“Experimenting with geometric shapes is part of my design vocabulary. What interests me most is creating complexity from something simple by rearranging the structure and placement of different volumes,” says Hervé Van der Straeten, whose much-sought-after furniture, lighting and objets exemplify the current interest in multifaceted design – and an aesthetic that subverts traditional forms in response to the disruptive spirit of the times.
Van der Straeten’s approach is most evident in his freestanding Cristalloide and wall-mounted Borderline consoles (prices on request). The former consists of a series of cubes, each one placed at an angle so that the overall effect is of dynamic movement, belying the solidity of the underlying shape and materials. Borderline, launched in 2018, also incorporates simple geometric shapes – five rectangular blocks and a triangle – but Straeten finds a new angle to exploit, placing the largest block conventionally to form the console’s top but deconstructing the base into an artful pile of polygons, each of which appears to emerge organically from the wall. The complexity of the polished-stainless-steel piece is heightened by the addition of lustrous rainbow colours. “The colours change on the edges of the shapes, and the iridescence draws attention to the structure of the console,” he says.
Van der Straeten rose to prominence as a jewellery designer, and handcraftsmanship is an essential element of his work. But he acknowledges that the designs he creates on paper could not have been realised without the intervention of modern technology. Rigorous lines call for the precision of cutting-edge machinery, which perhaps explains why it has taken the design world some time to adopt a style that the art world embraced over a century ago.
Pritesh Lad, founder of bespoke design studio St James Interiors and designer of The Dhan desk (£13,000), believes he would not have been able to craft such a strikingly angled object even five years ago. “The pieces that make up the two legs are hand-assembled and then lacquered by highly skilled craftsmen in our workshop,” he explains. “But they are cut using the latest CNC machinery – we simply couldn’t have achieved the necessary precision without it.” Herein lies what is at the heart of the creative challenge for designers – multifaceted design requires a fine balance between technology, craftsmanship and inspiration. The futuristic forms of Australian designer Alexander Lotersztain’s QTZ chairs for Derlot (€18,000), are another fine example: they reference the “prismatic beauty and semiprecious qualities of quartz”, but were created using the latest laser-cutting and metal-folding technology.
The inspirations behind dynamic forms are as varied as the designers themselves. Athens-based design studio Anaktae draws on Greek heritage. The angular geometry that characterises its aesthetic – and brings drama to its interior projects, including an Athens apartment featuring its sharply angled Adrastus sofa (€9,900, not including fabric) and Atreus coffee table (€6,300) – reflects the geometric maze of corridors, anterooms, temples and chambers that made up the anaktors (cultural palaces) of Minoan and Mycenaean Greece; new designs, such as its marble Philos (€4,760) and Phylax table-cum-seating (€5,400) and Aktis ottoman (€3,960) recall the Greek-key motif.
French-designer Thierry Betancourt references the 17th-century cabinetmaker and marquetry artist André-Charles Boulle in his abstracted Première Partie console (price on request) for Nilufar. “I wanted to reduce it to a series of blocks and surfaces,” he says. “The idea was to make an interlocking pair – a male and a female, so to speak – and I called them ‘Première Partie’ and ‘Contrepartie’ to reference the method of Boulle furniture where sheets of copper and tortoiseshell were stacked before being cut with one intricate marquetry design – when split into two panels, they would form the reverse of the other.”
Betancourt’s design is crafted entirely from brass but “each surface is treated in the various traditional methods, from antiqued and patinated to brushed and highly polished,” he says. The resulting juxtaposition of textures creates its own decoration, and while the designer may have pared the form down to its essence – a series of cuboid blocks – light reflects against its many facets, turning the console into an exquisite jewel.
As the offspring of master silversmith Damián Garrido, Juan and Paloma Garrido of Madrid’s Garrido Gallery carry the use of precious metals in their DNA. “Our heritage has deeply influenced the materials we work with – primarily metals,” says Juan Garrido, “and our creative processes are based on methods used by jewellers. By using those centuries-old skills we are able to give our pieces the iconic Garrido shine.” That mirror-perfect polish is contrasted with more rugged textures on the 25ct-gold-plated Chaflan commode (from €30,000, edition of eight), while the nickel-plated Crystal commode (from €35,000 edition of six) is a gleaming celebration of the Garrido craft. And, while the duo is heavily influenced by contemporary architecture – Juan Garrido cites Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry as particular influences, with the Crystal commode recalling the design of Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall – “the shine adds another dimension as it reflects the light and the surrounding surfaces,” he says.
Hong Kong-based British experimental designer Michael Young began with a similar aim of “capturing light” for his MY Collection (price on request), which launched with Gallery ALL at Design Miami in December. “I wanted to play with vertical reflection,” he says when asked about his decision to use polished stainless steel rather than traditional copper, for the enamel cloisonné work on his side table, lounge chair, writing desk and sofa (all prices on request). The pieces are both decorative and slightly discombobulating – all those shiny vertical facets play with the light in such a way that the viewer can never be quite sure what they will see next.
French furniture-artist Eric Schmitt uses reflection to lighten the density of both his materials and the forms he creates. Ralph Pucci, who has shown Schmitt’s work at his eponymous New York gallery for 13 years, sees this as key to the Paris-based creator’s success. “Eric’s work is very powerful and on the masculine side – the shapes he uses are about as simple as you can get,” he says, “but his materials create a magical environment. The Bloc console [price on request, edition of eight], for example, is made with different bronzes, light and dark, gold- and silver-plated. It makes a room jump from a decorative point of view.”
Beyond the realm of the design gallery, demand for statement furniture with the same visual impact as Schmitt’s console brought multifaceted furniture to the fore at several major gatherings, most notably Maison & Objet Paris, where Royal Stranger (a brand on a mission to blur the boundary between art and design) courted attention with its Honeycomb cabinets (€30,922), part of a collection that includes the asymmetrical Rockchair (€14,171) and a diamond-shaped coffee table (€3,518) representing a witty and irreverent take on the aesthetic. At PAD Paris, Rodolphe Parente experimented with geometric shapes to create jewel-like furniture pieces for Pouenat (prices on request) and there was a plethora of pieces at Milan, from Luxxu Home – showcasing its marble and brass Littus dining table (€10,370) – whose strong style signature is often informed by an exploration of multifaceted forms (from its Prisma side table, €1,730, to its Crackle coffee table, €16,970), to Citco, which presented Zaha Hadid Architects’ otherworldly onyx Malea coffee table (£158,400) and Ora Ito’s equally bold Isa coffee table (£44,700) alongside the exaggerated angular forms of Arik Levy’s Negative Space vases (from £15,000). And it would seem there is much more to come, as the aesthetic has caught the imagination of Roche Bobois – its new Alto end and cocktail tables by Joëlle Rigal (from £1,790 and £2,710) are designed with razor-sharp lines – and Jonathan Adler, whose Electrum console (£1,795) and cocktail table (£1,595) in polished brass and nickel were conceived with a “dynamic composition and a strong presence” for the spring.
From Adler’s angled tables to Van der Straeten’s deconstructed consoles, the creative exploration of faceted forms is transforming furniture into striking statements, some at the cusp of art and design, which reflect a desire for ever-more individual and eclectic homes. The forms draw us in, intriguing the eye, challenging the mind; the materials are precious, jewel-like and decorative, while their polished surfaces not only capture light, but reflect the surrounding space, making the object a very part of the interior it occupies. Multifaceted furniture may disrupt the polite lines and comfortable curves we have grown used to, but they do so with an extremely liveable grace and beauty.