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Bottleware: Creating Usable Art Out of Coke Bottles

By:  Phil Patton Jan 22, 2013
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Bottleware: Creating Usable Art Out of Coke Bottles

In Japan, designer Oki Sato has transformed Coca-Cola's iconic contour bottle into elegant green glass tableware, instantly garnering international media attention.

The Next Stage of Recycling

The five-piece set, handmade from Coke bottles, was unveiled at Tokyo’s Designtide week. The Bottleware, as it is called, is the latest installment of Coca-Cola Japan’s ongoing program in design sustainability. Misako (Missy) Kiyota, the licensing manager for marketing and new businesses at Coca-Cola Japan, spearheads this initiative.

“We wanted to show that it was not just recycled but that at the end of its useful life as a bottle it could become something different — that the glass could gain another life through design.” Kiyota considered a group of five potential designers to come up with ideas for the project. Nendo and its founder, Oki Sato, seemed to get the idea right away: transformation. He was so close to her thinking, Kiyota says, that it was uncanny. “I had goose bumps,” she says.

Sato, now 35, set up Nendo in 2002 for architecture, product design and graphics. He and the firm have been recognized around the world as one of the leading young voices in design. They were chosen as a Designer of the Year in 2012 by Wallpaper magazine (U.K.), won an ELLE DECOR International Design Award, and have been celebrated by the International Herald Tribune. Their designs make surprising and witty use of materials and forms; their mission statement celebrates “giving people small '!’ moments.” 

Inspired by “Georgia Green” Glass

Nendo's idea: tableware — five dishes and bowls of different sizes and depths — to be handmade by Hokuyo Glass, which is part of Ishizuka Glass, a firm that manufactures the original contour bottles. Each model’s production is limited to 500 pieces. Sato says, “We were captivated by the particular green tint known as Georgia Green, and by the fine air bubbles and distortions that are a hallmark of recycled glass.”  

Slideshow: Transforming the Iconic Bottle

“We focused on the green liquid quality to the glass,” says Kiyota. When she exhibited the new glassware at Designtide, she tried to change Coca-Cola precedent in order to emphasize that green. “When displaying the Bottleware, we displayed the bowls with the empty bottles, emphasizing the green color without using the red color as we always do.” 

Because they used hand-blown glass techniques, it was almost impossible to remove bubbles from the Bottleware. “Nendo decided that instead of resisting them, we should make the bubbles a key part of the design. The bubbles in the glass would be like the bubbles and sparkle of carbonation in the original beverage,” explains Kiyota.

Almost immediately after the opening of Designtide, Coca-Cola and Nendo were invited to bring the Bottleware to Maison et Objet, the prestigious design show in Paris.

Making the Most of the Shape and Feel

Sato and the designers at Nendo tried to create simple shapes that would enhance the basic qualities of the glass. But, Sato says, they also wanted users to feel a remnant of the distinctive bottle itself. So the dishes echo the basic lower shape of the bottle, as if it had been widened and the top sliced off.

The contour bottle is famously known for its qualities of touch — those contours were devised to make it recognizable even in the dark. But there are other tiny tactile qualities to the bottle that survived even the removal of the contours in the course of its transformation into a dish. Sato focused on the small, raised rings on the base of the bottle. These circular dimples are known to glassmakers as knurling. They keep the bottle from sliding on surfaces.

Nendo’s website declares, “We included unobtrusive knurling on the base of the tableware not only for it to serve its original function, but also to help conjure up images of the cycle completed by the glass and of the circles of people brought together. The ring-shaped dimples help to convey important messages about the way that glass circulates between people as it's made, used and recycled for further use, and about the connections it makes between people in this process.”

The designers wanted to represent the relationship those circles came to stand for, says Kiyota. “The rings represented the connections that upcycling brought among people. It was part of what we wanted to create. We hoped to add a little bit of happiness.”

Like bubbles and sparkles of fun, the Bottleware had achieved the small '!’ moment Nendo always seeks.