MEET PHILIPPE MALOUIN
Eight years ago, Philippe Malouin moved to London with two small suitcases full of personal items and the address of an old warehouse space he’d found online.
Born in Canada.
Based in London.
Teaches at The Royal College of Arts.
These objects have the look and feel of old cast iron, but with the exact precision and features that can only be achieved with modern technology."
"It’s usually something random like a piece of cast concrete on the sidewalk. Then that will sort of start the process for me, and a new idea might arise."
When he showed up in Stoke Newington, however, he found the 40 meter space ill-equipped to function as a residence. Luckily, with the drill and table saw he’d stowed in his suitcase, the designer managed to build a shower, kitchen and a place to sleep from scraps he found on the streets of London. Within a year, he’d opened the doors to his own studio, as well.
Philippe—a Canada native who’s lived and studied in Montreal, Paris and Holland—believes that good ideas emerge from the act of creating and doing. Before his own success, he worked with acclaimed British designer Tom Dixon, an experience that would prove transformative. Today, he creates conceptual designs that balance finesse, functionality and a fondness for risk. His work has drawn clients like Hem, Ace Hotel, Izé, Roll & Hill, Umbra Shift and Established & Sons.
In today’s digital age, when everything seems increasingly more disposable, Philippe still believes in an object’s permanence, seeking to create pieces both timeless and lasting. Now, years past his fly-by-night arrival in London, the designer—surrounded by such items in his Hackney studio—discusses travel, creativity and what he loves most about the career he’s made his own.
Have you always had an affinity for creative ventures before you studied design at university?
Yes, I was always very interested in all the arts in general. I did a few preparatory courses in art, design, theater, media and journalism. Then, when I finished with college, I went off for a couple of years to travel around Europe. I experimented in quite a lot of different fields. Design was definitely the one that stuck for me. I had always been interested in building things as a child, and we had a workshop at home where I could play around. It just really made sense that it became my career.
Thinking back, can you remember the very first thing you ever designed?
Yes, actually. In order to get accepted into university in Canada, I designed a bench that was made out of paper-thin wood. It had all these layers that kind of slid into each other with notches. That made them form a grid of sorts, which allowed the thin pieces to become quite strong without screws or glue or anything. It was also very lightweight, which was nice. I guess I’ve always liked repetitive, minimal things. I didn’t know much about design at that time, but I think that aesthetic was already my style. That was probably one of the first real things I created—it wasn’t too bad!
Your portfolio is very diverse: you’ve worked with many different materials, and have created tons of different products, from metal rugs to intricate art installations. Are there specific materials or methods that you prefer?
No, to be honest. That’s the most fun thing about my studio and the work I’m fortunate enough to do. Starting my own studio was very much based on the idea of not having to do the same thing over and over—whether that’s installation work or furniture design. Furniture design has been a huge part of my career, but we design spaces, too, which really happened on its own. We’ve also been asked to do art installations on a larger scale. And we experiment so much with materials, so it’s kind of all over the place. A lot of people say you should choose one thing and do it well. But these days, as the world of design is changing, I think it’s best to be good at many different things.
That must be difficult, but it also must be an incredible source of inspiration. Art forms often inspire other art forms, right?
Absolutely. Perhaps it might be very cliche to say this, but the best designers of all time, the Eameses, always did this. They’re such an inspiration because their studio was obviously predominantly a design studio, but they also worked with film, cinematography, choreography, dance, interiors and more. They have such an incredibly wide-ranging portfolio. That’s such a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
What’s behind your creative process? Are you the type of person who dreams up new ideas at night and wakes up to scribble them down? Or do you think up new designs at random places like the pub?
Oh, I do that, most definitely. I’ll be walking down the street, and I’ll see some small detail on something, anything. It’s usually something random like a piece of cast concrete on the sidewalk. Then that will sort of start the process for me, and a new idea might arise. Actually, I often send myself emails with photographs of what I’ve seen, or even just quick notes so I won’t forget. I end up doing that all the time.
Tell us about your collaboration with OTHR. What was most exciting to you about this project?
I was interested in the fact that OTHR are a production company working with 3D printing. I think that’s what drew me in really, because not a lot of people are focusing on 3D printing right now—standard manufacturing techniques seem to reign supreme. I thought OTHR had come up with a very clever project that I ultimately wanted to be a part of.
PHILIPPE ON HIS CREATIVE PROCESS
We focused on those types of connections, which are often invisible to the untrained eye—but when you stop and focus on the object and really look at it, you find out how interesting and intricately made it actually is.
Everything I created was based on not using standard manufacturing techniques. We have certain ways of joining surfaces and materials together that can be great without being perfected by standard manufacturing techniques. You come into contact with this sort of perfect connection when using different materials together. That couldn’t ever be done by casting or welding, only through 3D printing. So everything I did for OTHR was very minimal. I made this series of thin black vessels, and we focused on those types of connections, which are often invisible to the untrained eye—but when you stop and focus on the object and really look at it, you find out how interesting and intricately made it actually is.
Tell us a bit about the way you work. When you’re working in the studio, do you have specific music you listen to?
Yes, I do. I walk into the studio in the mornings, and we always immediately put on BBC Radio 6. I love Lauren Laverne. She’s amazing and clever and so fun. I really love her taste. She covers absolutely everything on her show.
When you’re not in the studio, what personal interests or hobbies do you enjoy?
Surfing and snowboarding are two of my absolute favorite things to do in the entire world. I also try to travel quite a bit, as well. I spent the month of February in LA this year, basically just so I could surf every day. February is the dreariest, most awful, grey month in London, so it was great to get away. I’m incredibly fond of LA as a city. There’s a large part of me that would like to live there. I feel very lucky, because my work takes me around the world. That’s something I’m incredibly thankful for.