Laura Fischer was not looking for stones; they found her. Or rather, they landed at his feet, washed up by the hundreds on the shore during a winter storm.
“I lived for a while in a small, beautiful beach town north of San Diego,” says the artist, a coastal resident of Bellingham, Washington, who specializes in off-loom weaving. “For my previous series, I worked with engineered forms – heavy, large-scale, poured concrete pieces; so I was looking to explore a “found” organic object. Suddenly one morning the beach was full of these incredible shapes and colors that had fallen over the centuries, and I knew what to do.
Fischer removes the salt and hand-weaves a custom open “net” around each of his found pebbles, using the kind of waxed linen threads that are used for fishing nets. The results are breathtaking: each network of tiny nodes is a mathematical feat while being mesmerizingly beautiful. “Each stone presents a different challenge,” she says. “It’s exciting not to be the designer of the form but just to interact with it.”
With these decorations objects, designed to be hung on the wall alone or in pairs or held like “palm stones”, Fischer has tapped into something that resonates right now. While drawing inspiration from found stones is by no means new, there seems to be a bit of a pebble going on as creatives across many disciplines channel the tactile beauty and escapist spirit of small stones.
The Shenzhen Science and Technology Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects for Guangming Science City, which is expected to be completed next year, is shaped like a pebble. Kanye West’s portable music mixer, Stem Player, rests in the palm like a small stone with soft, comforting curves. Meanwhile, artist Daniel Arsham has crafted furniture from rock formations – the Pebbles chair, the Bedrock table – in a collection inspired by the rocks on the beach behind his Long Island home, and Play-Doh models that he made with his children.
Last year, Olivia Thorpe, the founder of British organic beauty brand Vanderohe, branched out with Curio, a line of colored blown glass inspired by nature. She creates Pebble Bowls, Skimming Stone Trays and her best-selling sculptural Pebble Stacks, which produce a pleasing rattling sound.
“Originally they were meant to be simple, but two of them came out in different sizes, so naturally I went and stacked them on top of each other, like you would on the beach,” says Thorpe. “I think it’s a deeply rooted instinct, playful but also meditative. I gifted a stack to jewelry designer Carolina Bucci, and the whole time we were together, she held them, stacked them, and unstacked them — she didn’t put them down.
Thorpe was stunned by responding to the pieces, which launched on Net-a-Porter and are now in The Conran Shop and Liberty. “They have a kind of emotional energy – people tell me about it. A kind of talismanic power.
Perhaps it’s similar to how people are drawn to crystals, she argues — an attraction that goes beyond aesthetics. “We want – even need – to form an emotional connection with objects. The pebble is somehow primitive; it’s like a movement away from excess and back to nature.
“There’s something so pure and comforting about the worn exterior of a pebble, slowly smoothed by the waves,” acknowledges Kelly Wearstler, head of interior design based in Los Angeles. “Designs inspired by structures like this, found in the natural world, can certainly encourage a deeper connection with our surrounding environment. Whether through material choices, statements objects or entire design schemes, this aesthetic is soothing and conducive to productivity and well-being.
Wearstler’s latest take is the limited-edition sculpture Quelle Fête Malibu created with Dutch art collective Rotganzen, which has a “molten disco ball structure” that appears like a stone but with a swirling shape, reminiscent of an incoming wave. Its mirrored tiles catch the light the way the sea reflects the sun, and “as a wave peaks before crashing, shimmering like a spinning disco ball,” she explains. “We wanted to bridge the feelings of freedom and nostalgia evoked by both the coast and the carefree disco era…of getting lost on the dance floor.”
Brazilian jeweler H Stern’s Golden Stones collection wouldn’t be out of place on this dancefloor. Its “irreverently rounded rocks” imitate river pebbles with cheerful effect. French design studio Smarin also opts for a touch of surrealism with its Livingstones cushion concept: a collection of “oversized pebbles” in soft virgin wool. In a range of tones, sizes and shapes, it’s designed to “continue the holidays and encourage play” as you recreate a calming landscape of rock pools and stepping stones at home.
As Thorpe puts it, pebbles are “boundless form and the building blocks of the planet.” They may seem cold, rigid and inanimate in their found form, but somehow they can become terribly emotional – the very stuff of life.