Jonas Ravlo Stokke and Øystein Austad are not afraid of competitors. This may sound like a challenge in the much smaller Polish design circles, where collaborations are rare. But not in Oslo. At least not at StokkeAustad’s. Jonas and Øystein, the founders, are Norwegian, but the rest of the team are not. Maybe the cultural diversity, or the palpable sense of openness, are the reasons behind such creations as The Woods. Initially started as an attempt to redesign the Norwegian Troll, the project evolved into a desire to capture light that filters through the tree crowns, down to the forest floor. The Woods, which is made of glass (tricky, huh?) triggers off incredible emotions, and it is the emotions that are a measure of true success.
Your studio was established 7 years ago. It is believed that 7 years is a turning point in any relationship. How are you finding your ground after these 7 years? What have been your highlights and lowlights? Looking back, how would you describe these 7 years?
Over the last seven years so much has happened that it does not really feel like we have hit a certain milestone, or that we have arrived at a certain point. One thing, which we are very happy about, is that we have secured a new studio location, which in our minds is the greatest space in Oslo. It is an old car garage, with amazing windows and high ceilings. Starting up a design studio is not an easy task, and there have been many highs and lows over the past seven years. The biggest challenge by far was keeping a healthy cash flow in the beginning, something that gradually becomes easier as the studio grows. We are now six people in the studio and are able to deliver on larger and longer projects. A challenge, when growing from two to six, is also to ensure that everyone has enough work to do at all times, and that they are challenged and can develop as an employee. At the same time, it is crucial to protect and develop the core of our studio, which is free dialogue and environment for developing great products.
I noticed that, apart from the core team, you tap into the talent of many collaborators. Is that a business model you have established? Is it a common thing in Norway or is it StokkeAustad specific?
It is actually part of our business model to collaborate with other designers and also people from outside our closest field. This means architects, engineers and graphic designers. It allows us to work on a larger range of products and it is also very inspiring. The architect, for instance, has in many ways a very similar process as we do, but they often work on a different scale. It is fascinating to see how we push each other and something great comes out of it. When working with talented architects, there is also very little negative friction because they are confident in what they do and are not afraid to trust us to do our things. Of course, there is always discussions, and sometimes heated ones, but the fundamental trust is present. We also work with other designers, like Andreas Engesvik, and Frost, and I think that is quite common in Oslo. It is a small design scene, and we often look at each other as colleagues, rather than competitors. Everybody also knows each other and we hang out at the same parties.
I absolutely love the tricky nature of the glass sculpture The Woods. It was the first piece of design that caught my eye on your website. Tell me more about the project and how it came about. I see it is a prototype. Do you mean to market it?
The Woods is the second collaboration with design studio Andreas Engesvik, Oslo. We had previously worked together on The Owls, our first project without any function beyond the aesthetical. The project actually started with an attempt to redesign the Norwegian Troll. This proved, after many failed attempts and frustrating moments, to be impossible (for us at least). Then, during one of our sketching sessions, the idea came to focus on the Norwegian nature instead. We stopped by the lakes and mountains, before we ended up with exploring the woods. There is some really beautiful light that filters through the crowns down to the forest floor, and we felt glass was the perfect medium to manifest this. Due to the tricky nature of it, as you mentioned, this could only be done by a glass master artisan, and we worked with Vidar Koksvik, based a couple of hours north of Oslo. The response on this piece has been phenomenal, and the great thing is that when you appeal to people’s emotions, rather than rationale, as with The Woods, you hit on completely different strings. It is so instant – the recognition and relationship people make with this piece – it makes people smile. We receive a lot of emails from people who want to buy The Woods, and often they include little anecdotes, because it is such an emotional piece. For example, a woman wanted to buy it as a wedding anniversary present to her husband, because he loved to walk in the woods. We have received pictures from people who saw some real trees they thought resembled our sculpture. That has been tremendously rewarding. When it comes to production, it is very difficult to commercialize it in its current form. We have been in discussion with manufacturers about doing a scaled down version, but that has not happened yet.
Special thanks to Jonas Ravlo Stokke and Øystein Austad for an honest conversation.