Among the vibrant and varied offering of this year’s Melbourne Design Week, an ornate, heritage-listed building in one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs is home to one of the program’s most surprising and stellar exhibitions.

Futures Collective – showing until the 26th of March – has taken over Kew’s Villa Alba Museum for the duration of the design festival. The mansion, which dates to the 1800s, has elaborate painted ceilings and wallpaper, grand proportions and a charming, old-world feel. Inside each of its rooms, work by local and international designers have taken up residence, and the contrast of the building’s period setting with contemporary furniture, sculptures and art is something special.

The installation, conceived by Melbourne interior designer Fiona Lynch and Fiona Lyda (of Sydney furniture and lighting store Spence & Lyda), begins before you step inside the building.

Caged, by Melbourne designer Ash Allen, occupies the Villa Alba Museum’s manicured front garden with black steel mesh sculptures in the form of chairs and tables that resemble iconic furniture pieces. The collection, sponsored by the Authentic Design Alliance, is a comment on design knock-offs and copyright protection.

Inside, Lyda has curated each room with work by local and international talent. Alvaro Catalán de Ocón, an award-winning Madrid-based industrial designer, is one of the headliners. He rose to prominence with his PET plastic lamps, which both used and drew attention to plastic waste in waterways.

He's continued to work with the recycled plastic for this latest project, Plastic Rivers, a series of rugs made with PET bottles fished out of some of the most polluted rivers in the world. (A central narrative of the showcase is sustainable design.)

Each rug depicts a precise scaled map of a river and is made by local artisans in the same area from which the bottles are sourced. One of the large-scale rugs hangs in the first room of the exhibition, occupying an entire wall – floor to ceiling. It’s a staggering piece, and one worth viewing up close and at a distance.

Being able to offer new, previously unseen pieces is important to Lyda and there are several pieces here that have been unveiled for the first time: sofas by British furniture designer Lucy Kurrein; a furniture collection made with reclaimed timber, hand-worked aluminium and slumped glass offcuts by Fiona Lynch Office; two of the Plastic Rivers rugs.

The collections are all “intensely contemporary”, Fiona Lyda says. “But with a real nod to a softness in materiality that [goes] against the glorious backdrop that this dilapidated beauty has to offer.”

Lyda herself has collaborated with Adelaide-based furniture designer Jon Goulder on the latest release of Innate, an ongoing furniture collection at Spence & Lyda. Upstairs, find one of the collection’s streamlined desks illuminated by a rippling glass DCW Editions tube light. Surrounded by the villa’s artful wallpaper, it’s an attractive proposition for a WFH set-up.

On the ground floor, assorted low-set tables and stools by Fiona Lynch sit alongside armchairs, and a daybed, which have been covered in linen and spattered, Jackson Pollock-like, with pigment created out of waste metals and bricks from a construction site.

One of the most striking collections includes graphic, striped monoliths and coffee tables, by production house Broached Commissions, arranged in one of the moody spaces. The works are made from heritage timber veneer and are displayed alongside pieces by artists Sophia Szilagyi, Eduardo Santos and Greg Penn as part of a showcase by Otomys art gallery.

“We come out of a world of intensity,” says Lyda. “To be able to go to a place [that feeds] your soul is a really important part that furniture can play.”

Futures Collective shows at Villa Alba Museum until March 26. Entry is free.

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