Easy living



Patricia Urquiola is a source of amazement with her constantly new design ideas. And as one of the brightest stars on the international design scene, she is anything but predictable.

"I have chosen to work with design, as it's about physical things which tempt you to touch them, things that are in dialogue with people. I don't believe in a design that always has to be surprising and ground-breaking. Normal people don't like it. As a designer, we work with images that you come across all of a sudden and become curious about, and then they disappear, but nevertheless, they are a part of tradition, creating continuity. It's this that is the scourge of a design. I mean, at the end of the day, all of these poor objects are still here."

It's not easy to get a word in edgeways when talking with Patricia. She brushes her hair off her forehead, cocks her head and peppers unsuspecting people with her ideas. She's almost like a shot of caffeine to the mind, with countless ideas, and she switches subconsciously between Italian, English and Spanish. But she's certainly not messy - in all her furniture, the apparently disparate ingredients hang together in a sensual, tactile design that is ultimately in the now. There is no worry here about what is trendy right now; it's her who sets the tone and highlights new opportunities. And maybe it is also her intense presence that makes her so successful amongst the large design companies?

"Creative type jobs are becoming more important - we are needed to give a human dimension. We designers are indispensable interlocutors, regardless of whether it's about products or services. It's easy to grind to a halt within a company, then we can come from outside and find new solutions - we are of course trained for that, to solve unexpected problems.

Antibody kaleidoscopic, decorated with a felt pad, wool and leather, inspired by a conversation about breastfeeding and antibodies;  whilst a bit further away is her fat black leather hammock.

Patricia is something of a house designer at the now classic Italian design companies B&B, Flos and Kartell. And she emphasises that you have to enjoy yourself - a job must also be about satisfaction. And the question is, does she work best together with her friend Patrizia Moroso, who she was once at loggerheads with? Moroso's artistic director explains the Spanish whirlwind's successes by the fact that Patricia does not have a classic design educational background.

"I believe that Patricia Urquiola is the true heir to the throne for a generation of large Italian designers such as Achille Castiglione and Vico Magistretti. In fact, she is perfect, as she was not born in the design world, but in architecture. She hasn't had that much respect for the old masters - perhaps she hasn't even heard of them? She created her own former job for Castiglione and began working for him and then for Magistretti; and it is she - a Spanish woman - who has distilled the essence of Italian design.

A Spaniard from the Basque city of Oviedo is the future hope of Italian design. Raised in a world full of contrasts and paradoxes, with a traditional middle-class family that takes its roots from the Baroque period.

"It's hardly a limitation, but actually more of a way marker. But it's not my inspiration. The things you make, well you never know how they're going to be used - so I kind of do what I want. I want to still be able to live with my objects, even if I'm bored with them. It's kind of like in the film industry, it's about being personal, convinced that you have found the right balance between this refined expression, energy, critique and intelligence. If you can do that, you'll succeed."

Patricia Urquiola works in the same radical mould as the revolutionists from the 1960s and 1970s, Ettore Sottsass and Alessandro Mendini. Their questioning rebellious design approach was far from the German Bauhaus. Instead of an abstract pared down clean design in the style of Dieter Rams, which would create a new world with industry as its mould, it was human beings who formed the starting point.

"It's about finding your own credo, and we should not only think in terms of computers - they're good work tools, but they're not the be all and end all. I mean, smartphones, iPads and all that, have we really got the energy to carry around so many things? I think we need a different type of relationship to the things around us, more material and in the here and now. We don't need to over-complicate things so much: get back to the grass roots! Easy living!

And Mendini has recently given her some new ideas. His exhibitions at Fabbrica del Vapore with numerous young and old designers at the two most recent furniture shows, have had the theme of 'in-house production'. Instead of waiting to be discovered by the large design companies, they are looking for new routes into networking and handcrafted in-house production. Patricia did not take part, but she likes the idea of letting in-house projects find new ways in a sort of micro production, regardless of whether it's with a 3D printer or working with scrap from industrial production.

" Our job as designer is increasingly to impart knowledge and interpret our present, and it's not a given that we'll always be working for the design companies; of course we can do our own production - in my new studio, we can also make small ranges directly for customers.

At the same time, she thinks that the design companies have to broaden their horizons to get through the European financial crisis.

"This crisis means that Europe must focus even more on quality; as the map changes and the markets in South America, Asia, Australia are all becoming more important. And I also think that we need a more diversified market; there is space for both low-price chains and more expensive quality companies where we as Europeans can invest even more. This means that we have to listen better, be more humble yet still creative. But it does need the design companies to dare to expand and be visible in a whole new way.

Tatou for Flos, inspired by a samurai's lightweight yet strong chainmail.

Re-Trouvé for EMU 2008.

Foliage easy chair, for Kartell, has been built as branches with wide leaves.

Note the visible stitches that provide structure to M.a.s.s.a.s. for Moroso

"I had a great time as a kid, on my first trip to the Nordic countries. I got the idea for Fjord from my Arne Jacobsen hotel. I thought: enough is enough with these design icons. I mean, yes, they are part of our cultural heritage, but they belong to a totally different era.

Kartell commissioned a classic chair from Patricia Urquiola, and of course got something entirely different. Frilly is inspired by the fibres in celery, and the decorative element also functions as a design solution.

Fact box:
Patricia Urquiola was born in 1961 in Oviedo, Spain. She began her studies in architecture in Madrid, finishing in Milan in 1989. She then worked for Achille Castiglioni, and assisted his studies as well as at the Paris Design Institute. Her first furniture items came in 1991 in collaboration with Vico Magistretti for De Padova, where she also took a job. She ran an architecture studio between 1993 and 1996 together with two friends, then became manager at Piero Lissoni, and in 2001 she started up her own studio, also in Milan.