Nick Regan and Martin Smith are childhood pals, friends for over three decades who, through the years, discussed potential ways to partner and work together. It wasn’t until Smith, an artist, gave Regan, an engineer, a one-off "applause machine" for his wedding that the two decided to finally team up to form Laikingland, a U.K.- and Netherlands-based creative label specializing in impeccably crafted and delightfully unconventional kinetic objects. Even the name harks back to their shared past. "In the area that we come from in Northern England, the word laik actually means ‘to play,’" Regan explains. "When Martin and I were children we would typically call round to each other’s home, bang on the door and ask, ‘Are you laiking out?’"
The company launched in 2008 with a series of Smith’s applause machines—smack in the middle of the economic downturn. But while a tight financial climate might seem a tough time to engage clients and retail partners while growing a speciality brand, the timing actually proved to be a boon to the niche business. "Happily, our kinetic objects seem to fit into this idea of being extra special," Regan says—just quirky enough, it seems, to become investment pieces.
They put together a wish list of ideal creative partners, which included both British and Dutch talents—from John Lumbus to Maarten Baas and Tord Boontje—and every addition to the collection is the thoughtful result of a truly hands-on creative collaboration. "The development process is really what we love to do," Regan says. "Martin gives artistic direction for both the product and mechanism selection, often working via maquettes to ensure the movement is just right. I work closely with the designer to give engineering input and ensure all the components are calculated to fit and work together, as well as look fabulous." Perfecting each item is a back-and-forth effort that takes anywhere from one to three years.
Exhibitions at the last three of Milan’s annual design weeks have introduced their wares to a wider audience, and offered the opportunity for Laikingland to stand out amongst the epic showcase of largely stationary offerings (where, at some point, eyes glaze over when looking at yet another table, chair, or desk lamp). Curiosity is a powerful force, and Regan has found that viewers can’t help but stop and interact with, say, a clock that tells a story, not the time, by Atelier NL, or a robot that protects a ring within a box by Atelier Ted Noten. "Humans are naturally inquisitive, and the type of kinetic work we produce lends itself to being 'worked out,’" he says. "It’s really fun."