November 2019

The way humans eat, how we share, gather and ritualise food is a spectacularly complex and fascinating rabbit-hole. The Finnish company Iittala has been delving into that warren for years but the results have never seemed overworked and have always strived to be everyday objects for life. Its new Raami collection designed by Jasper Morrison continues that story, a tale beautifully illustrated by the painting of Nathalie du Pasquier.

I grew up in a household where eating together was an integral part of family life. Breakfast before school, dinner with my parents and brother in the evenings, and of course dinner parties with guests. Homework was mostly done at the dining table, school art projects destroying tablecloths and scratching the wood.

Even today, the ‘kitchen’ table in my flat has a plethora of functions: sometimes serving as a home office, but it’s also where my boyfriend and I enjoy a glass of wine, a debrief, and where we sometimes have dinner. All this is just to say that the role of the dining table is continuously changing, as our work and play lives continue to merge. As they do, the role of the objects that accompany us throughout is also changing. Our crockery is a mish-mash of parts of my life and parts of his, each of which have inevitably lived previous lives all around the world. It’s the amalgamation of each of these things, all of these stories, that create the atmosphere that exists in our home.

The idea of a good atmosphere is at the essence of Jasper Morrison’s design philosophy. He explained it to me like this: ‘I often give the example of an empty white room with a window. As you begin to bring objects into the room the atmosphere develops for the good – or the bad – depending on what you bring to it; objects have an atmospheric quota which helps define the space they’re in and the atmosphere develops in a more complex way as more objects are combined. The designer is responsible for the quality of atmospheric potential of an object, if he puts too much emphasis on looks then the quality will be lowered.”

With this in mind, Morrison, who needs no introduction, designed a collection based on the consensus that people no longer need a fully matching service, and ‘are more inclined to assemble a mix of things that work well together’. Raami (Finnish for ‘frame’) is the new collection from Iittala, shown at the beginning of 2019 and composed of pieces that together encourage a good atmosphere. Iittala wanted to accompany the launch of the new collection during Stockholm Design Week with a small exhibition and asked designers Florencia Colombo and Ville Kokkonen to create an exhibition that would incorporate, and perhaps stimulate, a discursive context. In Creating Atmospheres (When Eating Becomes Form), the intention of the duo was to explore Iittala’s historical participation with food culture, so as to be able to look into the Iittala of the future: ‘After all, few companies can reflect upon a century of cultural presence, even more so in relation to an elementary act that we all perform on a daily basis. We saw the opportunity to engage the public not only towards the design aspect, but to reflect upon a common ritual.’ It’s this common ritual – eating – that reflects a cultural system, and the exhibition aimed to reflect on the formal and behavioural universe that defines the act of eating.

Like Morrison, Colombo/Kokkonen see atmosphere as a result of an equation of variables, with a great deal of depth and dynamism. ‘Raami represents a collection of social individuals. The presentation consisted of three instances – a scenographic set-up presented the collection in unity together with Nathalie du Pasquier’s painting. In another space of the gallery, the elements were individually introduced as a universal formal response to a particular function. Placed in dialogue along the exhibition content, the collection served as an underlying thread as a commentary within the different themes.’ The choice of Du Pasquier was a particularly inspired and insightful move for Iittala to express the qualities of Raami in different contexts. A founding member of Memphis who knows exactly how to handle materials, textures and objects, and has focused on painting since the late Eighties, her depiction of the collection embodies that all important atmosphere. We see the function but this is no still life, rather a picture that embraces the living of life.

It sounds like a lot of layers to include in a presentation of a tableware collection perhaps; but not a collection created by Morrison. He was the first designer, let’s say in different terms than Adolf Loos, who introduced me to the notion of messing an object up by over-designing it. ‘When things express “design” more loudly than anything else, they work less well in a room full of other objects.’ I asked Morrison where he would say he exists ideologically and aesthetically on the spectrum of archetype – design – overdesign. ‘On the spectrum you mention, I am somewhere between archetype/familiar and design. Anything over the line is less successful.’

When it comes to the design of the actual collection, that includes elements in glass, ceramics and wood, he says it was all about mixing materials and shapes that complement each other without appearing too similar. ‘The fact that some pieces were machine made and others mouth blown created certain complications, since a trained eye would notice that their qualities and wall thicknesses differed.’ Nevertheless, just as Morrison had hoped, the pieces have an ability to influence not only the atmosphere but also our behaviour in it.

Keep that in mind next time you pick up a glass, plate or cutting board.

By Emma Lucek