Q&A: Holly Board & Peter Grove
Photo by Anthony Richardson
This December, MPavilion will begin hosting in-person events at physical venues again—a hugely exciting shift from November’s entirely online programming.
And it’s a fact that has us especially delighted to share one of our most impressive design commissions with you: Holly Board and Peter Grove’s Stool Dolly.
If you’ve tuned in to an MPavilion event online this season, then you’ve already seen Stool Dolly in action—even if you didn’t know it. Used by our event hosts and panelists over the first two weeks of MPavilion 2020, Holly and Peter’s design has already proven to be one of the stars of the season.
Created by the duo of BoardGrove Architects especially for MPavilion, Stool Dolly is a chair that ingeniously connects speakers and audience members, while keeping them safely distanced. Merging fun and frivolity with comfort and safety, its remarkable design is an outstanding example of positive problem-solving. But how, exactly?
We had a chat with Holly and Peter to find out more…
MP: Hi Holly and Peter! First things first—can you talk us through the design and creation of Stool Dolly?
HB & PG: The brief for the MPavilion stool surfaced during lockdown. It’s just the two of us running the practice and we were at home with our 3-year-old son trying to keep a couple of projects going. It was a challenging time with job enquiries drying up and no time to try and go and find new work for the future. The brief for the stool was out of the blue and gave us a real lift, an opportunity we couldn’t ignore!
Over a few late nights of sketching and researching we had arrived at an idea for the stool, based on children’s Paper Dolls. In order to simply test and visualise this idea we set about making some models. This was in the height of Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions so we were stuck at home with no access to model shops or our supplies in our studio. As such we worked with what we had to hand—a box of random paper and card we keep for our son to use and ended up with a collection of different coloured and patterned paper stools.
Because of the lockdown, the prototype of the stool needed to be made in a way that didn’t require specialist workshops and tools. So we used sustainably sourced birch ply that could be simply CNC cut (an industry that was still permitted to operate in lockdown) and then from sheet format could be simply assembled. It was a relatively simple and repetitive fabrication process.
A very skilled joiner who we have a great relationship with—Clinton Buckwell from Individual Design and Construction—very generously helped assist in supplying, CNCing, fabricating the stools at a massively discounted rate. Their gifting of their expertise, time and access to tools was fundamental to the stools being what they are today.
As for the final appearance we tested multiple ways of finishing the stools, ultimately settling on a painted colour wave that references MPavilion’s graphic branding. Pete had great enjoyment spending 7 days in a spray booth making these colours come to life on the stools.
MP: What was the process of developing Stool Dolly? Did you have the idea as soon as you got the MPavilion brief, or was there an ‘ah-ha’ moment further down the track?
HB & PG: Dreaming and sketching of ideas for furniture or buildings occupies many moments of our week in between the necessities of running our small practice. As soon as we had the brief, we started generating many many sketch ideas as to what the stool might be, however we kept coming back to the question—how does it work with social distancing? It was nagging at us.
So we took a step back from the sketching and asked ourselves what references we could find that suggest or create social distancing, outside of pandemics. We thought about how a person can create separation through spatial means and we started thinking about hoola hoops, skipping ropes, enormous skirts, umbrellas and the simple diagram of a person with their arms out. This last diagram got us thinking about paper dolls. Something that children make through cutting coloured paper to create long strings of people all with their arms apart. We then wanted the stools to have two states, because not everyone at an event needs to be socially distanced. Therefore we set off designing a stool that works in two states apart and together, based on a the paper doll reference. We imagine that on any given day they will be used in multiple ways, collectively forming various types of formations. As an object it is a simple functional stool, but as 30 stools arranged with their arms hugging or outstretched it will be a unique installation in itself. We can’t wait to see it come alive, in real life.
MP: One of the things that has delighted the team at MPavilion most about Stool Dolly is the way it brings playfulness and optimism to the seriousness of physical distancing. Can you tell us more about this aspect of the design?
HB & PG: A question we ask ourselves on every project no matter the scale is what is the opportunity in this particular brief, context (physical/social), the timeframes, availability of material, budget etc. and how do we find and celebrate it. It’s why we like to work across various sectors of work and scales of project; each time it’s a different project, it keeps work refreshing and fun.
We find that a lot of the time, finding the creative opportunity in a project is about understanding what the essential ingredients of the project are and then working with these to heighten an experience and create memorable and enjoyable spaces to be in. 2020 will be such a memorable year because of the pandemic and the phrase socially distanced has become familiar to everyone. We saw this as an opportunity to create something unique. As for the playfulness and optimism—it is something we are drawn to, making people smile. An ambition which is common and present in many of our projects.
MP: In this age of Covid-19, designers of all kinds have found themselves with significantly new sets of design challenges. How has the pandemic—and working on projects like Stool Dolly—affected your practice?
HB & PG: One aspect we have reflected on is how much we enjoy a brief that has an unusual context or simple, mundane or everyday type requirement that can be celebrated. When looking at our work, people might think we’re not suited to designing the mundane—but it’s something we enjoy doing, as we think we can bring dignity and joy to each brief. There is never one way of achieving an outcome, and the practical requirements of a brief can often offer up innovative design ideas that are not only functional, but go a step further by giving back a sense of enjoyment, pride, comfort and dignity.
The Stool Dolly does just this. It is functional, it seats and separates, but it is also joyful.
To celebrate MPavilion 2020 going IRL in December, we’ve taken Stool Dolly to the streets of Melbourne! An exploration of our city’s proud architectural and design history, this fun series showcases Stool Dolly visiting iconic Melbourne sites and streets—with some fun facts and history on the side. You can follow our Stool Dolly in the city story on Instagram.
Fallen in love with Stool Dolly? Come to an MPavilion event IRL in December, and you could win your very own Stool Dolly! Just take a picture of a Stool dolly at the event you attend, and tag @mpavilion and @nmf_au infeed and on stories, with the hashtags #MPavilion2020 and #StoolDolly
We’ll announce the winner in late January 2021.