Ideas and Philosophies


Emotion and practicality

Patricia Urquiola, the Milan-based Spanish architect, has recently risen through the ranks of the Italian superstar system, designing for the likes of Agape, B & B Italia, Driade, Foscarini, Moroso, and Paola Lenti. Her credentials as a designer of note were firmly established when she recently guest edited the latest edition of the International Design Yearbook, produced by British-based publisher Laurence King.

“I’m not a person with big goals, I have a feminine way of thinking, and emotive is the main condition of my design,” Urquiola explained. She said her inspirations come from a variety of sources, including the cloth sack of sand that supported a flexible ashtray from the 1960s (as the origin for her Fat Fat tables for B & B); a child’s bracelet (her Coboche lighting for Foscarini); travels in Scandinavia (her Fjord seating for Moroso); and conveyor systems in dry cleaning shops (a recent installation in Verona).

Urquiola said her focus is to be the most sincere in the moment. She also acknowledged Magistretti’s interest in the “ready made” as influential; and reminisced about her childhood where a flat-roofed dollhouse gave her a context in which to create modern furnishings.

“I purposefully change the scale to create the emotive condition,” she explained, giving as an example the oversized felt and leather flower petals, produced by Italian artisans, for her Antibody chaise for Moroso.

But there is also a practical rationale behind her products. For Moroso’s Fjord seating, perhaps her best known product to date, Urquiola explained, “We don’t sit symmetrical, so I needed one arm on one side only.” And “a bed is first a mattress,” she explained of her Clip bed for Molteni. These examples exhibit what she sees as the essence of a project.

The audience was easily seduced by the designer, whose raw Spanishness is what Italian companies who produce her work have embraced, although the minimal nature of her products for Spanish company Gandia Blanco, for example, reads very Italian. So there is still much more to discover about Urquiola.


Glamour is never out of style

For those not familiar with his name, New York society’s highly decorated decorator Jamie Drake’s claim to fame is the L.A. pad he created for Madonna, but it’s his unabashed use of pop art that gives Drake the quirky edge that his clients crave.

“I have always been aware of glamour,” Drakes stated and then proceeded to define this elusive quality by explaining his use of lustre, texture, colour, the curve, and last, but perhaps most important, the mix of it all. Gilt with no guilt, silver and other metals among the gold, all woven into mohair and silk, “lustre compels light to dance around a room, which is a bit of wizardry of itself, and lustre generates a bit of mystery about where the perimeters are or how sharp an edge may be,” Drake said.

“Texture is tactile, but it is far more than just an inducement for the eye to set the hand in motion,” he continued. “The appreciation of the decorative arts goes far in understanding patina as a form of refinement, and there’s nothing more glamourous than having something custom-made especially for you, given that this is a dying art.”

Drake has been coined the “king of colour” but this is too easy a generalization for professionals of his ilk, who know the rules of colour so well that breaking them becomes a rule in itself. “Each culture has its own individual colour customs, and translating a single tint, much less an entire palette, from nature poses the ultimate challenge for anyone who works with colour,” he said. “Use a single colour in a range of tonal mutations through a room so it appears as a chromatic scale from pastel hues to full saturation.”

“The repetition of forms in space is one of the ways I bring cohesion to my projects,” he continued. “I love circles and curves in all their endless variations and circular tables seem to provide more options for me than square pieces when it comes to arranging the other furniture,” he explained.

The ultimate mix requires confidence, but must be based on an underlying formula for “form, scale and colour,” he said. Both curiosity and energy are necessary “but putting things together is one of the trickiest parts of what any designer does. Editorial skills matter,” he concluded.


Island style

India Hicks, former Ralph Lauren model/muse, of Earl Mountbatten of Burma lineage, and daughter of famed 1960s British society decorator, the late David Hicks, the self-made doyenne of domestic decorating, was the real glam draw at this year’s show.

Island Living, her line of fragrances, scented diffusers and candles, seem a natural a fit for Crabtree & Evelyn, of which she is currently creative director. The name comes from Island Life, a 2003 book of Inspirational Interiors, documenting the design and furnishing of four properties on an island in the Bahamas, by Hicks and partner David Flint Wood, including the couples’ own home with adjacent guest house, and refurbishment of a hotel as well as her father’s original ’60s island house, which is still in near mint condition, so intrinsic was the design to the tropical scene.

What all the properties have in common are the simple taste and elegance of their owners and the quiet respect of the local vernacular. In her lighthearted tour through her book and this island style she and her partner adopted, Hicks described her father’s response to the local condition including his renouncement of bougainvillea as far too garish and crude to have any value for decorative cultivation.

When asked by an audience member what she would recommend as a way to emulate some of this tropical spirit in a Canadian context, she suggested that mahogany-stained floors, ceiling fans and mosquito netting are some simple elements to start with. She said that photos of friends, propped on a ledge, are moved about as her relations with them change. The personal is the most important in this daunting task of decorating, she concluded.