Konstantin Grcic talks London, design and that bicycle

When my editor tells me I will have 20 minutes for an interview with Konstantin Grcic, I kind of freak out. Only 20 minutes with this super famous designer? That’s not enough. Apparently, I learn, I’m lucky. He hardly ever agrees to interviews and when he does, you need to strictly adhere to the little time given, precisely announced prior to your meeting. And 20 minutes, by his standards – I’m told – is a lot. So, when I finally meet Grcic during the London Design Biennale in September, I already feel under pressure, given the time constraints. And I soon learn he’s not after the small talk – he gets straight to the point and rushes me into the questions I prepared. During our conversation, I am super aware of the timing, and keep looking at the minutes ticking away on my iPhone Voice Memos app but as we carry on, Grcic gets more and more relaxed and switches over to a rather talkative mode. To the point of me getting slightly wary of the time already passed and warning him that I’d only have one last question to ask. At which point his PR lady gives me a very clear sign I am running out of time. – That’s OK – says Konstantin – we are wrapping up. And we are. I check my recording – we spoke for exactly 29 minutes and 51 seconds. Mr Grcic gifted me with 9 minutes and 51 seconds extra time. Not bad, given his German tendency for precision and exactness. Not at all bad.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 17/18 (currently on sale).

London is where it all started for you. How does it feel to be back?
It all started for me in England, then London played a role in it. I was a student at the Royal College of Art, many years ago, like a quarter of century ago. I have very strong, very vivid memories of it. It was a great time of my life and London was where I wanted to be then. I left for different reasons and it’s this thing that always gets through my mind: what would I be, where would I be now, had I stayed in London 25 years ago. But I don’t know and it’s boring trying to answer that now but it is definitely kind of sentimental me coming back here. I love it and I hate it. When you live here, you get used to this crazy city but if you’re coming from the outside, from a city which is a little fraction of London [Grcic lives in Berlin] then you really have to be conditioned to live here. London is loud and sweaty. London is intense. (…)

What has changed since the time you founded your own studio?
I think over the years my practice has changed in size, in equipment, in clients that we have. My team has changed – it is now six people, 25 years ago I was alone. But I think it’s not completely different to what I started with. I think in some way I find it almost frustrating to think that it’s not that different to what I wanted to do originally. But at the same time I could also say it’s quite reassuring and it’s beautiful, it’s seems like I did find something in my life, something I really want to do, something that makes me happy, that makes sense of my life. And I feel that way, we’re doing things today that I couldn’t have thought about 25 years ago. The problem was really to decide on where I wanted to stand on design. Is it a promise of always the new, the next project, a bigger project, a faster project, a more crazy project, a more utopian project? Or, is there something in the quality of design, which in the end is so simple, so beautiful, so effective, so economical. I think that my installation here, at the Biennale, tries to speak about that. Utopia is what happens in your head. We’ve created something, which of course has a technological aspect to it but it is also very real and has the sound of crackling fire.

I sat in that room, closed my eyes and felt like I was sitting by the fire. Only last week I went to the countryside and sat by a real fire, watching the stars.
And that’s what it is about, still today, in this world. With all the technologies we have, the simplest little things and moments are the most powerful, and so strong. And it’s beautiful that it still works for us. We’re used to the most incredible stuff, but sitting by a real fire is unbeatable. And then the real fire is free to anyone, to people from all cultures around the planet and that’s where I think you have the utopia. Isn’t that nice that utopia is not that incredible future being manmade? We can all be part of our own mental utopia just through this simple thing that comes for free. People, in the most primitive cultures, as well as the most sophisticated cultures, they all go back to the fire. And that was our way out of this. Of course, we’ve designed the space, but in a way I would have even preferred we hadn’t designed anything and tried to just create the atmosphere. Surely, it’s not true for every visitor but if we get 10 out of a 100 to sit down and do what you did, close your eyes and relax, it’s fine. It is one installation out of forty, people will come here with their heads already crammed with other things they’ve seen at the Biennale, so it’s difficult to get their attention. But I think that difficulty is always part of our work. Every project is a challenge. That’s why I’m passionate about my work and I want to face the difficulty that comes with it. (…)

There was a time when you suffered from the major success of Chair One. You yourself said that it took a while for people to grasp Chair One and understand what it was about. Do you have the patience to wait for people to understand your designs?
I wish the things I design were understood or liked more immediately, but it’s not something that I do intentionally. I don’t make things difficult. It’s just something I’m not able to change. I do the things I strongly believe in. We worked on Chair One for four years, so I had four years to get used to it. How could it be that someone who sees it for the first time gets it immediately? It took myself four years. It’s like that with a lot of things. Do I have the patience? I haven’t even thought about it in that way, to be honest. That’s the way it goes, I can’t change it. But I’m not doing it on purpose. When we design things, we do the best we can at that particular moment, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The failures and the problems form part of the solution that we find in the next project somehow. But there is one thing I started to accept, which is different to when I was young and at the beginning of my designing career. At at that time my generation wanted to be successful designers, not successful in stardom, even money, but successful in designing popular products. Working for Ikea – we thought that was great. The generation before us thought it was horrible. Now I have to accept that in the end, I’m not an Ikea designer…

