Movers & Shapers 07
The nexus of design currently hovers somewhere in the ether above The Netherlands, England, and Italy, and draws the occasional spark from Germany, France, and Belgium. This ferment is fueled by a group of youngish creative-types who work across borders, media, professions, and aesthetic sensibilities, intent on rethinking everything from the most prosaic bathroom tap to the production economies of small villages in India. Here’s a look at what’s on the minds and the drawing boards of a few of the key European designers who will be in NewYork during this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
Produced by Julie Iovine and Melissa Feldman
LONDON / UK
Only two years ago, British designer Tom Dixon dismissed the ICFF as a marginal player on the international furniture scene. “I don’t think New York figures, frankly,” he told the Financial Times, in explaining why he preferred to be in Milan and at 100% Design in London. But in 2007, the UK superstar and former creative director of the Londonbased retail chain Habitat decided to come to America under the flag of his own company, Tom Dixon, to show his latest lighting, furniture, and accessory designs at the ICFF and at Moss on Greene Street. “For a long time America has been very obsessed with either Italian luxury or nostalgic movements like Shabby Chic or the Eames generation,” Dixon said. “It feels like things are changing—there’s a contemporary mood in the air.”
If Americans know one Dixon design, it is probably the Jack Light (1994), a stubby polyethylene lamp for the floor in the shape of play jacks and possessing considerably more oomph than a nostalgic Noguchi lantern. Lighting continues to figure largely in Dixon’s work, but he rarely sticks to one material, preferring “industrial experimentation” in substances ranging from copper to cast iron to foam. His 2007 theme is metal, but he has gone way beyond architecture’s stainless steel or fashion’s silver and gold. His Beat Lights are hammered brass, made with traditional methods in India, while the Copper Shades are plastic coated in vacuum- metallised copper.
At Moss he’ll be showing his CU29 chairs. While this set is a limited edition of eight, their form— based on a Big Mac container—is the same as that of 500 polystyrene chairs given away last August in Trafalgar Square. “Those were the cheapest of the cheap, i.e. free,” he said. “These are the polar opposite. These have a skin of pure copper,” which is applied by submerging each chair in an electrified vat of copper sulphate. “The edition is limited by the amount of time it takes and the difficulty of the process.”
For his own label, Dixon is trying to design for “the opposite of planned obsolescence,” he said, or in other words, future classics. One contender is the Link Easy Chair, whose metal frame is wired in a pattern that Dixon said is Celtic in inspiration but is also structural. With Finnish manufacturer Artek (Dixon is creative director), he recently launched the renewable Bambu line, and has the company buying vintage Aalto pieces from schools to put back in circulation. He doesn’t have a green agenda for the accessibly-priced Habitat stores (where he remains as “nonexecutive” director) but instead sees them as a showcase for young European designers. Dixon helped select 100 emerging talents for a new Phaidon book, & Fork. “The British don’t have the finesse of the Italians or the conceptual nature of the Dutch,” he said. “We have sturdiness. Metal is a material of value and it is long-lasting, so we should make things a bit more robust and anti-fashion.”
MILAN / ITALY
With her rapid speech and restless energy, architect-designer Patricia Urquiola is a natural fit for New York City. She is based in Milan, but recently spent some time here as she worked on designing her first American retail space, Moroso at Moss. An extension of the legendary Moss design store, the new boutique at 146 Prince Street showcases the furniture of Italian firm Moroso and the textiles of New York–based Maharam. During one visit a few weeks ago, Urquiola zipped around the still-raw 3,800- square-foot space, gesturing like a choreographer to indicate where mirrors, platforms, and other design elements must be to transform the former warehouse into an ultrastylish store and offices in time to open during the ICFF in late May.
Best known for bold and uninhibited furniture, Urquiola is an architect with a keen awareness of space and a designer’s appreciation for beautiful forms, fabric, and patterns. At the new store, reflective and semireflective surfaces afford multiple perspectives on the furnishings and allow viewers to see themselves with the products. Four platforms of varying heights help create a sense of separation and order in the open space; an alcove showcases Maharam’s textiles and accessories.
