Design daily first became aware of the work of Belgian designer Michaël Verheyden when When Objects Work launched his beautiful 'Coupe' vessels in 2012. The story I heard second hand was that he was a fashion designer turned product designer but in actual fact it was the other way round. Verheyden trained as an industrial designer graduating in 2001 from the Design Academy in Genk, with a focus on fashion accessories and opened his eponymous studio a year later. He was fortunate enough to have fashion designer Raf Simons overseeing his graduation project and this led to a commission from Simons of a range of leather bags for his 2003 summer collection. According to one website I visited in the process of compiling this post, Verheyden also played in a punk band. While he may have unusual musical tastes for a designer with such upmarket fashion connections, Verheyden's design aesthetic is completely focused on what he terms "noble and durable" materials - wood, stone, bronze and leather - materials that age gracefully. He creates what he calls "uncommon objects for common rituals".
"The obvious is never obvious"
For Verheyden the process of design is all about completely understanding a material and for this reason he allows the material to call the shots. His objects are the opposite of showy yet they have that incredible 'WOW' factor that comes from a combination of drop-dead materials, excellent craftsmanship and a highly resolved shape. The 'Coupe' vessel for When Objects Work for instance, is essentially a cylinder of solid material with a cone shape carved into it. The lid is that exact same cone shape turned upside down. There is no decorative element apart from the wood's grain or the veining of the marble yet the bowl has an immediate attraction. Like most of Verheyden's objects 'Coupe' has a quiet power.
Verheyden works with his wife Saartje Vereecke in a studio in Genk, Belgium. While much of Verheyen's design output is by commission or created specifically for international galleries and specialty outlets such as the Willer gallery in West London and the exclusive kitchenware brand MARCH in San Francisco, the designer also has his own Michaël Verheyden collection that consists of a number of objects and vessels predominantly in leather, wood and stone with a smattering of furniture pieces.
The object below left is the 'Petite Vase' (with unidentified Michaël Verheyden platter) in white marble. The object below right is a geometry set commissioned by Wallpaper magazine as a part of Wallpaper Handmade 2011. The luxurious timber and leather box contains all the tools a designer might require to draw up their ideas.
In addition to his architecturally shaped stone and timber forms, Verheyden has periodically designed objects that speak more to the process of how an object is made using a certain material rather than being about the material itself. What I mean by this is that details like stitching become of the utmost importance on a leather object or the edge sharpness on objects made from turned stone. The G55 sling chair is a case in point. Made from heavy duty hide draped across a tubular steel framework, the design is very much about the shape the sling makes within the zig-zag framework and the method of holding the leather there.
Last year he launched a lighting collection called 'Heron' with British company CTO Lighting and this is being followed up this year with a new release called 'Lucid' which will be launched during London Design Festival in September. For 'Heron' Verheyden removed every extraneous element from a concept that has its roots in mid century lighting styles and delivered a beautifully minimal light in natural brass - a cylinder mounted on a stand with a gentle curve terminating in a disc shaped base. It is incredibly simple but also nothing short of perfect.
'Lucid' is something else entirely as it takes a more exotic material mix of aged brass and marble and somehow ends up with a slight art deco feel. The miracle is the domed diffuser - to call it a 'shade' would be extremely insulting - carved from what appears to be marble. The dome is carved to the point where the light passes through revealing the absolute beauty and individuality of the stone.
The 'Lucid' collection launches at CTO Lighting showroom at 9 Cloudesley Road in Islington, London on the 14th September.
For Australian readers:
CTO Lighting is available from Spence & Lyda in Sydney. When Objects Work is available from Hub Furniture in Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney retailer Becker Minty also distributes certain pieces from the Michaël Verheyden collection.