What are the important places for designers Jean-Marie Massaud, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, Andreas Diefenbach (Phoenix Design), Antonio Citterio and Philippe Starck? German design brand AXOR takes us on a journey from a small island in the stormy Irish Sea to a frozen lake in Siberia and the woods in rural Japan. The collected memories are an ode to sensuality and spirit, illustrating the way landscapes and mindscapes feed and stimulate creativity. 

Design is a question of perspective. Not only regarding the visual appearance of products but also in terms of their development process. The perception of space plays a fundamental role for inspiration, affected by nature, landscape, climate, cultural surroundings, layers of history and, of course, personal experiences. And the diversity of these spaces is part of the story that German design brand AXOR seeks to tell. The manufacturer of taps, showerheads and accessories for bathrooms and kitchens is based in Schiltach in the eastern Black Forest. For its new brand campaign called AXOR Places, five long-time design collaborators have been asked to share their personal places of memory: Antonio Citterio, Andreas Diefenbach (Phoenix Design), Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, Jean-Marie Massaud and Philippe Starck.

The responses are as different as their designs: from family retreats to excursions into rural nature up to pure imagination. Thus the presentation on the brand’s website is fully digital, while embracing the analogue. It portrays not only the importance of real spaces in a world, but shows how far we can travel in our minds. Aerial photographs and films by Tom Hegen capture the atmosphere of each place from a bird’s-eye perspective, close enough to experience a bold palette of colours, textures and details in the surface of earth, rocks, water, snow and ice.

Inventive, highly personal and expressive as it is, the campaign is not an abstract one that doesn’t relate to the brand. The pictures connect the designer’s places of memory with the inherent individualization that is very much the way the brand works. It’s all about what matters to people and an embrace of the natural world. Just take the AXOR MyEdition tap collection, which offers material choices that include marble, leather and wood. “Inspired by the recollection of a certain encounter, of a mood, of an adventure, of a ‘place of memory’, we transport a certain material that is reminiscent of that place into the here and now. Thus a piece of the world materializes in the appearance of the individual tap,” says Anke Sohn, head of AXOR brand marketing.

The journey – connected through the materiality of water in different states of aggregation – starts in the snow-covered Engadine valley in the Swiss Alps. It is here that Citterio often comes with his family. A calm and relaxed spot, around 170 kilometres drive from Milan, but in mood and atmosphere it feels like being on another planet. Citterio, who is known for his minimal but sensual design language, is able to relax in that surrounding and use it as a source of inspiration for his work. “Normally the place is the family for me. We live in Milan, where we have an apartment. But we also have this nice situation in the mountains in St. Moritz, where our kids were born. Wintertime, Christmas time, this house is the place of the family. We all meet, everybody, in St. Moritz.”

Water in the physical condition of snow and ice also intrigues the mind of Diefenbach. He has worked with Phoenix Design since 2006 and became managing partner of the Stuttgart-based practice in 2019. His place of memory emanates from his own imagination: Lake Baikal in Russia, close to the Mongolian border and the largest freshwater lake in the world. Although he spent the first 13 years of his life in northern Kazakhstan, it’s not a place he has ever stood in front of. “My uncle visited us every summer and told us stories about Siberia and the Lake Baikal where he had lived. It was about ice fishing and life in the taiga [the collective terms for the northern forests of the region], which was very fascinating to me.”

The desert-like expanses of the frozen lake became a canvas for his fantasy, a place of wildness and full of adventure. “Every time, my uncle brought us a small figurine made of seraphinite. This material comes from the Lake Baikal area and is very special. It is spiritually charged as it is said to communicate between humans and the good spirits who take care of good health,” says Diefenbach. Since that early age he has been attracted by snow and ice. It’s an attraction that seems relevant to his work as a product designer: yearning for clear, almost crystal clear shapes that are also as gentle and soft as the Siberian landscape he has never seen with his own eyes – only with his imagination.

AXOR_Places_of_Memory_Phoenix Design_Lake Baikal: Lake Baikal / Places of Memory by Andreas Diefenbach, Phoenix Design / AXOR Hansgrohe SE. Photographer: Tom Hegen

Phoenix Design_Andreas Diefenbach_RGB AXOR / Hansgrohe SE.

Barber and Osgerby founded their design and architecture studio in London in 1996. While studying at the Royal College of Art they often went to a Victorian stone house in Wales. “There is a small cottage that has been in my family for generations. It is a very remote place on an island of an island, called Holy Island. It takes forever to drive there from London. But we used to go regularly mainly in the winter months when it is incredible stormy,” says Barber. The cottage was not well heated. Upon arrival the two lit the fireplace, but maybe this wasn’t their area of expertise as Osgerby clearly remembers the smoke filling the house in Trearddur Bay on the west coast of the island.

The two designers came for more than relaxation and contemplation. “It was the perfect place to get creative. We used to take boxes with us filled with drawing material, a few reference books and rolls of tracing paper,” explains Barber. They worked for days on new ideas and covered the entire floor with drafts. It was a calm and concentrated atmosphere far away from the hectic capital and its day and night attractions. But it was also a place to feel the elements of wind and water, the constantly changing tides, dark rain clouds alternating with clear skies and sunlight. “Not much grows there because the wind is really severe. But there is a special kind of lichen that grows everywhere. It has a beautiful structure and it comes in many colours, such as yellows and oranges and so on. Actually we should try to do something out of this,” says Barber to his partner. It’s the kind of comment that proves a memory is not frozen in the past.

AXOR_Places_of_Memory_Barber_Osgerby_Wales: Wales / Places of Memory by Barber & Osgerby / AXOR Hansgrohe SE. Photographer: Tom Hegen

Barber & Osgerby_RGB AXOR / Hansgrohe SE.

Massaud shares the same passion for Japan. The French designer, who now lives close to Nice surrounded by mountains with a view on the Mediterranean Sea, has one specific memory: about 15 years ago, he went into the rural landscape about 30 kilometres outside of Kyoto, a city that is also surrounded by the mountains but from different sides. He found a temple built of wood with white paper lanterns along the footpaths. The meditative sound of water and a pure and intense smell of nature captured his senses. Massaud was not alone in this moment: he came with his partner Yannick and asked her to be his wife. Luckily for him, she agreed, as the ceremony had already been prepared and mutual friends were invited to attend this literal marriage of people and nature. Now that’s what you call a life-changing memory.

 AXOR_Places_of_Memory_Jean Marie Massaud_Japan: Kyoto / Places of Memory by Jean-Marie Massaud / AXOR Hansgrohe SE. Photographer: Tom Hegen

 Jean Marie Massaud_RGB AXOR / Hansgrohe SE.

The journey continues with Starck, who started working with AXOR back in 1992. He does not mention a single place. For him, it is the entire world. “If we don’t want the earth to become only a memory, fight to save water,” says the French designer. The blue planet is the place of all places which must be protected for the future, and saving water is crucial to do this. Starck also considers nature as a powerful source of inspiration for creativity: the natural light, the power of elements to form waves, the vitality of water, the mighty power of the sea. “Each place has its own music” he is convinced.

The message of all these Places of Memory is that life is based on curiosity – a curiosity for the particularities of humans, cultures, landscapes and cities. And ultimately it doesn’t matter if we have experienced them with our own eyes or with the strength of our imagination.

AXOR Places of Memory – all stories on axor-design.com/places.

by Norman Kietzmann