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MEET: Anderssen & Voll

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Torbjorn Andersen (left) and Esben Voll (right) of Anderssen & Voll

The Nordic design sensibility of clean and simple, functional pieces have invaded the Salone del Mobile Milano this year in a big way. And one of its bright young proponents, whose design star is on the rise, is the Norwegian design duo of Torbjorn Andersen and Esben Voll of Anderssen & Voll. Founded in 2009, they were formerly part of the design group Norway Says. Their body of work so far includes furniture and accessories for Hay, Muuto and Lapalma, and their Yoko lamp for Italian lighting company Foscarini has won the Best Lamp of 2013 given by American magazine Interior Design. At the Salone this year, they debuted the graceful Tibu stool for Magis. What makes them stand out among the sea of Scandinavian designs these days? Their answer will surprise you.

Just my curiosity Torbjorn, the ‘Anderssen’ in Anderssen & Voll has an extra ‘s’, but your surname Andersen doesn’t. Where did the extra letter come from?
Andersen: It comes from my grandfather. He didn’t think ‘Andersen’ with one ‘s’ was good enough, so he just added an extra ‘s’ to our family name. But he didn’t do it properly with the government, so in the 90s, we discovered our family was actually called ‘Andersen’ with one ‘s’.

Did it make your family rich? With the extra ‘s’?
A- Not yet, maybe now, I don’t know (laughs)

Everyone knows Scandinavian design to be clean, simple and functional. How do you make your designs stand-out among the other Scandinavian designers? Or is the point not to stand out?
A- I don’t think we aim to stand out. It’s not like we put ‘standing out’ as an ingredient in the projects we do.
Voll- We don’t try to stand out, but we hope our work has some kind of signature.
A- It’s a very complex question because a signature is like a way of doing things when you approach a problem. I think we don’t really have that strong a signature. We do things a little differently every time a problem occurs but we try to be true to what we discover in research. For instance, like the new pepper grinder we did in the Wrong for Hay collection, and also with the Tibu stool. The formal composition is a story about the function of a product. With the grinders, you have a representation of how the two pentagons are in conflict, representing the grinding process, and with the Tibu, it’s very much based on two pieces in balance, sliding into each other.
V- It really varies from project to project.

What is the most common adjective others have used to describe your work?
A-We used to get a lot that our work is very Nordic. Especially in Italy, people perceive it as very Nordic. I’m not 100 per cent clear on what that is. I think for some Nordic brands, they think we are a little bit too Italian.
V- The Nordic style now has become an international style. We see it here in Italy and in some really big brands; Nordic feel, colours and design. In that sense Nordic is a bland name, it doesn’t mean so much to me. It’s hard to pick one adjective, some say ‘playful’.
A- I think we are quite good at creating personality, but with very simple shapes. You can also see that in the Yoko lamp for Foscarini. It’s extremely simple but it’s also very evident.

How did the Tibu stool come about?
We had the idea for a barstool, which we developed together with Magis.

Is the process working with Scandinavian companies and Italian companies different?
A- In a way the division is not about geography, it’s more about owner structure. Is it family-owned or owned by venture capitalists? Is it based in capital or based in local production? These set the industry apart in a different way rather than geography.
V- In family-owned businesses, decisions take much less time. We can go directly to the decision-maker. It’s very smooth, very easy.
A- They (family-owned businesses) are a little bit more ballsy, as they dare to experiment and their understanding of a project is more culturally based. They’re less scared as they can’t really lose their job, they own the company (Voll laughs), and that’s a big difference. If the growth and the size of the company is linked to one or two projects, then they will have very strict guidelines on what the next project will be. If the company is medium-sized, and family-owned, then there is more freedom.

Why did you bring the idea for the barstool to Magis and not other companies?
V- They are the best people to execute this design, that’s for sure. We have known some people at Magis for quite long, they saw some of our work when we were young and exhibited at Salone Satellite back in 2000, 2001. We have kept the contact and last year we invited ourselves down because we have a good idea.

Magis is known to be a technology-driven company. Is this stool difficult to achieve?
V- Yes. It looks simple but there’s some detailing that is very clever; the inner mechanism, and how it’s put together, the division between the two parts. It’s the paradox of modernism. Simple things are very demanding to make because every flaw is very visible so everything has to be 100 per cent perfect.
A- What has been a big challenge, almost a quantum leap for the project, is the ability to apply colour. Colour is not usually applied to this furniture category. We are using a new lacquer which was invented for the project, which makes it possible to use colour also on the foot rest. That was a big challenge. First we worked a lot with plastic covers and stuff like that on the foot rest. When we could leave that behind and go for this new super-resilient coating; that really opened up the project in terms of expression in playfulness and colour. The foot rest is the part that gets the most friction, you are constantly polishing it with your shoes.
V- It’s supposed to be the best lacquer there is.

How were the colours for the stool chosen?
V- We started with the fabric. We found the fabric we wanted to use and picked out a palette of colours. We ended up quite a selection, and we matched the lacquer to the fabric, and narrowed it down to what we feel is an interesting palette.

They seem to be quite feminine colours.
A- Yes they are, chalky light colours, But we also have this dark military green, and a dark, almost like oxblood, burgundy colour. I think it’s an interesting mix. All the colours are good together. Even if you put the sour yellow with the dark red, and that also looks good with the military green. But as Esben was saying, what is interesting is that we were leaving traditional colour charts and working with a local painter which found the exact colour to match the textile. So it’s not a standard colour, it’s the exact colour.

How do you work together on a design?
V- There are more people in the office actually, six to eight people.
A- The best project is when someone has an idea, someone adds something to it, and then we work on it in unison, and there are changes and (Voll- and then you leave it a bit), and then go back to it. I think there’s no problem for us working on the same project. So we don’t really have that much, in a way ego, connected to the work. It’s more about how we can create the best work.
V- In this project, the concept was very clear from the first sketch. There has been much work concerning refinement, technicalities, but the idea was strong from the first sketch. It’s a very simple concept.

Do you have other designs in a drawer somewhere you’d like to produce?
A- Right now we have arrived at a quite diversified portfolio with different manufacturers and they’re all very strong in their own way. Our big goal now is to do more work with them. For example, these guys from Foscarini (gestures to two guys waiting by the side). These guys did the Yoko lamp, and we’ll like to work more with them, more with Magis, more with Lapalma. The good thing is that these guys are all based around the same region, so it’s good.

Speaking of working in Italy, is there a country you wish you could live and work in?
A- It might sound a bit cliché but maybe Brazil might be interesting.
V- California. Give me sunshine and waves and I’ll be happy.

Tibu stool for Magis



Yoko lamp for Foscarini

Magis and Foscarini are available at Xtra Designs.

Read about what we saw at this year's Salone del Mobile Milano:
Milan Furniture Fair Report #1 — Our Picks From Brands We Love
Milan Furniture Fair Report #2 — The Best From Young Designers
Milan Furniture Fair Report #3 — Quirky & Unconventional Designs

Read about what we saw at this year's Milan Design Week:
MEET: Marcel Wanders of Moooi