08/04/2022 by

For Salone del Mobile 2022, Bethan Gray shared her ‘Inky Dhow’ universe, an installation of furniture, textiles, rugs, hand blown glass and ceramics, with those who visited Rosanna Orlandi’s eponymous gallery in Milan’s Magenta district. The new collection enticed all the senses whilst demonstrating the exquisite craftsmanship and innovative techniques imbued into every piece Bethan designs. 

Last year’s lockdown gave Bethan the time to reconnect with the physical, meditative art of making, experimenting with calligraphy brushes, pens, pencils and cobalt-hued ink from which ‘Inky Dhow’ was born. ‘Inky Dhow’ is an evolution of the original ‘Dhow’ drawing Bethan first made while on a trip to Oman, which was then expertly translated into an intricate marquetry pattern by Muscat-based master craftsman Mohammad Reza Shamsian and his team of highly skilled artisans, using 16th century marquetry techniques combined with cutting-edge technology, for application across a range of cabinetry. 

The installation at the Rossana Orlandi Gallery showcased painterly pieces and transported visitors to another world. A space celebrating design excellence, Bethan’s collaborations with Bill Amberg, studio 1882 Ltd and CC-Tapis were on show, decorated brightly with the bold blue Inky Dhow pattern. An immersive experience, the Inky Dhow pattern danced across Bethan’s Shamsian cabinetry, brass-based ‘Lustre’ table, was transformed by weaving silk and wool into a CC-Tapis rug and was also upholstered onto the new Ripple sofa and armchair. The exhibition demonstrated the versatility of the Inky Dhow pattern, how it can be translated across different materials such as leather, ceramic, veneer, wool and silk. Bethan also launched a limited edition Seven Sisters vase, in collaboration with 1882 Ltd, painted with gold instead of the vibrant blue - a one-off piece. 

The pièce de résistance was the debut of Bethan Gray’s collaboration with design-led lighting studio Baroncelli. “The new lighting is an adaptation of Baroncelli’s existing FLEXUS series – it was a design I thought went really well with our collection, in the way it combines traditional Murano mouth blown glass techniques with contemporary brass highlights, which sit perfectly alongside my own pieces,” says Bethan.

Unveiled during the show for the first time, the ORION SWIRL and POLARIS SWIRL pieces feature individually mouth blown Murano glass spheres in blue, white and clear glass stripes, echoing the flowing lines of Bethan’s painterly Inky Dhow design. For Bethan, the striped shadow play that comes from light filtering through the sphere’s clear strips also perfectly ties the collection to where they are made, evoking thoughts of the swirling stripes of Venice’s candy-striped ‘paline de casada’ mooring poles, and Bethan’s own long-held love of stripes inspired by her travels, from the monochrome marble patterning of Italian cathedrals to 13th century Persian ceramics.
Making each individual sphere has been a feat of engineering within itself, given the volatile nature of glass and “the challenge of combining different colours with varying expansion coefficients, meaning each colour will expand at a different rate,” explains Giovanni Corrado, Creative Director of Baroncelli. “First, a cylinder of colours is created by laying out alternate strips of blue, white and clear glass which is then placed on to a blowing rod and coated with a clear glass to give it a beautiful sheen,” he furthers. “Then the maestro starts to blow it out, evening out the texture and ensuring there are no faults in the glass; this is then placed within a custom-designed mould made of local pear wood to ensure each sphere is blown precisely to the right size, otherwise it won’t fit within its consequent metal frame.”

UPSWIRL, a one-off family of tabletop accessories, has been fashioned from spheres which didn’t meet the exacting requirements for the final lamps and pendants. “As with the complications inherent in anything handmade, we ended up with some spheres that weren’t quite right. Maybe the twist at the bottom, as the colours all come together in the mould, was too accentuated; or the expansion of the colours was too inconsistent, meaning the white stripes didn’t expand anywhere near as much as the blues,” explains Giovanni. Both Giovanni and Bethan felt it important to give them a new form and purpose.  The result is a unique series of bowls and whimsical objets which truly bring to life the quality, tactility and vibrancy of the mouth blown craftsmanship by Baroncelli’s team of Murano-based Artisans. Together, Bethan and Giovanni have created a new collection of lights and accessories which will bring a “playful lightness to any space,” says Bethan, as well as connecting to the “honesty of the material and the making process which is so important in everything I do.”

The lighting series completes Bethan Gray’s Inky Dhow universe, pieces that celebrate intricate, time-honoured techniques injected with a fresh, modern edge as executed through Bethan’s unique lens. Inky Dhow will travel to London for the London Design Festival where visitors will experience it in an entirely new setting.