did you want to make such a point of differentiating between wood, metal and plastic? 
I wasn’t really trying to differentiate at all, it was more that WoodMetalPlastic is a great name! It describes the main categories of materials that we use and it’s a super simple way of listing things. 
 
There is an increasing trend towards designers selling straight to consumers through webshops opposed to through a chain of retailers, distributors and manufacturers. What are the positives of having a direct-to-consumer webshop? Presumably it is quicker and more financially rewarding? 
It’s definitely quicker, there’s a lovely directness. For instance, the Planka chopping/serving board came from having a very similar one in our studio kitchen. It was an off-cut, but proved to be just about perfect to use, so we decided to make a few and add them to WoodMetalPlastic and see what happens. I’m not sure it’s really profitable though. By the time you’ve packed up the occasional order, and taken it to the Post Office, it’s quite a bit of extra work. Although, if it picked up a little more, it should get better!

Planka, £12
Is there an object listed on the shop that has been particularly been popular? 
I guess it’s the Ernö hooks. They’ve been listed on the shop since day one, and we’ve slowly added other things. The hooks are also the cheapest thing listed on the shop: £9 each.

How do you select the objects that are listed on the webshop? Is it a case of anything goes or is there a more rigid criteria? 
There’s no official criteria. I like the flexibility of being able to list mass-produced, cheaper objects, like the Ernö hooks, alongside small, batch-produced things, like the silver wingnut pendants, and also the odd one-off prototype, or something that was made specifically for an exhibition, like the Vac table.
Vac side table, £225
Texas Lamp, £155
How do you envisage the shop evolving?  
Probably not much more. I’m planning to list the shelf brackets that Anthony Burrill and I designed for Design Undefined at Clerkenwell London at some point, but It doesn’t feel like it should get too big or complex. Instead is should just change very slightly as the singular objects come and go? I will occasionally add something if it feels like it fits. Nothing too big though.
 
The shop is rather daring in that it doesn’t just feature final products, but also one-off designs and prototypes. Can you tell us a little bit about that decision? Why is it important for you to sell products at both ends of the production spectrum? 
It just seemed more interesting. It also feels like a natural extension of what goes on in the studio; the fact that we can, and do, make some things here, and sometimes that kind of experimentation itself produces products like the Texas lamps, that would be unlikely to reach a regular market place.
Ernö hooks, £9
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