AUTHENTIC SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN

Every year MAISON&OBJET PARIS elects a Designer of the Year to honour one of the most outstanding names in industrial and interior design worldwide. This year, the talented Danish designer Cecilie Manz is the one.

A SCANDINAVIAN WOMAN

As a child, Cecilie Manz remembers she would always slip away to the studio her ceramicist parents kept in their house to sink her hands into the clay.

After earning a diploma in object and furniture design from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, Cecilie Manz moved to Finland to further her education at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. The very next year, she founded her own studio in the heart of Copenhagen. Even though she needs the vibrant feel of the city to feed her creativity, she is still happy to commute back to her suburban home and garden every evening to reconnect with the elements.

Not unlike other Danish designers, the balance she maintains between civilisation and nature is vital to her creative process. Much in the same way that her lifestyle and relationships with family members contribute to fuelling her inspiration. 

Now in her '40s, the elegant Dane readily admits that the ceremony for the Crown Prince Couple’s Culture Award she won in 2014, presented to her by the Prince and Princess of Denmark themselves, was certainly one of the highpoints of her career. A career that spans twenty years as she patiently honed her skills to emerge today as one of the major figures of Scandinavian design.

A VERSATILE DESIGNER

Her first project, entitled The Ladder – a ladder that doubles as a chair – was quickly picked up for production by Nils Holger Moormann, after the German designer spotted the prototype in an interior design magazine. The other project that jumpstarted her career was the Caravaggio lamp (2005, with Lightyears). Not only a bestseller but also a longseller! Heeding the call to experiment, Cecilie Manz has worked on such diverse projects as sofa throws, a minibar for a Wallpaper* show, a series of wooden armchairs, a collection of dining tables and chairs for Fritz Hansen, glass vases, and several models of portable speakers for B&O Play – the more affordable brand recently launched by fellow Danes Bang & Olufsen, she has been collaborating with since 2014.

Despite her taste for experimenting with new materials and exploring original functions, whenever she sits down at her drawing table the process is invariable. Every new design starts with countless sketches and models and a close dialogue and collaboration with the manufacturer. A visit to the production line may refine the result and match the techniques used in each particular factory. 

Last autumn, Cecilie flew out to Japan, firstly to collaborate with a Japanese company called Actus on a project named Moku and also to be the cocurator of the exhibition “Everyday Life – Signs Of Awareness” at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the relationship between Japan and Denmark.

AN ADVOCATE OF WARM MINIMALISM

More than a style, the Scandinavian approach she defends, which is too often distorted in her opinion, “should reflect the actual lifestyle of these countries”. In her work, this is often achieved through subtle play on shades of grey associated with brighter colours.

Colour is a fundamental element in her creative process and she always develops a specific palette in the earliest stages of each project, because it is a way to assert the product’s identity. Her Scandinavian heritage is also self evident in her effort to strip her creations of any superfluous elements, focusing on the essential, oblivious to the fact that her ceaseless pursuit of uncluttered lines presents a new challenge every time.

Q&A

The objects that surround us are becoming ever-smaller‭, ‬especially with technology‭. ‬How do you see the role of the designer changing within these increasingly constrictive parameters‭? ‬

I think designers always need to be able to adjust and react to the different situations we find around us‭. ‬We‮!&‬re quite used to it‭, ‬it‮!&‬s part of our job‭! ‬But at the same time we also need to be calm and reflective‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬so much changes so fast in this field and it‮!&‬s not all good‭. ‬Sometimes it‮!&‬s progressive to stand still and observe rather than react wrongly‭.‬

I‮!&‬m very dedicated to minimalism and love small objects‭. ‬It pushes both me and the developers to perform twice as good‭. ‬We just need to be aware of the limit where an object becomes absurd or non-functional‭: ‬where buttons are uselessly pin-sized‭, ‬and umbrellas are so collapsible they fit snugly in your front pocket but don‮!&‬t help at all when it rains‭. ‬That‮!&‬s just stupid‭.‬

I guess it's just about using your senses‭: ‬when and what to work on‭, ‬what to make and what to put out into this world that‮!&‬s filled with so many different objects and choices‭.‬

Could you tell us a bit about how B&O PLAY commissioned you for speakers and what you especially like about it‭?‬

You could say the path towards‭ '‬smaller‭' ‬already started with the Beolit12‭ ‬speaker‭. ‬While working with that I had the idea of a‭ ‬smaller version‭, ‬and B&O PLAY luckily had the same thought‭. ‬The A1‭ ‬was a natural step following the A2‭: ‬even smaller and better‭ ‬sound in a more compressed space‭.‬

