Milan 2013



17 April 2013

Hammers, chairs and tool boxes went on display last week at Milan's Praxis gallery. Part of the Swiss studio Big-Game's Everyday Objects exhibition, the objects on display were understated and pragmatic, much like the studio that produced them. Here, Augustin Scott de Martinville, one of Big-Game's founders, speaks to Disegno about the new collection, the studio's influences and why his design is hooked to realism.

Founded in 2004, Big-Game is the collaboration between the French Scott de Martinville, Belgian Elric Petit and Swiss Grégoire Jeanmonod. The trio trained at the ÉCAL school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and their studio is still based in the city. The studio has developed a reputation for clean, simple design, employing a strong graphical element in work for brands and galleries such as Moustache, Karimoku New Standard and Galerie Kreo.

Yet its work has never been as fêted as that of contemporaries such as Studio Job, Front and Jaime Hayon. Rather than producing identity-establishing statement pieces likely to attract press, the studio grew its design ethos gradually, its personality emerging as its portfolio grew.

Now, Everyday Objects has provided an opportunity for more exposure. Big-Game showed a selection of production pieces for French brand Moustache, a soon-to-launch hammer and toolbox for Italian brand Alessi, a USB pen for Praxis and prototypes in the shape of a table and chair for Karimoku New Standard and a coat hanger for Hay.

Below, Scott de Martinville provides an insight into the studio's new work and its quiet approach to design.

Why host your own exhibition in Milan? Why not just show your new products at the manufacturers' stands?
The idea behind doing the exhibition was to really show the vision we have regarding product design. That’s why we called it Everyday Objects: we wanted a stand showing our point of view.

What is that point of view?
We have a passion for functional design, but try not to make objects that are too common, or boring, or archetypal. We like things that are a bit extraordinary, while at the same time very functional and down-to-earth. We like to link to the programme of everyday life. Most of the objects showing in the exhibition can be used for private or office contexts. The coat rack for Hay can hold as much or little as you want: it’s very flexible. In the same way, the table for Karimoku can be used for restaurants, or studios, or home. We wanted to try and communicate that we do domestic, contract, whatever. We’re very much about being realistic. You see too much work in Milan that is disconnected from reality.

But the Bold chair for Moustache is very stylised. That's not down-to-earth.
That’s a good point. The Bold chair is a show-off object and is our way of having something a bit stronger in terms of language. But it’s been selling quite well also. And I think that it is functional. It’s not a dining chair, but it’s a chair you put in a certain part of your home as a landmark object. That's function in our view, albeit in a different form from our other objects.

Something like the Cargo range for Alessi however is very obviously functional.
We were briefed by Alberto Alessi to work with "Inanimate Swiss Objects”, and we had a good discussion with him about what exactly he meant by that. He gave us a bunch of references, including MEWA, a company that used to produce very archetypal Swiss objects in the 1930s through to the 1960s: trays, bowls, toolboxes and watering cans. We tried to figure out what this would translate to today. What type of objects do we actually need and would be helpful in various contexts. We kept a low profile. It was about doing something that made sense.

Functional pieces?
Yes, but if you’re going to make tools for Alessi you’re not going for hardcore, heavy-duty tools. They need to have a sensitivity about them and suit a domestic context. That’s what we tried to do. They’re quite simple and quite honest in the way they’re built. What we like as designers is that there is some engineering in the plastic part, but the wood stays quite simple. It’s understated. It’s not showing off too much of the engineering and technicality of the object.

The collection is themed around "Inanimate Swiss Objects" and the studio is based in Lausanne in Switzerland. Do you feel an affinity with Swiss design?
We have a passion for modernist culture. Elric is Belgian, so there is a huge reference of Belgium modernism for us. Swiss design is famous, particularly in terms of its graphic design, for being very clean and efficient and we feel really connected to that. But things like art geometrique and ligne claire [French for clear line, the comic style of drawing pioneered by Hergé] are big influences too. The comic aesthetic of things like Tintin are something we feel very close to. A big reference is the Swiss designer Max Bill, who founded the Ulm school in Germany. We’re big fans.

But then you work with companies like Karimoku New Standard, who are very much based in the Japanese tradition.
The Castor series with Karimoku started with the idea of making a sensible use of the resources they had: discarded Japanese wood normally used for paper pulp. That’s the basis of Karimoku as a collection. So you have to design furniture using these very thin sections of hardwood. We visited Karimoku's plant in Nagoya and it’s like visiting an automotive factory. They’re super precise, incredibly organised. I’ve never seen such a level of skill anywhere else in the world working with wood. What we are interested in as Big Game is designing a family of products that could be integrated into the contract market. We’re not so interested in making one chair for one person.

Something like the Praxis USB must have that mass appeal. But the design breaks the normal starting point for designing a USB, which is that it should be small and discreet so you can take it around with you easily.
Exactly: USB sticks are normally as small as possible, which seems, on the surface like an intelligent thing. But in the end you just end up losing them all the time. So we were thinking about what form you should give that object to make it more efficient. We settled on the idea of a pen, which is an object you can immediately see, grab and never forget. Also if you plug it into a computer, it sticks out, so you remember to take it with you when you go away. It’s a very pragmatic form.

That pragmatism seems to be present in the coat rack for Hay.
It’s our first collaboration with Hay. They asked us to do something for the entrance to homes and we came up with this idea of a coatrack. On the one hand it has a standard aluminium, industrial profile, but on the other hand it references a Shaker rail. It's there to manage the mess a little bit. We came up with this very simple idea of a metal slide that you can then slip as many wooden hooks onto as you want. Hay liked the object and was incredibly fast in the development. It’s a real pleasure to work with them, because they’re so reactive and improve products in a very short time. The finished design is understated and quite functional.

"Understated" seems to be a watchword for the studio. You've never been as high-profile as some of your contemporaries.
It’s a bit true. It’s because when we do a project we try to focus on the project itself and not so much the publicity around it. Maybe that's a bit odd?