Designer talk: Broberg & Ridderstråle + Michael Asplund from Asplund Collection

Interior architects/designers Mats Broberg (MB) and Johan Ridderstråle (JR) discuss the role and relationship of designer versus producer with Michael Asplund (MA) from Asplund Collection 

Michael Asplund with designer duo Broberg & Ridderstråle Photo Mikael Axelsson
Photo by Mikael Axelsson

MA: We´ve recently collaborated with pieces for the interior of the Gabucci menswear store in Stockholm. It has been interesting to see how you´ve worked with the Tati series in special sizes and colours, and how well it fits into the interior of the store.

MB: When the designer knows the materials well it is possible to create unique pieces out of an existing form. But in this case there was also a very smooth collaboration with both producer (Asplund) and commissioner (Gabucci ).
MA: The designer/architect is important to the producer. Your knowledge of what is possible to make out of a material, and how this material functions when used over time… that´s something the producer benefits from. Someone in the design and production process has to take care of these issues. There´re significant differences to make a piece of furniture for privat use in a home. Or make it for a public interior. I think Tati has made it well into the public. Conviced as I am, that you know what your´re doing when it comes to create sustainability both in form and construction.
JR: It’s true, as designers we have a knowledge of how to work with different materials, and what kind of product you can make out of them.
MA: As a producer it is easy to become too focused on the costs, as we look into the potential profit the product might have. But if you aim to produce long-lasting products, you depend on the knowledge the designer have of materials, construction etc. It’s worth a lot to be able to trust the designer with that part.
MB: As a designer it is often easy to come up with a form and build a prototype of a new product. But then comes the hard work when you refine and test the possibilities of the product. Good design is not made in a moment.
MA: For me as a producer I also find it very important to listen to the customer I meet on daily basis in the shop and help them find solutions for their needs. When there´s a request for a new product I do a lot of research on the aesthetic and functional part of that idea, as it has to be formulated clearly to the designer.
JR: That´s important as an input or feed-back during the design process.
MA: In the next step the designer comes with a suggestion of how to work with a certain form in a certain material. Each production is unique and as Asplund is a small producer we have to go slowly. We cannot take on productions we are not sure about. But on the other hand we´re not afraid of trying new ways of doing things. The designer plays an important part, to guide us into new areas: Of thinking, of how to use materials, of how to make a form more suitable for a wanted purpose without loosing the aesthetic values…
The personality of the designer also matters to me. I work closely with the designer and feel its important to take good care of our relationship.
MB: In Sweden you must be nice! And humble as well! And you have to know how to make contact and when to visit producers. While we were still at Konstfack school, we used every opportunity to participate in exhibitions, visit the industry or see producers. You have to start somewhere and keep on making contact.
JR: Well, we stepped into the Asplund shop…bringing with us a small candlelight we made for our first school fair, in a very limited edition. I think you ordered 30 of them? When they were sold we were asked to send an invoice and were kind of forced to set up a company. That was our professional starting point as Broberg & Ridderstråle. And that´s how our collaboration with Asplund started.
MA: And now we´ve been collaborating for 12 years! I remember when seeing your work at design exhibitions. You participated in Tokyo, in Milan…I definitely felt curious about you, and trusted your ability to work in different materials.
MB: We thought it was very nice to start working with Asplund, but it took a while before we came up with a really good idea. Only one month before the Stockholm Furniture Fair 2010 we realized we had ”something perfect for Asplund”. Or so we thought…
MA: You called me and said ”We have the perfect sidetable for you!”. Well, sidetables are not the hottest piece of furniture to be imagined but I have learned to be nice and supportive to designers…We booked a date and there you came, enthusiastic about a new range of items you´d named Tati. And it was perfect! It was love at first sight!
JR: Perhaps it was the combinations of materials more than the form?
MA: Well, at the time Asplund were interested in how to work with materials in new combinations. And with colours! But the form was perfect as well; classic yet contemporary, sleek yet constructed out of standard proportions.
MB: It was very easy for us to develop a whole Tati ”family” with a lot of variations out of the original idea.
MA: And now there´s several items in the Tati range, but customers still claim new needs. Often its about sizes or materials but they also have new ideas for functions. This is a good example of how important it is for a producer to meet the customers in person and listen to their feed-back on a product. And bring an analyse back to the designer.
MB: With Tati the potential of functioning in public rooms come with the design process.
MA: Perhaps this is the way we have to go in the future, to produce furniture which can be used in private as well as in public spaces. We see lots of work-spaces and public spaces like hotels and restaurants now being decorated in a homelike style.
MB: When you´ve had the prototype at home for a while, and tested it profoundly in your everyday life, then you come to know its potentials.
JR: And we are interested in making design which functions in a variety of interiors, and in company with other style’s and pieces of furniture.
MA: You are interior architects and designers, but with Gabucci you did a lot more. Let’s call it design management. It seems a designer today work in a much broader field, you take part in the building of a brand. Traditionally that part was held by a PR bureau. How does this reflect on your collaboration with your producers?
JR: It seems to be appriciated that we´re capable of solving other issues alongside the main commission. But as a designbureau we like to keep it small. The next commission might as well be about product design only. And then we´re back to the work that can only be done between the two of us.