But you work for MUJI. Although it has a slightly different philosophy.
You’re right, probably MUJI makes an exception. I think that maybe I’m the designer who is better at designing Chair One, rather than designing a chair that sells and works for everyone. If I’m the designer of Chair One, anyway, I’m happy with that. There used to be this idea of avant-garde, and it was always something that is exclusive, and understood by a very few people. But generations later, years later it changes – Bauhaus was avant-garde, now it’s a common reference to a lot of what we do. Certain things that were so exclusive, but powerful, have that power to trickle into much broader consciousness, and in the end something that is exclusive turns into, not a mass product, but a mass reference. Think of Memphis design, it was so powerful it changed everything we thought about design, but not because Memphis products were all over the place. They were produced in prototypes, but the imagery, and the reference, the knowledge, the learning from it has influenced everyone. I think that’s also something that I find a valuable contribution to make. As a designer you have a voice to say something, say something strong, something that polarizes people or even offends them. And I still believe it is necessary to do that. I believe it would be horrible if design became the one thing for everyone, made everyone happy.

Last question – have you designed a bicycle yet?
[Grcic laughs]. No.

So you dream hasn’t come true.
No. It’s still in the pipe line, which means in my head.


Photo credits: Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design. Photo of Konstantin Grcic on the cover: Markus Jans.

Monitor Magazine Konstantin Grcic Magda Bulera-Payne

REMO chair with tubular legs

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VAL washbasin


Porky Hefer and his delicious monsters

I heard about Porky Hefer from a South African interior designer whom I met on a holiday in Sri Lanka. As soon as we planned a trip to Cape Town, I knew Hefer was a must-see on our itinerary. And so I rang the door bell in the Southern Guild gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town’s thriving art district, ready to enter the beautiful world of Monstera Deliciosa.

The delicious ‘monsters’ really moved me, not just visually but also in a very sensory way. I was allowed to crawl inside the beautiful mantaray M.heloise, and it was one of the most amazing experiences. I felt like a little insect inside a flower, or a caterpillar inside a cocoon. But this is just an attempt at describing at how I felt. It was pretty surreal, in the most beautiful way. The softly lined up interior of M.heloise provided such comfort, peace and seclusion, amidst the hustle and bustle and the heat of Cape Town. I immediately wished I had one made for me. I hope one day I’ll be able to live in a place big enough to provide room for such installation. But before that wish materializes, I had a chance to speak to the man behind the lovely monsters, and it was truly a delicious conversation.
Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 16 (currently on sale).

Did you know from the start what effect would your underwater creatures have on people?

The more you believe in an idea, or rather focus energy on it, the more you perfect it and complete it, the more effect it will have. I have been focusing on the concept of environments. Each of the animals is an environment of its own on the inside. They differ with the amount of the environment and your senses that they control. Most affect your hearing and disconnect you from the world outside. They also limit your view of the outside world, with the manta giving you only a small porthole of view of the outside world that is also always changing and beyond your control. The swinging effect also takes you off the earth and into another sensation which is which most likened to the feeling of being in the womb. They also smell of an animal. Giving you a feeling that there is something, or even someone, else present. (…)

Your first nest was made in 2009. What has been your biggest challenge since then?

Thankfully, there will always be challenges. But I guess the biggest one was coming up with the idea for the first nest – convincing everyone that it was a good idea and then – convincing someone to make it. It’s got easier from there. I have been lucky to focus on one idea and just explore different executions of it. The one naturally evolves from the other, as I find I learn so much through the process – you learn the boundaries and thresholds that you can then push yourself to the next level. It would be boring if it wasn’t challenging. Improvement only comes from making mistakes that you can learn from, I am sure every young male bird has felt like this. (…)

Working in an advertising agency you came to a point where you didn’t want to take briefs from clients any more. How does one make a turn like this and become a designer of objects?

It was all about the object actually, or more correctly, the product. I found that in advertising the process became more important than the product. It was about keeping marketing departments busy and happy, keeping the systems going, rather than doing good work. Politics and democracy took up way too much time. I wanted to do more than just a good job – the product was so fleeting and really didn’t make a difference. I started Animal Farm in 2007, inspired by George Orwell’s concept of ‘all animals are equal’ and wanted to get humans out of creativity, so instinct would rule rather than ego. I want clever people to rule, not powerful ones. (…)

Your pieces are not just about the aesthetics. There is also the steel construction, the weight distribution, the suspension points. How big is your team of co-workers?