Color plays a central role in conceptualizing the store’s frequently changing decor, just as it’s a strong element in Moroso furniture. But beyond brand identity, Urquiola seems most concerned with honoring the individual visions of the designers whose works will be on display, such as Ross Lovegrove, Tord Boontje, Ron Arad,Tom Dixon, and Urquiola herself. She often speaks in poetic terms of her desire to help “tell the histories” of the creative talents.
This is not Urquiola’s first crossdisciplinary venture. After studying architecture, she switched to design near the end of her studies at the Politecnico di Milano, inspired by her teacher Achille Castiglioni and others in Milan who were equally “in love with the big ‘A’ of architecture and the little ‘d’ of design,” she said. Since graduating in 1989, she has done everything from residential architecture and luxury interior design to booth and showroom design, though she’s perhaps most famous for her furniture designs for Moroso, Driade, Kartell, and other companies. In 2001 she founded her own firm, Studio Urquiola.
Aside from Moroso at Moss, other ventures include new products for Italian furniture company B&B Italia and interior designs for two hotels, one in Vieques, Puerto Rico, the other in Barcelona. While most of her work is centered outside the United States, she said she’s “happy to share in the energy” of Prince Street and become a part of its “genius loci.”
BOURG-ARGENTAL / FRANCE
Industrial designer Tord Boontje’s ascent was triggered by light and fairytales. In 2002, the British home retail chain Habitat commissioned Boontje to produce Garland, an affordable mass-produced light based on an early version of a limited edition design. Garland sold for about $30, and quickly became the It shade to dress a bare bulb. At the same time, the soft-spoken Dutchman made a splash with his Blossom chandelier for Swarovski, which was a sparkling branch covered with chunks of crystals unveiled during the 2002 Milan Furniture Fair.
Two years later, Boontje was back in Milan with a showroom exhibition entitled Happy Ever After for the Italian furniture company Moroso. It was the culmination of work based on his ideas involving nature and technology, and crystallized the nascent trend in design towards the decorative. Boontje included prototypes and one-of-a-kind pieces: rocking chairs, tables, poufs, as well as his signature laser-cut fabrics upholstered on furniture and draped in loops from the ceiling.
A number of Boontje’s designs will be on display in New York at the new Moroso at Moss store opening during the ICFF. His Bon Bon tables made from glass and Corian are decorated with floral patterns created by a technique known as dye-sublimation printing, and will be available at retail stores along with Nest, a molded polyethylene outdoor seating system. A book by Rizzoli has just been published on the designer’s work, and it showcases the past ten years of his processes and designs. Tord Boontje is lavishly produced with flourishes including burlap covers and pages elaborately die-cut with punched patterns that exemplify Boontje’s careful craft. Martina Margretts, the author, describes him as “a William Morris for our times, taking a local message and practice and transforming it for mass consumption.”
Designed in London with his longtime collaborator Graphic Thought Facility, the huge book takes the reader on a visual tour of Boontje’s career, starting with his early days in Holland at the Eindhoven Academy. There, he honed his skills in ceramics and textiles before going on to study at the Royal College of Art in London and eventually settling in the south of France with Emma Woffenden, his wife and design collaborator.
Upcoming work in the studio includes a large architectural project in Shanghai with a spa and wellness center, and a design museum with shops and a restaurant. New products are also in the works for the Table Stories collection for Authentics as well as new lighting for Artecnica. Time will tell how far this latter-day William Morris hopes to go.
MAASTRICHT / THE NETHERLANDS
Wiel Arets’ path to architecture and product design was an oblique one, to say the least. His early childhood interest in sports changed forever when the United States landed a man on the moon in the summer of 1969. “I was flabbergasted that we as human beings could put someone on the moon and drive a car there,” said Arets, the Maastrichtbased architect and designer. Spellbound by the space program, Arets began to study physics, but quickly decided that, while the subject was necessary to hurtle humans to extraterrestrial destinations, it was not for him. At the same time, he realized that if an astronaut were to drive a car on the moon, someone had to design that car in the first place. So Arets shifted his focus to architecture, and after graduating from the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, he founded Wiel Arets Architects in 1984.
