IN THE HANDS OF DESIGNER INGO MAURER, A LIGHTING FIXTURE CAN TURN INTO A STIRRING NEW DISCOVERY.
Trained as a graphic designer before he turned to lighting design, Ingo Maurer s creations bear a strong graphic quality and an aesthetic sensitivity that has been imitated often, but rarely surpassed. One of his very first works, 1966 s Bulb, where he famously turned a tungsten bulb into a larger-than-life icon by trapping it in an oversized version of itself, was selected for the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Bulb defined Maurer s career early on. From reinventing the humble light bulb to defining new ways we can enjoy lighting through LED wallpaper (recently put into commercial production by Architects Paper), the 80-year-old German was recognised last year with one of the highest honours in the design world —the Compasso d Oro for International Lifetime Achievement. He opened up on being a “dirty old man” when he spoke to Home & Decorat this year s Milan Furniture Fair.
WHEN IS SOMETHING PERFECT?
When I am satisfied with it, which is seldom. The nicest reward is when people are moved to tears, or when children react. Last year, we showed Biotope (a hanging “ecosystem” made of sponge). Some people came back to see it two or three times, and even brought their friends along. It s nice to move people, but you cannot plan this —they have to feel convinced.
DO YOU STILL THINK THAT LEDS ARE THE FUTURE OF LIGHTING?
It s very hard to predict, but I believe the LED boom will last for a while, and OLED (organic LEDs) will become stronger. Then, things will change. We have some ideas for new technical solutions, but it s too soon to talk about them.
I could have been in the circus, or even a rope dancer —I believe very much in chance. My career as a lighting designer started in Venice in 1966. I had a whole bottle of red wine at lunch, and when I went back to my room, I fell over, looked straight at the light bulb, and fell in love with it. I started working on lamps immediately afterwards.
YOU VE JUST LAUNCHED THE FLOATING TABLE FOR BRITISH BRAND ESTABLISHED & SONS. WHY GO INTO DESIGNING FURNITURE NOW?
I was asked by Established & Sons if I had any furniture designs I wanted produced. I ve had this idea for over 30 years now —a table attached to chairs (that take the place of the table s legs). They liked it, and it was done very quickly.
A LOT OF YOUR WORK IS ONGOING. WHEN DO YOU KNOW IT S FINISHED? That s true. I have one or two lamps I m not happy with, and I want to rethink and improve them. I show them, but then I cut them (from production). It s not because they won t sell —people would still buy them, but I d like to make them better.
WILL YOU BE DESIGNING MORE FURNITURE IN FUTURE?
Yes. I don t know what kind yet, but it ll definitely be simple, not flashy.
It s a beautiful product. We ve always wanted to work together. Moritz is young and embraces the world of the Internet. He s also an electronics freak. Ten to 12 years ago, I already had rows of LEDS at my Milan show. I was really the first one working on the technology for the private market. We showed “roses” that changed colours, but they were mounted on a circuit board. Now, I ve turned them into a wallpaper, but it took me a long time to realise.
YOU VE ALSO WORKED WITH DESIGNER LUTZ PANKOW, ON THE ZAK ZARAK LED LAMP. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Lutz came in last year and showed me his lamp (a radical LED table lamp using flat magnets in place of springs and hooks). I thought it was a great idea, one that could create a new market. It s important for me to work with the younger generation. The kind of freedom they have is incredible —I didn t have that. Very few need to work to pay for their studies, for example. When kids come to do an internship with us, I choose the ones who need the support the most.
DID YOU FACE FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
Definitely. I grew up during the war, and we were five kids. My father was originally a fisherman, then he became an inventor. After the war, we were hungry and had no money, and my father passed away.
ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT THIS YEAR IS THE MINI PEEP SHOW, WHICH SHOWS SMALL CERAMIC FIGURES IN COMPROMISING POSITIONS. TELL US MORE ABOUT IT.
I m a dirty old man, ha ha! I think it s nice to bring joy to the people with something so beautifully made. I bought those ceramic figures in China and liked them so much that I took pictures of their faces and parts of the body, and put them on (my 1997 design) Zettel z —it s called the Blushing Zettel.