The process starts with me drawing the object from numerous angles and focusing on the details such as nostrils, fins, feet, how the mouth opens etc. This is to fully understand the object and to try find problems before they arise. I am not very technological, so I don’t do 3D drawings or anything like that. I then work with a welder who helps turn the drawings into reality. I don’t make small models or maquettes, as I find I need to work at actual scale to get it right, rather than a simulation with other materials or gauges. It’s during this stage that I work out the weight distribution and the suspension points, the engineering. The final weight of the leather or cane has to be considered but this gets easier with experience. Then it goes over to the team at Woodheads. They are a leather merchant in Cape Town that has been around since 1867 and still believe in good old fashioned craft, although they have moved with the times and updated the machinery, so we can achieve incredible results. (…) I then work with a team of marine rigging specialists who do the splicing for the ropes. I use old splicing techniques which are both strong and beautiful to look at. They just stink of hand work. None really unusual but I guess most of them unseen. We have ignored the art that goes into hand crafted objects and the skill of the craftsman. They have been downgraded by machinery, mass production, modernization and disposal. But they are making a come back. (…)

Human-size nests. That’s such a great idea. Please tell me you sleep in a big nest instead of a regular bedroom?

Unfortunately, I still sleep in a square bed in a square room. But it must be a good bed, it’s where I have dreamt up some wonderful things. We will build our own house soon and that’s when I will inhabit my own nest.
Thank you Porky, for the thoughtful conversation and a wonderful time in London!

Photo credits: Adriaan Louw; photo of Porky: Justin Patrick.

MUST SEE: If you are in London before September 27th, do go to see Porky’s work at the first London Design Biennale in Somerset House. You will be blown away!


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La vita e bella for Punkt.

The founder of Punkt. is on a mission. He doesn’t plan to take over the world of technology but he has a pretty clear vision of what he wants to achieve with his brand. And that is … taming the technology and putting it right back where is started – at the service of human beings. I talk to Petter Neby about his life after Punkt. was launched, the fundamental role of his stepdaughter in the whole story and, in the process, find out that he really isn’t after material possessions. It is the idea that possesses him. Read on.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below. Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 14 (currently on sale).


Let’s talk about Punkt. Did you have an „aha” moment that led you to Punkt.?

It’s been a long journey but there was indeed a clear moment which led me to Punkt. I have a stepdaughter, who is actually turning 26 now. But when she was a few years younger, in her late teens, and being of the first generation born into the internet, I noticed that she was always on a smartphone, always connected. It was difficult to make her understand the importance of not always being “on” and that was certainly the kind of an „aha” moment for me.

But we are told that the generation Y cannot function without smartphones and being always connected. Their whole world revolves around being “on”. Their smartphones are their most valuable possessions. 

It is not just the generation of young people. I learned how poor we are, our generation. We think we are better at controlling technology than we actually are. Yet some of us are as bad as the teenagers or 20-somethings – in many cases the central element of our lives is a smartphone. So our generation has been caught with our pants down, thinking to be in control, but in fact, every so often we see ourselves in restaurants having dinner with our partner, and we are both in deep conversation with … our devices. Of course, the advantage is that we have some anchor of knowledge about what it is like to live and to be present “in a moment”. However, the younger generation also sees what is happening and they are able to see some damage, see friends having anxiety problems. I really understood this when some of them came to me (after I already launched the cordless phone) and said – “Why don’t you make just a simple mobile phone”? These are some early signs that people are getting a reality check.


How do you market your mobile phone?

We certainly market it as ‘take your life back’ or ‘get the conversation back’ device. But we don’t want to say how and when people should use it, there are several different options. I use it to make calls and a phone that can be always on, even after office hours. The phone helps me define when I work and when I don’t.

Does that mean that only your friends and family have access to this phone?

This is where the next step comes in. I have one number for my professional life and one for my private life. What I do is take my smartphone when I travel and forward that number to my Punkt. phone. So all my calls will go there, but during the weekend I will just switch off that call forwarding, so I don’t receive professional calls over the weekend. I try to keep a balance between my working and private hours and my phone helps me do that. The nice thing about the phone conversation is that you get things done, because you get an immediate response and understanding. Meanwhile, when you email someone, your message will just sit there and only when it comes back, you understand how people understood you. A spoken conversation makes a big difference.

I do believe in conversations. A lot of people though don’t know how to talk anymore. 

It’s true. We are very fond of the writer Sherry Turkle and her books, in which she touches upon technology and conversation. Her first book was about technology, the greatest thing on earth, in the the second one she was starting to see that maybe there are some issues with the importance of technology, the third was about what is really happening with the way we communicate, from toddlers to teenagers. She notices how so many young people don’t know how to talk. I do lectures at universities, which I like a lot, and the first thing I say to my students is „Switch off all your phones”. If you want me to travel from Florence to Milan or to London to have a lecture, you might as well respect me by switching off your phone.