From the very beginning of his architectural practice Arets designed products, primarily one-off custom jobs that attracted little attention. That all changed in 1994 with his Stealth office furniture line—a series of cabinets,benches,and conference tables that combined minimalist design with acoustic materials to provide sound-dampening in large, open-plan spaces. Designed for AZL Headquarters in Heerlen, the Netherlands, the line quickly garnered international attention and was picked up by the Dutch furniture maker Lensvelt in Breda. Three years later Italian design house Alessi—a company that has a long history of working with architects— contacted Arets, inviting him to design a coffee and tea service. Now he is involved in six projects with Alessi, including a watch called Watch.it, which was just introduced; a forthcoming espresso machine, and a line of bathroom fixtures, Il Bagno Alessi Dot, which will be on view at the AF New York showroom in September.
For Arets, the difference between designing a building and an espresso cup is primarily a matter of scale—meters to millimeters. “As far as how I design, there is little difference between architecture and products,” he said. “I develop a concept and that leads me to the design.” His Alessi bathroom line is a prime example of this idea-to-form approach; the idea here, naturally, is water. “When a water drop falls on the floor you have a dot,” said Arets, “so I thought the circle should be the main design element.” From this simple concept, Arets decided to de-emphasize the materiality of his fixtures and focus attention on the fluid component by “chopping off” the steel spigots and ceramic pedestals and leaving simple basins with flat edges.These elegantly primitive forms with their exaggerated circle motifs make water the central feature.
JEAN MARIE MASSAUD
PARIS / FRANCE
With a mantra like “Design is nothing, Life is everything,” it’s surprising that Jean-Marie Massaud is so sought-after right now on the corporate branding scene—he has designed stores for Lancôme worldwide, auto-show installations for Renault, and a makeover for the stolidly exquisite Italian furnituremaker Poltrona Frau. Then again, the 41-year old Paris-based designer (who has Jean Nouvel’s bare pate and Gerard Depardieu’s twinkle, and has done time in Philippe Starck’s studio) embodies an approach to design that is unabashedly sensual but environmentally aware and seems to be catching on. When Massaud edits a chair to almost nothing, he is not making an aesthetic statement so much as trying to use as few resources as possible. In addition to furniture for several leading Italian brands, including B&BItalia, Cassina, and Cappellini, his portfolio contains more than a few hypothetical projects; his favorite is an airship in the shape of a whale made for tourists in order to keep their footprints off the land. A seemingly improbable project in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a $120 million stadium in the shape of a grassy volcano with a floating sunscreen roof and berm-buried parking, may actually get built.
Closer to home, the furniture Massaud presented in Milan this year was varied, but each piece played with the idea of collecting sensual experiences over objects— a very French response to rampant consumerism. His bath collection for Axor-Hansgrohe, introduced two years ago as a Water Dream complete with a Corian thundercloud swelling to burst over a luxurious sunken bath, is now in production. Surprisingly pragmatic, the Axor collection features a tap with water cascading from the lip of a 16-inch shelf, handy for shampoo or candles. In 2006, the molded mineral washbasin and faucet received the International Forum Product Design Award.
The designer’s Heaven chair for EMU and the Ad Hoc outdoor chair for Viccarbe display the same hightech organic elasticity as Spider Man’s web. During the ICFF, the Ad Hoc will be shown in both black and white as part of an exhibition of new furniture from Europe at the just-opened Lepere Gallery on 20 West 22nd Street.
TRUE TO FORM
Zaha Hadid’s forays into furniture design have become serious events ever since her Aqua Table sold at Phillips de Pury in 2005 for $296,000, a record for contemporary furniture at the time. In Milan last month, Hadid exhibited three new pieces for three different companies at very different scales and materials but all bearing remarkably similar DNA. Top to bottom: the 9.4-foot-long, vinyl-fabric-covered Moon system for B&B Italia; the 7-foot polyester resin Gyre with polyurethane lacquer in a limited edition of 12 for Established & Sons; and a sterling 27.5-inch silver bowl also in a numbered edition of 12 plus 3 artist’s proofs for Sawaya & Moroni.