Kvadrat and products of emotions
When Alfredo Häberli describes himself as a product designer he is not wrong, but it’s not a label that has limited his work. Here he talks about his approach and relationship with textile company Kvadrat.
The way designer Alfredo Häberli talks about his past, everything seems to have happened by chance, as if by fate. When Häberli was young and travelled from Zurich to Milan in search of the southern atmosphere he was used to from his native Argentina, he heard about Achille Castiglioni, and that inspired him to study design. When Häberli contacted the Milanese designer after graduating, Castiglioni invited him for coffee the following day, not knowing that he was in Zurich. Häberli took the train and went to Milan just to have an espresso. When he got the courage to ask the famous designer for a job, Castiglioni instead encouraged him to open his own studio in Zurich, which is now internationally renowned.
His encounter with Anders Byriel, CEO of the Danish textile company Kvadrat, was also fortuitous. They met in Milan during Salone del Mobile 20 years ago. Byriel asked him what he was up to that evening, Häberli, who at that time was not as busy as he is now, said he was free. When asked whether he spoke French, of course he said yes. So Häberli was invited for dinner, where he was seated between Andrée Putman and Jean Nouvel! That night Häberli expressed his wish to collaborate with Kvadrat, which came about eight years later. Since then, he has made around 20 textiles for the Danish company, mainly for upholstery and curtains.
"I am a product designer, not a textile designer," Häberli tells us on the phone from Zurich, "but I am interested in textile because I like to design the interior space in its entirety. When you think of textile, you have many layers, because from a distance you get an impression, an emotion, and up close you discover the detail, the threads. While designing, it is important to know what it is meant for, because you can have couches with orthogonal lines, or with organic forms, and the result changes a lot. If you design lines for an organic couch, it can get too psychedelic, if it is small, the result can be confusing, if it is cubic, it can work. This is why it is important to think about the whole. Also you have to consider the purpose: whether the textile will be used in the private or in the public sphere. In this case it has to be more resistant and fireproof. The function sometimes means less freedom."
Textile also means colour. "Colour is the first moment of decoration… in every case, for an object, or an environment. It is something emotional. Kvadrat was the first to introduce colour for interiors in the 1960s. Influenced by Verner Panton and pop-culture, they rejected the monotony of grey and black. Kvadrat gives us designers a great deal of freedom. They are very open to creativity." As a source of inspiration Häberli revisits the colours of his childhood. "I clearly remember the blue of the first pullover my mother made for me, the yellow of my father's car, the colours of my toys. The colours I choose come from very different sources – a painting, or something from daily life.”
Häberli's perspective of designing interior spaces in their entirety and his relationship with colour can be seen in his latest designs for Kvadrat. Fresh out of the studio are two new upholstery textiles, Parkland and Nitto, and a curtain called Airfield. For Häberli, “The novelty of these three textiles is that they work well together. I thought of the overall atmosphere of the space, in the horizontal and vertical dimension. I put my brand in second place and the idea of serving other architects in the foreground."
Häberli’s long association with the Danish company is a fruitful one, and he has been commissioned to redesign Kvadrat’s Milan showroom in Corso Monforte this year. It’s a relationship that among other thing must be based on trust – they ‘get’ each other.
Silvia Anna Barrilà