“Geometry is everywhere in life. You certainly can’t escape it as a designer,” says Nipa Doshi, one half of successful London-based design duo Doshi Levien.
Designers for Moroso, B&B Italia and Camper, Doshi and her husband Jonathan Levien have played with geometry, both in the shape and decoration of their furniture, since they began working together. Whether expressed in their new cabinet for Galerie Kreo, Kundan (£36,000), which is adorned with sequences of geometric mirrored tiles, or their recent avant-garde dressing table for BD Barcelona, Chandlo (€8,644), with its circular mirror set between strong geometric forms, their almost mathematical approach to shape and composition is always fresh and impactful – and has had a marked influence: it’s impossible to miss playful combinations of circles, squares and rectangles in new design collections this year.
In April at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, Lee Broom presented new furniture, lighting and mirrors featuring midcentury/pop-influenced circular designs, including the brass circle-within-a-circle Hanging Hoop chair (£3,750), a dining chair version (£1,200) and Ring Light (£695), a pendant light in a similar vein.
During New York’s ICFF and Collective fairs in May, Jonathan Nesci showed his innovative, primary coloured Present Perimeter mirrors featuring hexagons, triangles and rhombuses, while Bower presented new colours of its Contour semi-circular nesting tables ($1,650) and glam marble geometry dining tables (from $1,650) at the city’s fringe design show Sight Unseen Offsite.
More marble geometry can be found in influential Italian design agency Studiopepe’s just-released Ossimori collection of one-off “artefacts” – beautiful, minimal, almost otherworldly monochrome lighting, side tables and mirrors (all from €2,500) composed of perfectly cut cuboids and spheres – and Swiss/French designers Thévoz Choquet’s geometric range of accessories and small furniture, including fruit bowls (from €170), plant holders and tables (from €170) using extraneous pieces of Carrara marble, for brand new Italian label Bloc Studios. Somewhat more delicate are Nendo’s colour-edge, frosted-glass, low cuboid tables for Glas Italia, Soft – they are the simplest of forms yet one of the most beautiful new issues of the year.
“Geometric pieces are the current candy of the design world,” says David Alhadeff, owner of New York and San Francisco design stores The Future Perfect, which stocks designs by both Lee Broom and Cypriot/British lighting designer Michael Anastassiades; new mathematically inspired Contrepoids tables by French duo Pool, with large spheres at their core; and Ladies & Gentlemen Studio’s mobile ($1,750) and chandeliers of contrasting geometric metallic forms. “These pieces look really good and are easy to live with,” Alhadeff adds. “Buyers love the seeming newness in the work and the way it nods to the Memphis design movement while leaving out its shock value. Good examples are our carpets by Os and Oos [from $630]. Their forms are all half-circles and squares that can be repositioned to create different shapes but the end result, although playful, is actually quite beautiful and liveable with. Memphis was about the opposite of liveable.”
This controversial 1980s design movement, which rejected good taste, was just one of several stylistically graphic design periods of the past century (including art deco, pop art and Bauhaus) that is having an influence on the new geometric mood. Designer Faye Toogood says that the “simple forms and child-like building blocks” of her limited-edition Roly Poly daybed (£22,800), with its angular seat and huge sphere “pillow”, borrow from “the playful geometry of the Bauhaus and the coloured assemblages of the Memphis group as well as the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth.” Altogether, she feels her work is “a reaction against the convoluted, futuristic and biomorphic shapes explored by a number of designers in the 1990s.” Instead, “My focus is on material experimentation – I’m more drawn to geometric shapes to express this. By changing the material or combining one shape with another I am able to create entirely different compositions. I think the simple geometric shape is innocent in some way, untouched and almost naive”.
“There’s a similar motivation at play in the work of Bower and other hip young designers,” says the co-curator of Sight Unseen Offsite, Monica Khemsurov. Geometric shapes allow “for a simple, universal, elemental background against which to experiment with colours and materials. It’s a more visually interesting – and at times more playful – manifestation of minimalism”.
Take rising German design star Sebastian Herkner, who designs for the likes of Classicon, Fontana Arte and Moroso; his new Alwa side tables for Pulpo are kept pared back in form to accentuate the cast-glass table tops, while the ultra-simple steel bases are inspired by folding paper into three to create a support system. It’s a similar story for Italy-based Valentina Cameranesi and her perky pink and green Plexiglas tabletop containers, Angolo, Semicerchio, Quadra (Angle, Semicircle, Square, from $211) for Yoox. “If you are producing by yourself, a pure line is often easier to manage than an intricate pattern, but you can have the same depth of thought,” she says of the intersecting semicircle/cuboid designs.
Indeed, for many designers there’s an intellectual appeal to the clean-lined shapes of pure geometry. For David Adjaye, who this year launched a new double-circle-motif chair (from £2,430) and sofa series for Moroso called Double Zero, the thought was to create “a strong iconic image of the idea of the seat that describes the notion of sitting and generates a powerful silhouette from the back and side as well as from the front”.
Doshi Levien’s full-length mirror, Squarable Lune (£15,000), also features two circles as well as a partial square, which Levien describes as “wholesome” and “reveals the simplicity and magic of plane geometry”. “I like the focus of a circle,” adds Doshi. “There is only one way to construct it and it has a purity.” Levien, who admits to having explored geometric design since his days at the Royal College of Art, says that he is particularly interested in “the balance between intuitive thought, line, sculpture and form – and a strict geometry. The latter is almost unquestionable, whereas in intuitive line and form there’s scope for emotion and expression.” He always plays upon the two, and for him a successful design lies in the combination of the rational and emotive.
Michael Anastassiades also had a desire to see just how deconstructed and pared-down he could make his designs, without losing their appeal. His new pieces for Italian manufacturer Flos include the IC table lamp (from £284), based on a very simple sphere with right‑angled brass tubular supports, while those for his own label – handmade-to-order mobile chandeliers formed from black, patinated brass tubes with opaline glass spheres – are an equally quiet yet effective study in the art of balance and proportion. Reductivist, they are all the more beautiful for it.
“There’s a danger of banality when you’re dealing with something so familiar,” says Anastassiades of simple geometric shapes. “But for me it’s not about borrowing these basic elements, it’s a process of distillation, the idea of a reductive process. And I don’t think I’ve exhausted them at that level yet. When you distil the product, you remove the excess to the point that what remains gets communicated in its strongest possible way.”