As the youngest child of a Parisian architect — with three older brothers working in the same field — Victoria Wilmotte had one thing going for her when she started studying furniture design at London’s RCA four years ago. But she also had a few handicaps: she was only 20 years old, she had just been rejected from Paris’s ENSCI school, and her professor at RCA, Jurgen Bey, couldn’t comprehend her strange working methods. Obsessed with materials and surfaces, she wanted to spend all her time in the workshop, skipping the thinking and brainstorming part and going directly to prototyping. “Jurgen Bey was really into concepts,” says Wilmotte, now 24. “He was more about a table telling stories, but I only wanted to talk technically. He basically said, ‘I don’t understand you. But continue.'” She found more of a kindred spirit in her tutor Michael Marriott, and continue she did, producing a graduation project that went into production almost immediately with Paris’s Toolsgalerie.
Called Domestic Landscapes, the project actually did have a conceptual basis: exploring how reconceiving plastic cleaning bottles as high-design objects could renew our appreciation for everyday things. But again, Wilmotte put the bulk of her efforts into the carafe set’s perfectly complex geometries, its tonal shades of blue and black, its chalky matte finish. To achieve those qualities, she cold-called a representative at Wedgwood. “I wanted to find a material that could look like plastic but different, and I fell in love with Jasperware,” she recalls. “I presented my project to him, and three months later, he called and told me to come and get my two buckets’ worth. I was dragging them down Regent Street, having to stop all along the way because it was so heavy.” The next cold call she made was equally successful: To Toolsgalerie, who agreed to exhibit the project — now complete with stools and a table — after her graduation in 2008.
Impressed with that show, Pierre Bergé gallery became interested in working with Wilmotte, and she created a suite of furniture and objects in marble that debuted there last year. Here, her father’s profession came in handy again: A friend of the family she’d known since childhood owned a quarry in Carrara, and she spent ten days there learning about the material and how to work with it. Now it’s a kind of specialty for her, with a series of marble boxes in the works for a new series at Toolsgalerie. “I like exploring materials that have been a bit forgotten, and industrial techniques that have been put to the side,” she says. “The tops of my new boxes are covered in enamel, which is not something you see that much in design right now. Even people making marble pieces today always use white Carrara; I like working with odd, stranger varieties. And I really enjoy surprising people, like when suddenly Corian is mixed with marble, or colored metal, or wood. I like making the connection between all these materials.”
The first thing you ever remember making: “I remember painting and making sculptures with my brothers when I was around 6 years old, during family holidays in the south of France. We painted Native American faces with colorful headdresses onto stones, tree bark, and anything else we could find. I don’t remember where the idea came from, maybe one of my brothers started it. But we would sell them when my parents invited friends over for dinner.”
If you suddenly had an unlimited budget, what would you make? “I would build my own factory, where I could make all the projects I wanted to. If the designer could be a factory head, and control the entire production process, it would be the perfect way to design. You could make everything underneath your own eyes. The factory atmosphere really pushes me to create, actually.”
Right now, Victoria Wilmotte is: “Making a new edition for Toolsgalerie in Paris, working on a graphic design project, and thinking about some ceramic tableware.”
To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who's pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn't go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you're looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, "I want to do that."
It used to be that if you left your big-city corporate job, moved your family to a small town in New Hampshire, did some soul-searching behind the wheel of a camper van, and opted to spend your days doing what you really loved from the basement of your house, you were most likely a 55-year-old man having a mid-life crisis. Twenty-seven-year-old RISD grad Tim Liles — who followed that exact trajectory after quitting a footwear-design job at Converse last fall — understands this perfectly well: "My girlfriend is a couple years younger and her friends don’t get it, they all live in Chicago and think we're just confused," he says, speaking to me from week five of the couple's two-month cross-country vision quest. "But in traveling around the country, I’ve met a lot of people my age who have quit a salaried job in search of something simpler."
Jonah Takagi claims he has ADD, and he may be right. Since graduating from RISD in 2002, the Japanese-born, New England–bred, Washington D.C.–based designer has worked as a cabinetmaker, a full-time musician, a set builder for National Geographic docudramas, and a producer for an indie-rock kids’ show called Pancake Mountain. In the weeks leading up to this story, we talked about skinned cats, prosthetic kidneys, and smoking pot out of an art-school professor’s peg leg. But Takagi’s work is anything but schizophrenic.