So, do you feel like you are launching a revolution or like you’re a part of an evolution?

Well, there’s the business side of course, but the bigger picture is the purpose. I feel it’s not a revolution, it’s too big a word, but I’m a preacher of an important issue. And I’m just one of several preachers, except rather than writing books I make products. I love technology but I’m in disagreement with the current evolution of technology. For me it’s all about making a public dialogue about the issues we are facing sociologically. Technology is a serious sociological issue.


My last question to you is what is your most valuable material possession and why?

I don’t know. You know, my father is a collector – as a result, one of the things I really don’t want to happen to me is to be owned by objects. There’s nothing really that I would have to rescue from a burning house.

And it wouldn’t be the phone?

I couldn’t say that, could I? You know, these phones are my children, so I’m so fond of them. We only make things that we think are important, we don’t make crap. We only design things that we believe add value and are something that should lasts for a very long time. I’m very fond of my fixed line phone – every time I come to the office and I see the phone, that was launched already 4 years ago, it continues to grow on me how beautiful an object it is.

So, La vita e bella for Punkt., si?

La vita a veramente bella, salute!


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Special thanks to Petter Neby, for an enjoyable and inspiring conversation.

Photo credits: Punkt.


StokkeAustad, the studio which designs emotions

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.

StokkeAustadExcerpts from the interview for the English readers below, Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 8 (currently on sale).

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.


Attention! Talent: Lars Beller Fjetland

I was commissioned by Monitor Magazine to interview a new talent on the block – Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland. When I first visit his website, I’m instantly greeted with a geeky smile of a very young person, looking at me as if he were just across the table. I learn that Lars only graduated from Bergen National Academy of the Arts last year. He must be so young – I think. He is. But not too young to know exactly where he’s going. He willingly answers questions about his work, and – as if they were never asked – overlooks the questions with a slight personal touch. His Scandinavian nature seems to be sending me a signal that I can only look into Lars as much as he allows me to. I have no choice, I have to respect his decision. Meet Lars and his philosophy of design.

Excerpts from the interview for the English readers below, Polish readers please refer to the hard copy of the Monitor Magazine no. 6 (currently on sale).
I travelled around Norway few years back and visited Bergen as well. What stroke me most was a certain serenity and simplicity about the country and the surroundings. A bit of roughness too. How much is your design inspired by the place of your birth and your country? The Drifted stool is inspired by wasted materials thrown ashore by the water. Are all your designs so strongly rooted in your surroundings? Is this your artistic path?

I am convinced that growing up in Norway has had a big impact on me as a designer. I have always lived with nature as my next-door neighbor, and I choose to believe that this is evident in most of my work. Growing up so close the to elements of nature really shapes you as a human being, and you become sort of addicted and dependent on it being a part of your daily life.
Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to get to travel to some of the most vibrant and creative cities on earth. It has left me with a lot of unforgettable moments and impressions. Even so, it is still in the least extraordinary places I make my most extraordinary discoveries.

I would say that serenity and simplicity quite perfectly describe the atmosphere in Bergen. The city is literally packed with history, tradition and lots of small-town charm. For me it’s the perfect place to get inspired and create. There are some clear advantages in living in a smaller city like Bergen. Here there is far less visual noise that tends to clutter my mind.


Isn’t it difficult to design today? We seem to have seen it all, everything seems to have been discovered, and yet, here you come – with your designs, quite fresh and no fuss. Is it a challenge or a burden to design in 2013?

Some of my work is really clean, simple and toned down. This can prove to be a challenge in a world were everyone is screaming for attention. To gain recognition from the industry and producers like Discipline and Normann Copenhagen is both encouraging and essential. It motivates me to stay true to my philosophy and to continue to follow my chosen path. The Norwegian musicians in Kings of Convenience hit the nail on the head with their album title “Quiet is the new loud”.
I like to think that I operate in the periphery of what is often referred to as Scandinavian design. I sometimes take elements like specific details or techniques from the traditional Scandinavian style and integrate them in a more contemporary design. This enables me to create something classic yet surprising and innovative. I try to incorporate an aspect of innovation into all of my designs, as I really feel the need to bring something new to the table.
I tend to initiate my design processes by studying a specific material combination. Materials can gain strengths and beauty from each other, which makes it even more exiting to look for new and unexpected combinations. Ithoroughly investigate their properties and inherent qualities, and let this set the basis for the rest of the design process. So far I’ve been focusing on exploring the world of natural materials.
I attempt to only use materials for their inherent qualities, to ensure that the object being designed has the ability to for fill its purpose without having an expiring date. I resent cheap gimmicks and aim for a pure simplistic marriage between function and beauty.
Hope you enjoyed reading it? I very much enjoyed talking to Lars!