Courtesy Georg Jensen
Time to Shine
February 1, 2017 / Written by Renske Werner / Portrait by Jeremy Jude Lee
This past November, renowned Spanish-born, Milan-based designer Patricia Urquiola settled into a Gentry sofa in Inform Interiors’ Urquiola-themed window to chat with GRAY about the evolution of luxury on a global and a personal scale. In Vancouver on a whirlwind trip to help celebrate Inform’s 50th birthday, she was jetlagged but vibrant. She commented on pieces in the showroom, including her own new-to-Canada Gender chair for Cassina. “It’s unexpected, no?” she said. “It has curves and edges, it is soft and hard, and it combines dark and light colors. It’s genderless, made up of masculine and feminine shapes that blend together as one. People respond to the colors and shapes differently, allowing gender to be the fluid concept that it is.”
She pulled up one leg, accepted a compliment on her eye-catching Maison Margiela sneakers with metallic details, and threw her arm along the backrest, a posture perfectly in line with the Gentry sofa’s design concept: a sitter can forgo good manners in favor of flopping into its comfortable confines, padded with loose, pillow-like cushions. Her hands moved as she passionately talked about design. “When I started my career as an architect, I thought there was only Architecture with a capital A,” she said. “Design was a lowercase word: small and not very important. But then I discovered the creativity that goes into the craft, and my opinion flipped upside down.” In the early ’90s, she was mentored by Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti, two great masters of industrial design. She opened her own studio in 2001 and quickly gained commissions from luxury brands such as Bosa, Louis Vuitton, and BMW. Today she’s renowned for her elegant and artistic designs—the 3-D flower petal–appliquéd Antibodi chaise longue for Moroso; the woven, highly textured Crinoline outdoor chairs for B&B Italia—which don’t follow trends but rather set them.
This is your first visit to the Pacific Northwest. What is your impression so far?
I love the emphasis on local talent as well as the open view toward European design. This mix gives design in the Pacific Northwest an elegant personality that feels familiar to me. Soon after I arrived, [Inform Interiors co-owners] Nancy and Niels Bendtsen took me to the Bensen design studio to show me how their furniture is manufactured. Being transparent about how design is made is of high importance in our new global society and my impression is that working together and utilizing each other’s knowledge and talents to create better designs are already the norm here in Vancouver.
Let’s talk luxury. What meaning does it have in your work?
I think luxury is a word we use too much and in the wrong way. In my opinion, the term quality is often a better fit. Luxury is wanting the best; quality is giving the best. I do the latter. Whether I am designing a hotel or a sofa, I try to understand it in a new way; I investigate new technologies and new materials in order to create the best. Quality becomes luxury when this process is understood and appreciated by the user. Then these products and buildings become good friends in your life and have longevity.
Is that a different interpretation of luxury than you might have given a decade ago?
Yes, definitely. For example, five years ago on a trip like this, I would have been treated to a fantastic lunch in the city’s best restaurant, where top chefs prepared a meal behind closed doors. But today Nancy and Niels brought me to their smaller showroom across the street from the flagship store, and we sat in this simple setting with 14 local designers while the chef prepared our meal in the Salinas open kitchen I designed for Boffi. The chef was chopping, cooking, plating, and cleaning up right in front of our eyes. There was no hiding behind doors. There was no covering up messes. It was all open and transparent. That transparency is defining a new kind of luxury.
What do you think sparked this shift?
Very simple—we became more conscious. We understand more about the environmental and social impact of processes and our purchases. This heightened consciousness changed what we consider to be of high value. We are more concerned than ever about the products we use and the food we eat. We want to know the why, what, and how. Consumers demand information about materials and where products are made. As a designer and architect, I am part of this dialogue in a big way, constantly working toward sustainability and innovation.
What is your greatest luxury in life?
I run a business in several countries, and I have a husband and two daughters. So I wanted my house and my studio in Milan to share one address. It is the old Italian concept where the shop is below and the living above. This concept was a fast track to creating more time: time to see my daughters, time to read a book, time to visit a museum with my husband. Having more time is the greatest luxury of all.
Above photos courtesy Cassina