Based in Barcelona, designers Alberto Lievore and Jeannette Altherr comprise Studio Lievore Altherr. In their nearly two-decade partnership with Arper, the designers have created some of the company’s most iconic furniture, including the Leaf Collection, Catifa, and Parentesit, as well as many booth and showroom installations. Below, Jeannette and Alberto share their thoughts on the idea of Together.
Can you speak to the ways that Arper products and collections work together?
Most companies try to collect a lot of different authors and offer a wide range. Instead, Arper defined a general DNA, and invites different designers to express that DNA from their own perspective. It’s the same sensibility expressed through different languages.
The ways colors, shapes, surfaces, and forms work together?
Curation is something you can feel all around. Everybody is a curator. Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook—everywhere that you use images, you become a curator of your reality. It makes you more thoughtful about what you transmit, but it’s also a challenge. You can see a similar tendency in interior design—curating and mixing—but the result is hard to control in advance. So we think about this and how to help people curate successfully. For many industrial designers today, the relation between color, material, and shape is still underrated: they think that color comes at the end, a random or maybe commercial choice, not really a part of the piece itself. Arper has a different approach. One of the clearest expressions of this was the range of colors we specified for last year’s new edition of Catifa 46, carefully chosen to complement the form of the piece. Within one family, the colors of Arper’s collections are designed to match with one another, so every combination is successful and interesting. In the way you mix these colors you curate the result, defining the role you want to give the piece. Of course a single-color chair in a room expresses one thing; a mixture of colors can be something very different.
The ways design and context work together?
It’s a complex relationship. It’s not only a piece of furniture that you have to design, or to specify, which upholstery, which fabric you choose, but it’s that piece of furniture together with other pieces within a space, a context and a culture. Since this is unpredictable, we started to think that the idea of a fixed design is maybe dated. In a global world you need design systems, not unique pieces or a single formula. Every culture, every specific surrounding, demands its own expression. You need the awareness, even the modesty, to know that nothing works everywhere— everything is part of a context. But it’s not just providing any design with more options that provides that needed elasticity; it’s something that has to be integral to the furniture design itself.
Have you observed a change in the ways we collaborate?
Digital technology has definitely changed the ways we collaborate. To start, we work with people who are very far away, something that amplifies the spectrum of possible outcomes that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago. But it’s not just that you can work with different partners. With the Internet and social media, the availability of information and images is so, so immense that you are in a continuous dialogue, a constant interchange of ideas. It is very inspiring, but also challenging because the rhythm at which ideas appear is accelerated, heightening the pressure to be original or distinctive. And it’s not just what you do; you have to convince people to make space to pay attention to what you do, to open this window of attention. Under pressure, you can hardly allow yourself the time or space for doubt. We find this concerning. Collaboration has so many layers. It’s the people in the studio, then the client, the people you do not see, different markets, different continents. Collaboration is a process, and if we can manage to make room for doubt, we can still learn a lot.
How do you think our relationship to space impacts the way we feel and connect to one another?
There is this quote from Winston Churchill that defines this so well: “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.” Space should be the mirror of what we want to be, or what we want to become. If we accept that space has this potential, then we have to think: what do we want to express with the surroundings we have? A good space is one that suggests that you can evolve, experiment, think, and explore a certain freedom—not move only in a straight line. It enables all these qualities while making you feel at ease. But everybody has a different perception, and what is good for me is not necessarily good for another person. So you need a tailored solution for every project. Architects, of course, are very convinced that architecture makes the space, but furniture actually has at least the same if not a bigger level of impact. A space without furniture could be anything, without definition. It’s the furniture that gives a sense of what to do, the furniture that allows you to stay. After all, if you’re somewhere without a chair or a place to sit, you’d probably just walk away.