“I’ve been doing it for my projects for years,” says Paris-based architect and interior designer Joseph Dirand, discussing the bespoke furniture he has designed for clients throughout his career. “The only difference was that I was not giving anyone access to it.”
That changed in 2015 when Dirand, who counts Balenciaga, Rick Owens and the Four Seasons as clients, released a furniture collection called Modernist, allowing those unable to hire him the opportunity to buy pieces in his characteristic style: straightforward modernist lines, rich materials and the tiniest splash of glitz. The nine limited-edition pieces in the collection are produced by artisans at a French atelier that also offers its services to Versailles.
Dirand is not alone. There has been a huge move towards interior decorators releasing their own ranges. In the past two years, contemporary design studios such as Martin Brudnizki, David Collins and Dimore Studio have launched collectable pieces in their own identifiable style. Now younger studios are getting in on the act too. As interior designers become recognisable brands, both established and emerging companies are realising the commercial value — and promotional opportunities — in allowing the public to “get the look” previously saved for private clients.
Home Studios launched Homework, a collection of furniture, lighting and accessories, last month. The range shows how the studio’s aesthetic has evolved: repurposed railways sleepers and Edison bulbs have been upgraded to veiny marble and shiny chrome. Was there much to learn in producing furniture? “I’m not an expert but I know the general principles,” Oliver says, citing Dirand as an influence.
Interior designers have an innate ability to create visual coherence. Creating a product allows non-clients to buy into it too. Dimore Studio of Milan, for example, launched its Non Finito range to give consumers access to the faded, decadent glamour of its hospitality projects such as the Hôtel Saint-Marc in Paris and Cire Trudon flagship stores. Similarly, the distinctive aesthetic of 27-year-old decorator Luke Edward Hall is sort of 1950s Riviera-meets-the-Bloomsbury Group. He sells cushions printed with Ionic columns and ceramics illustrated with Jean Cocteau-esque cartoons.
An interior designer’s day job is to conjure up environments that resonate with consumers. They come armed with contact books full of craftsmen and contractors that then fulfil this vision. To many, this is as valuable as knowing the correct proportions of an armchair.
“Neither of us are trained architects or product designers, but for us it’s really about having an idea and bringing it to life,” says Duncan Campbell, co-founder of the London-based creative consultancy Campbell-Rey. He and his partner Charlotte Rey have worked with high-end brands on everything from editing their magazines to designing exhibition spaces. In April they turned their art direction skills to furniture and launched a collection of marble tables.
“The design process is a collaborative effort between the two of us. Then it’s a question of finding the right fabricators and explaining what we’re trying to achieve,” says Campbell. The pair sourced Carrara marble in Italy before having the pieces made in London. “We are happy to be guided by an expert on what is and isn’t possible with a material or technique — that synergy is what leads to exciting outcomes,” he says.
While having an ambidextrous approach to design has its advantages, it has limitations too. “Generally, interior designers consider furniture as a one-off piece in their whole design of a space. Their approach is totally different,” says Yuichiro Hori, chief executive of Stellar Works, a Shanghai-based design brand and furniture manufacturer set up in 2013. It collaborates with a series of contemporary furniture designers on its collection, in addition to a small group of interior decorators. Hori can usually tell the difference: “When we receive proposals from [interior design] companies, often the structure of a table doesn’t work, or the tabletop is too chunky or heavy. The designs are sometimes like a student’s, even those by very well-known designers.”
For that reason, Stellar Works ensures all the interior designers it works with have an understanding of industrial design: not only proportion and shape, but how to actually manufacture furniture. Last month, Stellar Works launched its second collection with Danish design duo Space Copenhagen. The Slow chair was inspired by furniture that Space had designed for Noma’s sister restaurant, 108, in Copenhagen.
This is another boon for interior decorators-turned-furniture designers: why pay for a showroom when you can use your commercial projects to publicise your wares? Many are savvy in this regard, including Martin Brudnizki, one of London’s most sought-after interior designers. In late 2015, he launched “And Objects”, a collection inspired by furniture he featured in his design of Sexy Fish, Scott’s and The Ivy restaurants in London. Elsewhere, members’ club chain Soho House recently established a retail operation selling everything from beds to lamps — all as seen in its venues. A combination of commercial nous and creative endeavour has blurred the lines between interior, furniture, product and industrial design, but is this new? Back in Paris, Dirand explains the inspirations behind his range. Most of the pieces are named after his 20th-century architectural heroes: Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa and Alvar Aalto. These architects all designed furniture in addition to buildings.