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Essays

Ellie Stathaki on The Value of Design
30.08.22

Essays is a compilation of musings that examine the broad yet impactful role design plays in contemporary life. Leading design writers, commentators and thinkers are invited to contribute an individual perspective – accepting or challenging the notion that design does or should embody greater “value” by drawing on personal experience, expertise and knowledge. Contributors are encouraged to explore design’s influence and application in domestic and commercial settings, across history, culture, politics, and its power to impact all aspects of life from small gestures of the everyday, to the future and sustainability of our planet.⁠

Here, Ellie Stathaki, Architecture Editor of Wallpaper* magazine, reflects on the value of design in the context of her professional and personal life. Having trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London, Ellie’s skill in journalism is underpinned by a deep understanding of the architecture discipline. Driven by this nuanced appreciation of architecture, interiors, fashion, art and contemporary lifestyle, Ellie offers an inherent curiosity in design’s evolving role.

Portrait by Anna Stathaki.

The Value of Design by Ellie Stathaki

What is design, if not a process of creating things that make life better? What exactly this means though has led to debates that have occupied the minds of those in the world of architecture and design for years. Should a designer’s work follow certain aesthetics or only tackle function or principle? Should design shout about its presence, or not? Should it focus on the mundane and humble, or prioritise conceptual, universal statements of the highest-level, blue-sky thinking?

Wallpaper* August Issue.
Image courtesy of Wallpaper*

Creating a solution that seamlessly and effortlessly does what it is meant to do is no mean feat. This is the ultimate challenge for designers and architects around the world. Working out an object’s (or building’s) mechanics, function and purpose, while adding further flair and flavour by giving it a powerful presence (or deciding to actively avoid doing so) is certainly part of the process, and therefore part of design; but does the way that something operates and fits with its surroundings, and your life, eventually cast the deciding vote on whether something is well designed? This is where the value of design emerges as a central concept in our lives; its power and ability to inspire better ways of living.

In my role as Architecture Editor of Wallpaper*, I am fortunate to explore these questions every day – but none more so than in our recent issue, the August 2022 edition, themed around ‘design for a better world.’ This issue encourages innovation and exploration across design disciplines, showcasing what sits at the forefront of their collective mind and what will, ultimately, push the envelope. Design has the power to challenge the norm and blur boundaries on the macro scale, part of its value lying in its strong ability to influence and inspire – and often give a physical form to what change looks like.

“Design has the power to challenge the norm and blur boundaries on the macro scale, part of its value lying in its strong ability to influence and inspire – and often give a physical form to what change looks like.” – Ellie Stathaki

Eyal Weizman Forensic of Forensic Architecture, featured in Wallpaper* August issue.
Image courtesy of Wallpaper*

Adam Nathaniel Furman, featured in Wallpaper* August issue.
Image courtesy of Wallpaper*

Giving a platform to established and emerging design and architecture leaders of all kinds is a challenge, pleasure and opportunity. Pioneering thinking on a higher level is a necessity in moving things forward. This, along with its escapism, refinement and endless, dreamy inspiration, is what makes up the Wallpaper* DNA – a magazine, appropriately accompanied from its inception in 1996, by the tagline ‘the stuff that surrounds you’ – that is, design.

In a parallel project, I recently worked on a new book with Anna Stathaki (my sister, a photographer) which shines the spotlight on the expression of design in everyday spaces. Homes are a passion of mine, as well as arguably one of the most influential forms of design within our daily lives. The book, House London, presents fifty London homes, celebrating the range and variety of the ‘typical’ period brick house.

From minimalism to maximalism, restraint and exuberance, old and new styles, and anything in between, it’s a book conceived to underline how different one house interior can be from the next, and how, given relatively similar conditions – in our case, a historical, brick shell – we shape our domestic environments in personal ways. These are not necessarily expensive projects or architectural flights of fancy. They are real homes, each approached in a different way, according to circumstances, their owners’ needs and creators’ imaginations.

OHSt by 6a Architects, featured in House London.
Photography by Anna Stathaki.

Hampstead House by Dominic McKenzie Architects and Suzy Hoodless, featured in House London.
Photography by Anna Stathaki.

Up-Side-Down House by Collective Works, featured in House London.
Photography by Anna Stathaki.

Homes, omnipresent and ordinary places, but also spaces and objects to be designed and which represent their residents, become a fundamental stage for those big questions to play out, those burning issues that occupy the designers’ and architects’ mind – about ornament and colour, boldness and subtlety, function and aesthetics. They are excellent examples of how we are all different, and how design can be a powerful form of expression, while elevating lives and transforming them; a critical value design brings on a more micro, every day, but no less important, level. Rarely there is a one-size-fits-all approach; but design has the response for every question, making our lives better.

“Homes, omnipresent and ordinary places, but also spaces and objects to be designed and which represent their residents, become a fundamental stage for those big questions to play out, those burning issues that occupy the designers’ and architects’ mind – about ornament and colour, boldness and subtlety, function and aesthetics.” – Ellie Stathaki