Friday, May 21, 2010

Designer of the Month: Tord Boontje

Week 3: lighting and textiles

Tord Boontje, Wednesday Light, 2002. Courtesy of the Design Museum of London.

As you will recall, we looked at Tord Boontje's designs for tableware and furniture last week, and one of the collections that I focused on was Boontje's 2002 Wednesday collection. This is a great place to start this week's discussion about Boontje's lighting and textile designs because the Wednesday Light is one of the first examples of real commercial success for Boontje. Like most of Boontje's ideas, this one came from a homemade source, originating as a drawing on paper and then a paper model of a garland around his daughter Evie's bedroom light.[1] While Boontje began by manufacturing the Wednesday Light himself, it was soon developed for mass-production by Habitat, where it was renamed and made famous as Garland.[2] As Boontje explains about this decision:
Working with Habitat allowed the light to be produced in far larger quantities. Mass-production also makes it possible to go up in size while keeping the price down. The new version of the Wednesday Light is made in nickel plated brass instead of stainless steel. A larger size in turn meant that a larger variety of flower shapes would be nice. Also the Habitat version is packaged in a flat pack form and some of the sharper edges have been softened. It's less punk, I guess.[3]

In addition to this explanation from Boontje himself, I also love this description of how Tom Dixon, Design Director of Habitat at the time, tells about how he brought the Wednesday Light to a mass market:

I'd seen the Wednesday light. I thought this is the simplest and cleverest thing I've seen for a long time. Often with the simplest ideas you can miss it...I've always been bored by what's happening now and always wanting what's next, so it did seem right, the flower thing. But trying to stress the importance of something so decorative in Habitat at the time was quite tough. No one saw the significance of the thing.[4]
Tord Boontje, Second Shadow Light, 2005. Courtesy of Artecnica.

Boontje's inspiration to design lighting stems from a desire to effect darkness, considering of the way his designs will change both the light and shadows in a room. He explains that "often we have too much light," stating that "light can be a very powerful tool to influence a space."[5] A great example of this use of light and shadow are Boontje's Shadow Lights:
'Shadow Light' is a magical carousel of color, light and dreamlike imagery. 'Shadow Light' brings the walls alive projecting soft and delicate shadowed images onto them, creating a serene and mesmerizing effect. The lamp is constructed through simple materials and yet through their combination they become something very special.[6]
Tord Boontje, Blossom chandelier, 2002. Produced by Swarovski. Courtesy of the Design Museum of London.

Shortly after the design of the Wednesday collection, Boontje was asked by Swarovski to reinterpret the chandelier using their components.[7] Boontje saw this as a challenge to show that crystal could be soft, romantic and organic, and created the Blossom chandelier:
I like crystal when it is used densely with an internal light, because it becomes very magical, like the ice palace of the fairy queen. By using LED we were able to place the light source directly next to the crystals, and best of all they could be programmed to flash on and off in sequence - all adding to the magic. The form of the blossom branch came from a romantic idea. It is a place where crystal belongs.[8]

Tord Boontje, Until Dawn Curtain, 2004. Courtesy of Artecnica.

This sense of magic, whimsy and playful use of light and shadow extends to Boontje's designs for textiles, particularly in his curtains. The lacy-looking Until Dawn Curtain features one of Boontje's signature flora-and-fauna designs, which create patterned shadows as light passes through them. Not only is this a great example of Boontje's visual aesthetic, but it also features a sense of the simple construction and do-it-yourself nature indicative of Boontje's early work. Made out of Tyvek, a super-resistant paper material, these curtains can be cut to the desired length by their owner, making it usable in a variety of settings.[10]

Tord Boontje, Pressed Flowers, 2005. Manufactured by Kvadrat. Courtesy of Dutch Design Events.

In 2005, Boontje was commissioned by Kvadrat, the Danish fabric manufactures, to design a textile collection. Design Coordinator Dorthe Helm describes this process, explaining that they "had a short time to do the collection to a very, very high standard. We try always not to make any limits to begin with. We prefer designers just go mad, do what they want and cut down when we see production difficulties. We have the commercial point of view. It doesn't feel like a compromise."[11] Martina Margetts, in her monograph of Boontje, discusses this commission as well, describing both the technical and aesthetic decisions made in the creation of this collection. She explains that:
There were also technical innovations for Kvadrat: laser-cutting and digital printing, the former directly the result of the collaboration with Tord, the latter something which is extremely difficult to do with fabrics and which they had been working on for some time with Swiss and Japanese manufacturers in order to create a very clear expression in the fabrics. They additionally developed new materials, such as for Dreamer, a heavy woven material giving the sense of sails for a boat. For Kvadrat it was also the first time they printed on felt, finding pigments that didn't wear off.[12]

It was very exciting stuff, and after taking almost a year to produce, the collection ended up selling out very quickly, and has since continued to sell very well.[13]

[1] Martina Margetts, "Thinking & Doing," from Tord Boontje (New York: Rizzoli, 2006), 126.

[2] Ibid., 126.

[3] The Design Museum of London online, "Tord Boontje: Product Designer (1968-),", (accessed May 20, 2010).

[4] Martina Margetts, "Thinking & Doing," from Tord Boontje (New York: Rizzoli, 2006), 126.

[5] The Design Museum of London online, "Tord Boontje: Product Designer (1968-),", (accessed May 20, 2010).

[6] Studio Tord Boontje, "Projects: Shadow Light," (accessed May 20, 2010).

[7] The Design Museum of London online, "Tord Boontje: Product Desinger (1968-),", (accessed May 20, 2010).

[8] Studio Tord Boontje, "Projects: Blossom Chandelier," (accessed May 20, 2010).

[9] Artecnica online, "Studio Tord Boontje: Come Rain Come Shine,", (accessed May 20, 2010).

[10] Artecnica online, "Studio Tord Boontje: Until Dawn Curtain,", (accessed May 20, 2010).

[11] Martina Margetts, "Thinking & Doing," from Tord Boontje (New York: Rizzoli, 2006), 134.

[12] Ibid., 134.

[13] Ibid., 135.

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