The shape itself‭, ‬the flat cylinder‭, ‬was quickly decided on from very early on in the process‭. ‬We wanted it to feel smooth and soft in the hands since you handle it a lot‭. ‬In and out of your bag‭, ‬hanging loose and getting a characterful patina from being used in everyday life‭.‬

I‮!&‬m very happy about the A1‮!&‬s smooth appearance‭. ‬It‮!&‬s almost like a sanded stone with no sharp edges‭, ‬even though it‮!&‬s made of two joint materials‭: ‬aluminium and polymer‭. ‬And of course the great job done by the acoustic technicians‭. ‬They managed‭ ‬to develop a new speaker component inside that creates an incredibly rich sound with a very even volume‭.‬

Can you describe your creative process‭? ‬Many of the pieces you make look as if the materials have almost come together themselves naturally‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬how do you know when a piece is finished‭?‬

I start all projects in the same way‭. ‬When I get a brief I read it carefully and boil it down to the essentials‭: ‬okay‭, ‬you need‭ ‬a long wooden table‭, ‬or a cup‭, ‬or a portable Bluetooth speaker‭, ‬then work outwards from there‭. ‬This is not to cut away the important details but to find the essential ones‭, ‬to find out the functionality I should start to sketch in reaction to‭. ‬Then comes model work‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬seeing everything 1:1‭ ‬plays a very important part in my practice‭. ‬Maybe the model is made out of cheap cardboard in‭ ‬the beginning‭, ‬looking horrible‭, ‬but it brings you further in the process and the next sketch is more detailed‭, ‬so is the next‭ ‬model‭. ‬Through the process I have meetings with the client‭, ‬share computer drawings and so on‭. ‬But everything revolves around my‭ ‬work table‭, ‬with the models‭, ‬the material references‭, ‬colour samples and other components‭.‬

At a certain point in the process you have the feeling something is right‭, ‬a character has been made‭. ‬And this is the first step‭ ‬in the long process of finalising a design‭. ‬Being able to sense that something is just right is important‭. ‬Then comes all the unavoidable adjustments and corrections in the manufacturing stage with a lot of ping-ponging back and forth‭. ‬My most important job is to keep my eyes on the character of the object through all the stages‭, ‬to preserve its spirit in the sometimes muddy final‭ ‬sprint towards the deadline‭.‬

Many designers use music at different points in their creative process‭: ‬specific tunes to help more preparatory sketching‭, ‬other‭ ‬tracks that help with crafting prototypes and producing objects‭. ‬Tell us a bit about your relationship with sound and music‭?‬

Music is very important to me‭, ‬though it‮!&‬s by choice very quiet at the studio‭.‬

Sharing music is a very intimate thing‭. ‬Perhaps because it‮!&‬s so much about emotions and atmospheres I actually prefer to listen to music alone‭. ‬Except of course if that‮!&‬s the whole point‭, ‬to gather around the same atmosphere and feeling through music‭.‬

When I'm sketching‭, ‬while starting up a‭ ‬project‭, ‬I'm very fond of Charles Mingus‭, ‬Nina Simone‭, ‬Keith Jarret‭, ‬Eric Satie‭. ‬Biking home‭ (‬uphill‭) ‬I really need The Black Keys‭...‬

I'm sure you're asked this a lot‭, ‬but how did you realise that you wanted to be a designer‭? ‬And how do you keep developing creatively‭?‬

Very early on I knew I wanted to work with my hands‭. ‬I have always been fascinated by objects‭, ‬materials‭, ‬surfaces‭. ‬But furniture and product design came in the loop by chance or mistake‭, ‬I really didn‮!&‬t have any ambitions in this direction until I started studying and became completely hooked‭. ‬Now I can‮!&‬t think of what else could make me this happy working with‭, ‬I really love my job‭!‬

I sometimes take on projects or even invent tasks for myself that don‮!&‬t look very promising in any rational or economical way‭. ‬But it‮!&‬s very important to maintain the joy and playful approach towards my work‭. ‬It could be a one-off piece for an exhibition or an experiment that‮!&‬s doomed to fail‭ ‬‮$‬ع‭ ‬it doesn‮!&‬t matter‭, ‬these breaks are crucial to keep me in motion and challenge myself differently‭.‬