Benjamin Graindorge really wants to design a fireplace. But here’s the problem: When he tries to draw fire, it ends up looking like water. You can tell it’s fire because it’s yellow or orange, he thinks, but once he makes the flames brown or green or black, well, not so much. “When I find a way to represent it with another color, I think then I’ll be able to move on to the real object,” he muses. Clearly, drawing is an instrumental part of the young Parisian designer’s process. In fact, most of his objects don’t even start off as ideas, they start as swirls of color and form: “The first stage of my work is only a nebula, without humans or objects.” His Floating Aquarium, for instance, began its life as an abstract landscape in the pages of his Moleskine.
Though he’s always processed the world through his pencil — “learning” philosophy in high school by sketching a whole city in his notebook during class — once Graindorge began his profession, it took him a long time to accept his own way of working. His design professors tried to bully the habit out of him, demanding he stick to technical drafting instead. “In France, it’s odd to say ‘I make poetic drawings and I am a designer” he says — it sounds like the stuff of AA meetings. By the time he began his first internship in 2002, he was so shy about his drawings that he made them in his bedroom and kept them to himself.
Luckily, that internship was with the Bouroullec brothers, who happen to make fanciful sketches of their own. “They taught me how to see the world and to design what I like. I think I’m a teenager of design, and they’re my parents,” he laughs. Last year, when the Musée des Arts Decoratifs mounted a show of sketches by 12 influential designers, both Graindorge’s and the Bouroullecs’ were among them. It marked a turning point for Graindorge, who’s now confident enough in his process that when he presents his new designs to the public, he includes the initial sketches alongside them. Earlier this week we received an email about the vases and lamps he recently created during a six-month design residency in Kyoto, Japan — they’re now on view with Paris’s Ymer&Malta gallery — and it was the colorful drawings that really caught our eye. The first half of this slideshow is devoted to two of the works from that series, the Molecular Mist lamp and the IkebanaMedulla vase, and the final five images are a sneak peek at what may one day be his first fireplace design. Only time will tell.