Belgian duo Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen are presenting their newly designed Alu tables and chairs at Palazzo Litta, which architect Diébédo Francis Kéré is happy to position in and around his central pavilion in the courtyard there. In addition, the pair is also exhibiting stackable chairs and hanging lamps in the exhibition Belgian Matters at Palazzo Litta. And all of this is in collaboration with valerie_objects.

Photographer Fien Muller and sculptor Hannes Van Severen launched muller van severen, their joint furniture project, in 2011. Two years later, this refined collection was already in the Designs of the Year exhibition at London’s Design Museum. The duo has since been intriguing the public with sculpturally interesting furniture objects that combine function with a stylishly playful design language. Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré revealed that he’s a fan: “Their furniture is so simple and elegant! I love their work – it fascinates me. It also corresponds to my own aesthetic – simple things that work.” And the appreciation is mutual, says Muller: “Kéré’s work is just fantastic, and it’s obviously a big compliment and an honour for us that he likes our work.”

Alu bench sketch by muller van severen
Kéré’s courtyard pavilion was inspired by his native village in Burkina Faso, where hospitality, openness, and human warmth provided his references. The pavilion neatly blends in with its surrounding savannah-like landscape. This open, welcoming atmosphere appeals to Muller and Van Severen: “Our own work is equally open and free, in a different way, and there are also no boundaries.” They enjoy the overall setting in which their work – a balance between art and design – is placed, gracing the richly decorated Palazzo: noble baroque meets playful minimalism. This contrast can be found in the two people themselves – with Van Severen being the son of designer Maarten van Severen, known for his clean, linear forms, and Muller, who comes from a more baroque background –the result is the signature furniture they make together.

The technology behind the fluent shapes of muller van severen’s Alu furniture is not obvious – it’s a special colour treatment called hammer-scale, which enables the colours to be very smooth. “When we visit our blacksmith and other craftspeople we work with, we’re always fascinated by the hammer-scale lying on the machines they use. And that’s how we discovered the type of paint we wanted to use for this collection of tables and chairs. We like the resulting surface structure, as well as the colour effect. The table does not have welded joints and yet it can still be perfectly unfolded. This treatment also makes furniture UV-resistant, so it’s suitable for outdoors. These pieces seem simple but they are not!”

Rendering of the Alu table + chairs by muller van severen
Fien Muller & Hannes Van Severen, picture by Mirjam Devriendt