Features

Interview: Chris Martin of Massproductions

August 25, 2011

British designer Chris Martin talks about furniture design, working for IKEA, and establishing his Stockholm-based company, Massproductions.

After working as an assistant in Jasper Morrison’s studio in London, British designer Chris Martin left the UK and moved to Stockholm, where he worked as a freelance designer for IKEA and met Swedish designer Magnus Elebäck. In 2009, the pair joined forces to establish Massproductions – a furniture company that prides itself on producing “high quality, tactile furniture in a modernist spirit”. In their new role as directors of Massproductions, Martin and Elebäck are using their knowledge and experience of working with industrial production to create their own collection of elegant and functional furniture pieces with a distinctive Scandinavian aesthetic.

Chris, can you give us some background into your company Massproductions?
CM We’re a Stockholm-based furniture company, and we launched in February 2009 at the Stockholm furniture fair. We’re still relatively young but it’s been amazing since then. We started by launching the wire chair, Tio, which instantly got good attention. Our aim was to find a couple of agents, and that year a few international agents were visiting the fair – we picked up two or three and it went from there.

How did the company begin?
CM My business partner, Magnus Elebäck, and I both worked for architects who had studios next door, so that’s how we met. Then we both left our jobs at around the same time, and shared an office space working independently as freelancers for IKEA. We’d been working together for about ten years for other companies – mainly IKEA, but a few others as well – when we realised we were constantly sharing ideas, and decided to form a company together. From my education and training, I’m really interested in furniture, while Magnus is broader in his interests – he’s interested in branding, art direction, strategy – he’s a bit more business minded, actually. We’re lucky that we’re not competing for roles with each other. It’s been quite a natural transition.

After ten years as a freelance designer, did you get frustrated with the role or find your designs were being compromised?
CM Definitely. I mean, in a way I was very lucky: I was a designer, and I had a client that wanted design and was willing to pay for it, but I think ten years was long enough. I got some good experience, but IKEA don’t do great quality – and they admit themselves they’re not especially socially or environmentally responsible. I wanted to change that and work in a more sustainable, quality-driven way – and with fewer filters between me and the final product. I wanted to be the one that steered the product – I’m a control freak!

Your company is called Massproductions, which is a term I think some people try to avoid using in relation to their work. I wondered whether that was a bit of a sly nod to where you’ve come from?
CM Recently people keep asking me if it’s ironic. But it’s not – it’s completely sincere! I love mass produced articles, we all do – mass production is a great way to make great products, and although there are some people that don’t use make great products that way, we live with mass produced articles that we love: cars, iPhones, so many things – to me it’s a positive thing. If there’s any irony to it, it’s that we’re not really and truly mass producing now. We make in smaller batches of two or three hundred, but to me that’s mass production – and there’s room to expand. But in a responsible way.

Can you give us some background on some of the designs you’ve been working on so far?
CM One piece is the waiter chair, a simple wooden piece designed for waiters – I spoke to a few to find out what they thought a chair should be. After all, they use it every day – it’s their working tool. It’s strong, light, and has a small footprint which means it can be easily put on a table after service – which they do, rather than stacking them. The legs are tucked in at the back to avoid tripping the waiters over.

That’s interesting – so it’s designed as much for the waiter as it is for the sitter.
CM Yes, it works for both. It’s a normal looking, simple wooden chair – which can be harder to find than you may think.

There’s also another quite traditional-looking piece in your collection, which is the pub stool.
CM Yeah, Albert – inspired by the British pub. I live in Stockholm, and I miss the English pub culture. I’ve taught my business partner, Magnus, to enjoy the British pub – and now we go to these fake pubs in Stockholm to talk about furniture. I like the style of that type of furniture, but we’ve mixed it with Swedish modernism to create a pared-down version of the stuffy English pub stool.
We’ve also done the Harry Stool, made from laminated wood. My wife is Japanese and we spend time in Japan, and I was looking at Japanese woodwork, and the shape of torii shrine gates. I wanted to do something in laminated wood, using simple shapes – to make something three-dimensional from something quite two-dimensional. But I was struggling to work out how to join the seat and the base, because the laminations are quite thin which makes it hard to use glue or screws. In the end, I just used wooden wedges to pin them together – giving the piece a nice tactile feel.

What materials are you most interested in working with?
CM At the moment, we’re using pretty conventional materials such as metal wire, wood, upholstery and so on – but hopefully we’re adding something new to those materials and processes. In the future, perhaps we’ll start using plastic and so on, but we need to build up our product development and funds before we get to that stage.

And as for the future, are you hoping to start collaborating with other designers and taking on the role as product developer?
CM We’ve met a couple of designers we might like to work with – including Michele de Lucchi, who we met in Milan because we were exhibiting on the same street as his studio. He said he’d like to do something, but he doesn’t know what – but we’re patient, and we hope he comes up with something for us. From our previous roles, we have plenty of experience in product development – and I think we could handle a good product and really get the best out of it.

Massproductions are distributed through Spence & Lyda in Australia and New Zealand.
www.massproductions-online.com
www.spenceandlyda.com.au

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