Paper Chase

G.F Smith's gorgeous new showroom and exhibition venue, Show Space, opens this week in London's Fitzrovia. We caught up with Ben Parker of MadeThought to learn more about their designs for the space and its two inaugural paper-based installations...

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G.F Smith Show Space from the street. Photography by Guy Archard.

Open from today, Show Space on London's Eastcastle Street is a new venue from G.F Smith dedicated to celebrating paper. The space, housed across two floors, will give designers and brands the opportunity to meet with G.F Smith consultants and explore the company's wide range of papers and bespoke services, as well as playing host to events and exhibitions. The architectural concept for the space was developed by MadeThought, a long-term creative partner of G.F Smith, in collaboration with architects d-raw; they also created two paper-based installations on display at Show Space now. Ben Parker, Creative Director of MadeThought, gave us the scoop...

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The 'Turbulence' window installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

MadeThought has a long-term creative partnership with G.F Smith—how did that come about?
Our relationship with G.F Smith began five years ago in 2011, when we were asked to create a paper promotion for the prestigious ‘Strathmore from G.F Smith’ range. This project gave us not only the opportunity to prove ourselves as print designers, but a chance to think about finding some ‘white space’ in a busy marketing category. 

We approach all of our projects with an aim to go beyond thinking about design, and firstly develop a visual personality that establishes a brand behaviour that will excite and engage; only then do we look at identity. Our best work comes from working with clients that are progressive and passionate about partnering with us to push the creative boundaries. This is something that we have found in abundance with G.F Smith. Their passion was and is infectious, and I think has been key in allowing us to deliver such a wide and exciting body of work that gets progressively better year on year.

What’s distinctive about the G.F Smith project is that it has a highly expectational audience who demand superlative and unrelenting quality. This means the communications and activities
 can afford to be somewhat esoteric, be consciously different, and be challenging. The danger, however, is to throw everything and the kitchen sink at it, so restraint and blending elegant craft and creativity in equal measure is key.

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Colorplan paper in G.F Smith Show Space. Photography by Guy Archard.

What informed the approach you took to the architectural concept of the new space, and the use of colour throughout?
As with everything we do with G.F Smith, our approach is to always place their beautiful product—paper—centre stage. Paper is an innately pure, emotive and natural object—which is
why we have a deep affinity and connection to it—so we always ensure our solutions don’t overshadow it. Put simply, we allow the paper to do all the work. We consciously avoid adding unnecessary graphics or visual ‘distractions’, but always aim to show paper in a new way; to show its versatility and the power of it as a physical and tactile object. This approach is reflected in Show Space, where paper is the only focus: it is the spectacle. The space is enveloped entirely in dark grey (matching the precise colour of Colorplan Dark Grey, one of its most popular papers from the range) which delivers the perfect backdrop to assess the subtlety of each colour and texture of each paper. The product then simply ‘pops’ and comes alive within this space.

We’ve allowed the humble sheet of paper to not only become centre-stage but to determine our unit of measure and proportion within the space. All the (bespoke) furniture within the space also has a direct relationship to the sheet sizes of paper. For example, the viewing plinths are precisely 841mm high (the height of an A1 sheet) by 2376mm (4 x A1 sheets) in width; the bench seat dimensions are precisely A3 in depth.

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'Tidal' installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

G.F Smith’s enormous range of papers is celebrated throughout the space; how did you come up with a means of displaying them all to bring the collection to life?
When we developed ‘The Collection’ specification book for G.F Smith in 2015, we wanted to showcase the paper in a way that it can be properly assessed and judged. We consciously rejected the ubiquitous swatches, waterfalls and technical data and jargon that dominate paper specification books, and opted for single, elegant sheets of paper. We wanted the experience of choosing paper to feel more emotive, elevated and sensory. This same thinking applies into the space, within which we have a central 14 metre wall where all the papers in the Collection are displayed. An entire wall of floating boxes, each one wrapped in every paper from the Collection, creates a spectacle with over 300 boxes. This not only becomes a signature spectacle within the space, but allows any specifier to understand and assess the full breadth and diversity of papers within the G.F Smith Collection.

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'Tidal' installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

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'Tidal' installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

Are there any special techniques, materials or processes involved in creating paper- based installations such as the ones at Show Space?
Our approach is always to strive for simplicity, and so we always aim to work with the inherent and natural form of paper. It's a very pure and beautiful form—a perfectly rectangular sheet—so the more you do to it the less elegant it becomes. This is why we reject a strong or over-bearing graphic layer for the brand; it is also useful to keep it relatively graphics free so the recipient can project their own creativity and ideas onto it.

The installations we create either work with the simplicity of rolling the paper into tubes or draping paper in long, flowing rolls (Cloudscape in Australia) or exploiting its form and showcasing it in its alter-ego form of boxes (and thereby using the CAD cutting equipment at G.F Smith to help achieve this).

The space launches with two paper-based installations, Tidal and Turbulence—can you explain a little more about the thought processes behind these two works?
Both installations feature all 50 colours from the iconic Colorplan range. The installation entitled ‘Tidal’ reflects the inherent form and simple flowing beauty of paper to create a rhythmical and mesmerising ‘seascape’. It features all 50 colours from the Colorplan range, formed into 1500 vertical tubes of paper that encompass the entire ground floor of Show Space. But the display is fragile—if any single tube is knocked over the whole installation will collapse like a line of dominos. The installation in the window entitled ‘Turbulence’ aims to create a visually disruptive paper installation inspired by the colour spectrum.

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'Tidal' installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

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'Tidal' installation. Photography by Guy Archard.

Are there any future exhibitions in the works for Show Space that you can share with us?
The space is designed to be part exhibit space, part exhibition space and part consultancy space. So the plan is to have an ever changing space with events, collaborations, talks and installations. There are two key projects which will be happening next year. The first is the “World’s Favourite Colour Project” which will launch in January and needs global participation. The simple question ‘what is your favourite colour?’ is one of the most common questions we are asked as a child but do we still know the answer? This project aims to search for the world’s favourite colour, which will be then made into a 51st colour for Colorplan. The second key project is our collaborative project called “Paper City” where we are working with Hull 2017, the UK City of Culture — the home of G.F Smith for the last 131 years.

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