To Sam Hecht, design is an endless conversation in constant motion. Together with his partner Kim Colin, Hecht runs Industrial Facility, a London-based design studio—the pair came together with Muuto for the first time this fall with their Platform Tray design. Stopping by our Copenhagen showroom, Hecht sat down with Muuto design director Christian Grosen to discuss Scandinavian design, aesthetic beauty and the new Platform Tray.
Christian: Why do you think Scandinavian design differs from that of the rest of the world?
Sam: I feel that Scandinavians have a strong sense of the environment and spaces that they occupy. There’s an emphasis on taking care of your home with a conscious effort to create a sense of harmony. That point combines a progressiveness and a craft—something that’s very different from other cultures.
Christian: I think our way of working with materials is very distinct to Scandinavia as well. In other places, a designer might take a huge piece of marble and carve it out until there’s just a tiny bit left—this approach doesn’t make sense to us as Scandinavians. I think it comes from being small nations with limited access to raw materials, prompting us to get as much as possible out of the material at hand. We demand rational arguments at every turn. It’s not a conscious thing but rather something intuitively natural.
Sam: There’s always an underlying logic to things. The world is never static though we’d like for it to be and there are certain things that we always want to hold onto: when we wake up in the morning, we expect a routine—the sun to come up, the news to appear and the birds to chipper. There’s an expectation of normality that at the same time isn’t normal, because everything is moving. The same goes for design. It’s evolving and adjusting in response to the forces of change and the forces of new materials and ways of thinking. In design, you need a constant logic combined with a progressiveness that responds to change.
Christian: This is also something that we’re talking a lot about in our studio, how to build new perspectives onto the logic values of Scandinavian design. I find that you need to adapt the existing values to the progressive nature of the world and create something new from that, whether it be through a functional or aesthetic approach to design.
Sam: Aesthetic beauty is to me an essential element in design but it’s never the starting-point. I’m not setting out to create beauty but rather to move things forward in a positive way. Beauty isn’t just a visual concept; it’s about how something is experienced, how it’s put together, how it sits in a room and how it’s used. We tend to think of it as the way in which something appears yet there is beauty in all facets. As you go through the layers of a design, you’ll arrive at something that feels very beautiful and that beauty can be radical rather than harmonic as well.
Christian: We’re always searching for meaning in a project, whether it be in a functional, aesthetic or crafts way. Beauty on its own is never enough to justify the creation and existence of a design. You need to bring the other elements and aspects into the ring to achieve beauty. This is also where context comes into play.
Sam: Context is something that’s in the back of my mind when working on a project. It’s related to my perception of design, seeing it as a response to the present or the future. It’s different to the approach of an artist who has no rules to abide by. It’s the challenges within design that allow you to make leaps through conversations of contexts.
Christian: They also serve the purpose of setting the boundaries of a design. Without context, approaching design in an intelligent way is difficult. Functionality also comes into play as it must be in line with the context of the design.
Sam: Function is an interesting thing. Take a vase. It has the function of displaying flowers and yet the context of flowers can be argued to be completely unfunctional. We associate the concept of function with getting the job done but it’s not just that. Flowers have a function in the world and the concept of function needs to be considered from multiple angles.
Christian: We discussed this very much when working on the Platform Tray as well, looking at how a design could serve multiple functions.
Sam: I felt that it would be interesting to play with the idea of a tray in a contemporary way. The idea of picking up a tray, placing something on it and moving it; that’s what a tray is for. Yet once the tray has done its job, you stow it away. I wanted for the tray to live on its own as well and came up with the context of a platform. It allows the design to work in different settings—it can sit on a table, on the floor or by the bed and be justified as an object on its own. You end up with an object that’s in-between. In life, we’re constantly confronted by in-between things: a chair is not just for sitting but also for standing on or moving around or tilting. Even a chair that we think of as having just one function will be used for other things.
Christian: We spoke very much about the contrasts of materials, combining oak veneer with a solid plastic and playing with the stacking element through the materials. I think it was an interesting contrast with plastic, created by a machine and always coming out exactly the same, and oak veneer, with its natural graining that is unique to each piece.
Sam: The oak veneer is appealing along with the idea of wood and plastic together. It’s a very democratic way of thinking. There’s as much care in the wood as in the plastic yet the care goes hand-in-hand with its cost. In all aspects of design, it’s the little things that set it apart and gives it beauty.