Thomas Clarke interviews Stephan Silver, Lead Designer of Xobo Furniture

Stephan, tell us about your furniture.

I attempt to make furniture that can be explored – that opens up, turns about and is adjustable, that has more than one use. Xobo pieces are designed to be different to conventional furniture in how they operate. Even with simple things I love to experiment – how to attach a simple hinge differently, for example.

By making objects that are distinctive and visually interesting, I hope people will be continually excited by the pieces and take pride in them. They are built with great care and have an element of hand craftsmanship in every piece, making each one individual. It is intended that the furniture last a long time: to be cherished, passed down and then used by future generations.

Why do you use plywood and laminates rather than solid wood?

Put simply: because their properties are best suited to the complexity of my design. Plywood does not warp or shrink like solid wood can. Plastic laminate is hard wearing, heat resistant and easy to maintain. I find them both aesthetically more interesting and I enjoy displaying truthful raw materials.

And how and why did you make the transition from architecture to furniture?

My first private commission after graduating from architecture school was to design a bespoke bunk bed for a children’s bedroom, so I have really always done both. I set out with what my teachers would have called a design premise. It was something like: explore the imagination of your inner child. That particular process has never been too difficult for me!

I loved the process, and that must have helped the product, because it was featured in a leading Québec design magazine.

After that, I just designed more and more. One impulse that always moves me to work is to try to rethink whatever is the accepted model and to test how worthy the alternatives are. It means my designs are always unique, playful and yet practical. That’s the difference between good design and simple wackiness. I try to make sure my innovation does something, or, at the very least, that it doesn’t take something too valuable away.

Many of the most iconic pieces of furniture were designed by architects. How do you think architecture relates to furniture design?

Architecture is designed for people to use. It has a practical function – sometimes only in that it must keep the rain out. Other times architecture is simply the successful solution of complex practical demands for building in a given space. It deals with structure, form, light and most importantly, how you move through and experience a building.

Furniture is just architecture scaled down. It serves a function to people, but it is routinely thought of as no more than a utilitarian object. That might seem strange, but it’s not. Beautifully and well thought out designs help people live well in their surroundings.

Other than furniture, what is your main interest?

Dance. That really took off for me when I came to London. When I first arrived I had already had a couple of classes, but it was here that I found an amazing teacher who had enough energy and drive to produce a contagion in her students. That learning environment makes all the difference. Seriously, it’s like a beautiful disease!

Anyway, I went to those classes almost every day after work. Dance gave me something much freer and more immediate than a day in an architecture practice, which is mostly careful precision and fine detailing. It is wonderful to move freely through space with one’s own body.

And finally, where do you find inspiration for your work?

A lot of my influences are the result of studying theories of the Bauhaus School in pre-WWII Germany, where designers were interested in the combination of all art and design forms. They had departments in fields such as art, sculpture, architecture and performance. Top artists and architects of the time taught there, such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer.

The Memphis movement, which began in the 80s in Italy, also had a huge influence on me at the beginning of my career as an architect. I particularly loved the exaggerated forms, colours and textures.

Stéphan Silver interviewd by Philippa Hammond

Stephan Silver, the lead designer of Xobo Furniture, is interviewed by Philippa Hammond where Stephan talks about his background, influences and decisions making process.

Filmed on10.09.14 at the Latest Music Bar, Brighton, UK.

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