As Philippe Malouin likes to keep reminding us, he doesn’t like things to be overdesigned.
He’s not interested in excessive embellishments: his work is more focused on the potential of materials, which he reinterprets and crafts by hand to create simple designs and austere geometric forms.
The power of Malouin’s objects and furniture relays on their permanence and durability: from a rug made of metal, to an all-in-one meeting room with hanging chairs; from a racking system in metal that includes the lighting, to a series of lamps inspired by classical shutters. The designer often begins his design process from an existing reality to develop new unprecedented projects.
For his solo show SIMPLE, Malouin is presenting two new series of objects – commissioned by Emanuele Bonomi’s gallery, Slat and Type Cast Chairs – and an installation titled Pendulum that coherently represents his wide spirit of action. Pendulum is a reflection on gravity and by contrast a speculation on ephemera.
The London-based Canadian designer has experienced a steep career trajectory since and ended 2012 on a high with W Hotels‘ ‘Designer of the Future Award’. He opens his first Italian solo exhibition, ‘Simple’, at Milan’s Project B gallery, an impressive effort showcasing his unique design approach.
A good example of his products not being overdesigned is his Slat Table (a huge furniture item that forms part of the Slat collection) and the size of the original planks of wood used to make it; another is the MDF Wall Pieces which he tirelessly works at, again by hand, until the cheapest of materials starts to look and feel like a smooth, expensive piece of stone.
In Philippe Malouin’s Slats pieces, standard timber slats are translated and repeated, forming a linear pattern, revealing a tabletop, rotated around an axis, forming a base and reflected for support. The resulting table gives the impression of a building, columns and ceiling. The same simple process is applied to benches that can stacked to become a bookshelf.
Below find a video of the ‘Pendulum’ installation that coherently represents his wide spirit of action. The Pendulum installation comprises a candle lit at both ends, which is suspended on wires stretching between two walls. As melting wax from one end drips to the floor, the weight distribution changes and the candle spins upside down, then the process repeats
Curated by Maria Cristina Didero and taking a dynamic installation format, Simple presents several new works that have been developed over the course of two years. ‘It takes a lot more work to do something simple,’ reflected Malouin. ‘These are all fully-cooked ideas that have really had time to develop. The chair has been redone over 20 times. We made over 50 1:1 models to get it right.’
Spanning furniture and tabletop objects to decorative wall pieces, every object in the exhibition is a testament to Malouin’s sophisticated perspective, which sees basic shapes and an austere treatment of materials forming the guiding principles. The aforementioned ‘Type Cast’ chair is constructed using a technique that Malouin explored before – repeatedly polishing laminated black MDF wood for a luminous finish. Combined with sand-cast iron or aluminum frames, the wafer-thin chair (Malouin’s second) possesses a new elevated quality, in spite of its humble beginnings.
Malouin’s research is based on the power of materials: for Functional Shapes, black MDF sheeting is cut and laminated and the resulting material is then turned into shape on a lathe. MDF is extensively hand-polished, transforming this extremely rudimentary material into something new, light and highly tactile.
The simple geometric shapes are dictated by their function revealing a lamp, bookends and nestling boxes, presented for the first time in a pitch black finishing.
The same color is to be found in the Type Cast Chairs, a series of sand casted sitting tools in iron or aluminum as a single component. The chair is extremely thin with no mechanical fixings and surprisingly resistant. The sand leaves its mark on each chair, transmitting something of its own history and making each one of them slightly different than the other.
‘I’ve always been interested in the process of making things by hand, especially when they don’t look handmade,’ Malouin explained. ‘I am obsessed with working with materials that are overlooked because they are too readily available.’
Another focus in the exhibition is a series of furniture pieces called ‘Slat’, which are comprised tessellated strips of timber which form a geometric pattern that recalls the Brutalist architecture of Juliaan Lampens – the Belgian architect’s work has inspired all of the pieces in the designer’s Simple collection.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Malouin has even managed to squeeze a collection of concrete vessels, which use everyday Tupperware as moulds, are further proof of a designer who has truly hit his stride.
It isn’t just an aesthetic issue: Malouin likes to think that his work, thanks to the play of geometric and dry lines, it’s difficult to be labeled with the trend of a specific period, but it’s made to last.
Malouin’s objects and installations are new simple classics. As he expresses in his own words: “Simple timber slats, positioned in the right rhythm and proportions create benches, a table, a library. A Simple chair, exhibiting modest geometry and simple boxes, bookends and a lamp composed of a readily available and humble material such as MDF, just cut and polished. A simple natural phenomenon, powering an installation. SIMPLE is an exercise in restraint.
The statement is the absence of complication, nothing is hidden, nothing is faked, everything is displayed. A complicated needs to lead to a visually and tactually simple outcome. A traditional process leads to a well-balanced object. An unexpected discovery creates a deceptively simple installation. A traditional process is used to facilitate simplicity of shape and thickness” (Philippe Malouin, 2012).
Also on display are wall hangings covered in geometric patterns produced by slicing through layers of MDF.
Canadian Philippe Malouin holds a bachelor’s degree in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven.
He has also studied at the École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle in Paris and University of Montreal.
He lives and works in London.
He set up his studio in 2009 after working for English designer Tom Dixon.
He is also the director of POST-OFFICE, the architectural and interiors design practice.
His diverse portfolio includes tables, rugs, chairs, lights, art objects and installations.
He teaches at the Royal College of Arts – Postgraduate Art and Design.