Flotsam and jetsam

Ryan Frank is repurposing the debris of the urban ocean into quirky eco-sensitive furniture.

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Johannesburg-born Ryan Frank is currently enjoying the networking opportunities of working in London. But more than the professional prospects, the urban contrasts are fuelling his creativity.

“I grew up in Africa with big open spaces and came to London, where the bridges and canals are over 100 years old and the buildings are recycled, reclaimed and patched up. This city has just enhanced my desire for nature,” he told Time magazine.

Within this recycled metropolis, Frank is submitting to his African heritage. A Zulu chicken ornament inspired the Inkuku chair, made out of reused shopping bags and recycled aluminium. Launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2006, it went on to win the award for Most Sustainable Design and Best Press at the annual Hidden Art Awards in London.

“The litter problem present in many African cities is how this craft technique originated. Making a chair using plastic shopping bags highlights the throwaway culture present in many European cities and also embraces the idea of shops providing reusable or recyclable bags for their customers,” says Frank.

Now Frank has turned his attention to the waste being generated by the 2012 London Olympics building sites. A standing light that doubles as a room divider, Shanty is constructed out of corrugated iron retrieved from these sites and inspired by the material’s use in local squatter camps. The weathered and exposed sheets of iron have been further treated to allow for the natural rust process to eventually reveal a pattern. “Rust has so much character and really tells a story. I love the concept of bringing something old and weathered into the home,” he explains.

These two high-profile products are not the first Frank has designed with reclaimed materials and eco-friendly techniques: coat-hangers made from Sundela board, which comprises recycled and compressed newspaper; clothes hooks made from resin and hemp; cabinets made from urban graffiti on white boards; and chairs made from waste wood are included in his collection. His style ranges from the grungy to the sensible, always with his characteristic quirkiness.

Indeed, the Harvey rocking stool made from waste wood displays the classic modern simplicity still achievable with environmental concerns at heart. No adhesives are used, only steel screws. The chair is cut digitally and designed for disassembly and recycling. In terms of multifunctionality, the curved base turns the chair into a rocker and provides storage space.

Frank studied product design at the Cape Technikon before transferring to Zwolle, Holland. After completing his studies, he worked at the product design company Den Hartog Musch and leading architectural firm Alsop Architects, before settling in east London and turning his concentration to his collection of “free-range” furniture.

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