Javier Mariscal, who, through his Barcelona-based Estudio Mariscal, is responsible for many of the most memorable objects that can be considered exemplars of Spanish design, is probably one of the most qualified people to discuss the influences behind modern Spanish furniture. To Mariscal, it is an aesthetic that, in the use of colour, in the treatment of light, in the material at hand and in preferred forms, is greatly informed by the culture of the Mediterranean. “We in the Mediterranean have been poor for many centuries, which is why we have had to take our inspiration from humour and optimism in order to survive, and this is reflected in all forms of Mediterranean culture,” offers Mariscal. “Also, we spend a lot of time outdoors, and so we worry more about comfort in a bar or in a restaurant than in our own homes.”
Mariscal’s words took physical form in many of the most eye-catching objects on display at this year’s edition of Habitat Valencia Forward, the annual exhibition of Spanish furniture design held in Valencia, Spain each September. For example, Jose A. Gandia, one of the prolific designers in the Gandia Blasco family business, uses his vacation home on the island of Ibiza as a primary source of inspiration for new products, particularly in their signature outdoor spaces. Gandia Blasco’s use of smooth, flowing lines and elegant, natural shapes – on products such as seating environments – is a recurring motif, and implies that ease and freedom of movement that seems so characteristic of life on the Balearic Islands.
An exuberance for which the Spanish are known was on display in firms such as Stone Designs, who eschew merely functional or precious designs. Their objects employ a lively, vivid colour palette and are impulsive, passionate, direct and sincere, and seem not to bother with trivial details, even in sophisticated pieces. This was offset by a quiet harmony of mature firms like Andreu World, who mostly preferred light, warm shades, often within the same chromatic scale. A piece by Mariscal for Andreu World, the orderly and minimalist Wok easy chair, came from the idea of a chair as a provisional refuge, a safe haven when you’re tired, and is intended to resemble a coconut, with a comfortable inner space protected by a solid outside shell.
Another clearly visible trend was the combination of simple materials to create furniture that is at once expressive yet highly pragmatic. Firms such as Nueva Linea have made use in their creations of the contrast between cold materials like glass or steel and the warmth of wood, while others (Actiu and Mobles 114 being two examples) focused their attention on brightly coloured plastic, which brings a shot of exuberance to a room.
Overall, the best products at Habitat Valencia Forward stood out for their clean composition and light, tactile materials that suggest an easier life and invite us into a world of calm and tranquility – the furniture equivalent of a day at the beach with a bottle of good sherry.
The upper and lower trays of Stefan Schning’s futuristic-looking chromed metal WiFi coffee table-container unit for Livit are removable, and come in white or black tempered glass for the bottom, and metal or tempered glass with etched floral patterns for the top. www.livit.it
This armchair by Vicente Soto for Capdell takes its cue from the romantic gardens of the Italian Novecento and fuses this style with sleek 21st-century forms and materials – in this case ornamentation-free polypropylene, making it suitable for outdoor or indoor use.
This textile container collection by Renske Papavoine for Nanimarquina is a clever departure for the venerable textile firm. Encasing layers of multi-coloured fabrics in a sheath of white latex renders Potten containers waterproof (suitable for plantings) yet surprisingly pliable.
4-BULEGO WRITING DESK The dramatic scissor shape of Abad Diseo’s Bulego Writing Desk for Nueva Linea highlights the juxtaposition of cold metal with warm wood. Thin steel legs support a very thick desktop of wenge, oak, teak or walnut, with optional trays.
5-ON THE ROAD
The marvellously simple On the Road bench by Stone Designs’s Eva Prez Rego and Cutu Mazuelos, is inspired by the travelling rugs that motorbikes carry beneath their front headlight during long trips. The elastics used to hold the cushion in place, in addition to being functional, allow two completely different concepts of the piece depending on the viewpoint.
Stone Designs’ Guerrilla containers are shaped like the sandbags used in military trenches; they’re designed and handsewn in the same way as coffee bags. Rego and Mazuelos reinterpret this warlike element, converting it into a domestic, intimate piece – which serves either as a container, space divider or as floor-level seating.
Javier Mariscal’s Wok easy chair for Andreu World came from the idea of a coconut: a comfortable inner space protected by a solid outside shell, which when properly cut, reveals a rich texture, solemn colouring and ergonomic shape.
In The Nude
As is true in most national design scenes, some of the most exciting work is seen in the one-offs and prototypes of young designers, many of whom are still in school perfecting their craft. Their pieces are not always as polished and refined as the professional industry requires, but imbedded within them are ideas that mark the road ahead for furniture design.
NUDE – Nuevos Diseadores (New Designers) – is Spain’s premiere showcase of new design talent from across the country, and it runs concurrent with Habitat Valencia Forward. Perhaps not coincidentally (if we choose to give the organizers more credit than they may deserve), this year’s NUDE exhibition was arranged in a crossshaped layout, marking the intersection of the four main halls of the trade show, and making a nice poetic statement about the importance of these rough-and-ready but inspired design ideas.
Exploring the work of the next generation of hot Spanish design talent at NUDE is like gazing into a crystal ball. Not only are they the new guard for Spain’s growing interiors and decoration sector, tugging on the baton held by stars such as Mariscal, but scattered among them are names that will surely be making waves on the international scene in the near future.