"Six or seven years ago, we had a big retro focus in Scandinavia—everyone bought lights and furniture from the 1950s and ’60s," says Kristian Byrge, creative director of the Copenhagen-based furniture company Muuto. The work of iconic figures like Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjaerholm, and Bruno Mathsson cast long shadows over young designers; as a result, "development was locked," says Byrge. "Designers were looking to the past, reinterpreting existing designs rather than doing something new."
So in 2006, he and his business partner, Peter Bonnen, launched Muuto, commissioning pieces exclusively from architects and designers living and working in Nordic countries, with the goal of helping usher in, as Byrge puts it, a "great new era of Scandinavian design." In addition to building a successful brand (the company’s name is a play on the Finnish word muutos, which means "new perspective"), Byrge and Bonnen wanted to free up designers’ creativity by encouraging experimentation. "Our aim was to build on the strengths of Scandinavian design—functionality, craftsmanship, a no-nonsense and no-flashiness approach—and add something we didn’t feel was there: a wider range of materials, of colors, of personal expression." The resulting products—which include a fleet of new pieces set to be released this fall and into early 2013—push the boundaries of "traditional" Scandinavian design with innovative materials and forms. Here’s a look at some of the company’s greatest hits and newest commissions: the region’s next design icons.
Asked how Muuto picks designers to work with, Byrge replies: "We choose people with the greatest personalities, so they can design products with character, pieces that stand out without screaming." Likewise, Bentzen was drawn to Muuto because "they are really nice guys, first of all—an important quality—with a strong development team and a very fresh, brave, and open approach to Scandinavian design."
To foster the region’s next generation, Muuto bestows an annual Talent Award to the best student design; the winning entry gets put into production. This fall, the first-place Nerd Chair and Pull Lamp debut alongside products by more established designers.
When not writing, editing, or combing design magazines and blogs for inspiration, Jaime Gillin is experimenting with new recipes, traveling as much as possible, and tackling minor home-improvement projects that inevitably turn out to be more complex than anticipated.