David Ericsson on philosophy, art, design and sustainability
His award-winning projects, like the Madonna leather Chair, have history that add a humanistic flare to everything David does.
So, his close connection w/ long-lasting materials, such as leather, makes 100% sense. Projects like that are timeless — & can be a part of your lounge moments during your whole lifetime, wanna bet?
We visited his home & studio in Stockholm to get a closer look into his ideas n had a Q&A ready. Dive above.
U always like to take a small glimpse at the past. Can u tell us how u first started working w/ furniture design?
For me, it wasn’t an obvious choice to go to design. I started more as an artist with sculptures and paintings — that was pure art. I had my studio and did my paintings for five years before I started at the university, so I took this opposite way, but I wanted to have a higher education also. You need it today.
When I finished high school, I had an studio that I also lived in. When I finally started design school, I also studied philosophy in that same school.It’s about an experience, about walking in the centre of life. I also studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts here in Stockholm with art and architecture classes. By then, I had become a father with my wife who also studied at a design school.
Besides other part-time jobs, I started working as a teacher at that time, and also decided to create customized objects, something more unique, not furniture, not art. Then I set my foot down and realized I could make a living from these products, so I quit teaching and focused on residential, public use and contract furniture.
Has the fact that you became a designer and a creator of furniture helped you in any kind of way in philosophy?
I don’t know what it did, but it surely did something. For me, it’s very personal to design furniture. It’s also how it should be in the global context, how we produce things, how we take care of it when we are finished with it, how long it lasts, which people are using it, and how they are using it. This is kind of a philosophy in a sense. It’s about taking care of the human. It has to have a meaning, a soul, a personal thing that you can distinguish this piece of object from that one. There’s no meaning in doing the same, it needs to have an identity.
As u said, design is made when “less is more”. What do u think are the most obvious things in design that people look past?
When you go to a café and you sit down on a chair that you feel comfortable, someone's taking care of you and you don’t even know it. The details are there, but there is also a meaning before just the details, it has a practical function. It's not necessary, but when I do furniture, I try to do it more functional nowadays.
Do u think leather is an obvious choice for furniture?
Sometimes, yes. It also depends on the meat industry. As long as we humans eat meat or cows, leather is there for use. In Sweden, there's this tannery that uses "ecological" cow and vegetable-tanned leather. So in a way, it’s a natural material. And if you compare to fabric or textile, leather has very long durability. It depends, of course, on which type of leather it is.
In works like the Hedwig chair, you show that you value the experience more than anything else, such as creating armrests that are perfect for a cup of tea. Has it always been like that?
Yes and no. My wife is called Sara, but when she was a child she wanted to change her name to Hedwig, but since she was very small then, she didn't. When we moved here we had a place where Sara and I would read books and we needed a chair to sit on while reading. She also loved to drink her tea in the evening and, during the creation, I realized it could also be a product. People loved the idea. So the little name of Hedwig is a salute to my wife.
I have a chair that is 200 years old, I bought it on a flea market for five euros and it's like a museum piece for me, but people don't know that. They go and buy this crappy furniture in other places and pay much more.
There are a lot of old furniture like this that I have as a reference, it was the main inspiration for my Madonna chair. We also tried to do it in a Swedish way, putting leather on it for an exhibition for Hans Wegner, a famous Danish designer that turned 100 years old. Then, it was made into a product. All the things have different stories, there's always a story.
What inspires you the most from outside the design world?
We have a summer house here in Sweden where there’s this little lake and forest. It's not where you come up with an idea, but it clears your mind, you can look at things in a different way when you come out of the forest. For me, forests are very close to my heart. You can harvest there, it's like meditation that inspires me. And of course things like older brands, older chairs and products, but this is a different kind of inspiration. When you go out into the forest and you realize something different.
You also refer to your "Carl Malmsten made me do it" project as a "humanistic design." Do you think working with leather and wood brings even more of a "humanistic" flare to the project?
That was the ambition when I did it 10 years ago. We made products from a humanistic design manifesto with my degree project. I had been an exchange student in Spain & I wanted to see Sweden from a different perspective. When I came back and did my degree product, I realized we have a lot of things in Sweden, like forests that we harvest and replant wood. We have an actual overproduction of wood, it's good to use it, it's natural. I also had a sponsor during that project that gave me natural tanned leather, it has this quality that lasts long. For me, time is the essence in a way. That leather lasts long, it is 200 years.
We are so in love with every detail of the Madonna chair. What was the goal while making a leather version of it?
I did this first prototype with leather by myself for this exhibition of the Madonna chair in Denmark, 2014. But this ecological leather in Sweden is kind of pricey, so I asked the product development team on the factory if we would also make a wooden version with a lower price, then we did that at the same time. It's laminated veneer, but it has this connection lying on top of the wood, like it's holding the chair, which also exists in the leather one. The funniest thing is that they hardly sell any of them in wood, they just sell them in leather, even though it's almost double the price.
There are these leather details in back of the chair that in the wood version you don't have. So it's different in a way. That's the million-dollar question. I don’t know, but it's something about when you actually want a good chair or pay a lot of money for a chair, you can choose that chair because it has something different.
You have a close connection with sustainability, right? Why do you think it's important to keep climate-smart furniture in mind?
I work as a designer for producers and they mainly work with contract markets and also to private homes. The buyers, like hotels, restaurants or new offices, have this demand on furniture today that if you know your leather is broken or someone has put a knife on it, you should be able to change it orrepair the chair. You have to have this values to the chair today.
When I did my degree project, this was also a concept, it should last long and be sustainable. And you can separate materials, so there're wood, leather and metal. When you're finished with the product, you can throw away the leather and burn your Madonna chair in the oven or something. I believe this is very good and modern architects want to have good pieces of furniture that last long and have sustainable values. Also, the customer is more interested, it’s something we must do.
We're at the beginning of 2020. Can you tell us what your goals for this year and the next are?
My goals are to make furniture and things, 'cause it's a long cycle – it can take years sometimes, we are working on these things, but we are not done yet. Those are the ones you have in your mind because of what you have done. I want to work locally, but I have also started a new collaboration to make some other things like lamps, not just furniture.
I also want to expand my area, not just seating. Sometimes, I’m a guest teacher, I will go to the US in September, to Maine, because that's fun and it's also different. It's nice to meet students that are young and they can ask you these hard questions, like “what are you doing?”.
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