8 Things
Form Us With Love, Furniture Designers

Does the world really need another beanbag chair? That was the question that presented itself to the Stockholm-based trio Form Us With Love when they visited the factory of Swedish furniture manufacturer Voice in the summer of 2009. “We were led on a tour of the facilities by the managing director,” they say. “Upon arrival at a production line of beanbags, the director stopped. The facility, once churning out bags by the minute, now stood motionless. Trend and low-quality copies had severely stunted production. The brief was concise — design a piece of furniture that would make the machines run again.” The group — made up of Jonas Pettersson, John Löfgren, and Petrus Palmer, who met as students in the first-year design program at Kalmer University — responded the only way they know how: By stripping the beanbag of its passé, dorm-room connotations, and using a powder-coated wire frame and a sophisticated color palette to recast it not as a piece of childhood ephemera but as a contemporary take on the easy chair, fit for any modern-day living room.

Form Us With Love came together in 2005 when the designers joined forces for their final project at university, and in the short time they’ve been together, they’ve built a sturdy portfolio of designs that have similar creation stories. The three have a knack for zeroing in on the unloved, the workaday, and the unfashionable, and turning those things into objects of beauty. Take their Cord Lamp, which debuted in 2007 with Design House Stockholm. By using a rigid, black-and-white checkered textile cord as the main design element, the trio elevated what they call a typically “disturbing decorating detail” into an instantly recognizable archetype and a killer piece of design.

And so goes the rest of their work: Construction lights plated in shiny gold and chrome, elegant pendants fashioned from industrial-grade rubber, and their latest project, which involves creating a sound-absorbing panel from a mixture of wood, wool, and cement. They seem to be fascinated by the tension that comes from mixing the old and the new, the ramshackle and the refined: For the past few years, their showcases during the Stockholm Furniture Fair have taken place in buildings in various states of decay or renovation. In an abandoned church next month, they’ll present five of their current projects: a concrete bench for the Spanish company Santa & Cole, two lamps, a new concept for the flooring company Bolon, and those sound absorbers, designed for the distinctly un-designy company Träullit. Five products and five manufacturers seems a lot to balance in one launch, but as Palmer points out, it speaks to the entrepreneurial side of three designers who have never worked for anyone but themselves. “We’re often more influenced by the companies we work with than by other products,” he says.

But that’s not to say they don’t find inspiration in their creative peers and all around them. We recently spoke to the young trio to find out what outside forces have shaped five years of successful designs.

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The trio designed an end table to go along with Swell, their 21st-century take on the beanbag, and presented them both during last year's Stockholm Furniture Fair in the middle of a 19th-century building undergoing renovations. Obsessed with the language of construction, engineering, and industry, the three created plinths from cardboard boxes in a setting decorated only with chipboard and concrete. Called Form Us With Friends, the exhibition showed the trio’s latest work with Ateljé Lyktan, Bolon, and Arcona as well.

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Sheats-Goldstein Residence: This California home, built in the early 1960s by architect John Lautner, has had a major influence on the way Form Us With Love view materials and texture. “He used concrete in a way that should be purely structural but it obviously has a planned aesthetic,” says Palmer. “It goes against what you’d expect from a concrete ceiling, and I think that’s a lot what we’re about as a studio. Even though the design industry is about inspiration and creativity and new products, things often end up quite expected. We try to do the opposite.”

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Anish Kapoor: Among other things that don’t appear as you would expect: Anish Kapoor’s 40-ton lump of wax that moved on rails through the doorways of London’s Royal Academy of Arts at the artist’s 2009 retrospective. “Super heavy,” says Palmer.

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Factories: “This is an image from Träullit, who we’re designing a new system of soundboards for,” says Löfgren. “They have a small factory in the middle of the Swedish forest, and they make sound-absorbing woodchip boards from pine trees. I think we appreciate the honesty and potential in factories. Honesty because you can see exactly what everything is used for — nothing is made to look good, just to function. And potential because the factory is only just a tool to create other things.”

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Factories: The bare-bones studio, gallery space, and workshop the trio designed and opened last year was inspired, they say, by those industrial facilities and Legos as well. “Swedish Legos are mostly gray,” Palmer explains when I express confusion. “We actually did talk about doing everything in the studio in yellow, but this is what happens when you have more than one creative mind making decisions. Everyone has a really strong opinion. It’s a bit of a magical process, because it wouldn’t look like this if one person had decided everything.”

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Factories: Form Us With Love’s Work Lamp for Design House Stockholm. To bring the construction staple inside, the trio toughened the flimsy steel wires, refined the angles and gave it a much-needed shiny coating.

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Tomas Saraceno: The three were taken with the Argentinian artist’s installation at Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm last year, for which Saraceno constructed a model of a black-widow spider’s web using elastic black rope that stretched from floor to ceiling. “It’s about the level of ambition,” says Palmer. “He's probably mad to have created this but it’s immensely impressive that he’s so devoted to his craft. It really did feel as if you were inside a spider nest, and the construction was made evident so you had a clue as the engineering behind it.”

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Cao Guo-Qiang: “We like how the Chinese artist associates explosions and black smoke with fluffy friendly clouds. It turns everything you know upside down. The black looks especially nice on a clear blue day.”

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Structural Oscillations by Gramazio & Kohler: For the 2008 Venice Biennale, the Swiss architecture firm employed an industrial robot to place bricks in a mathematically controlled order. “This feels very much like the future: small scale, unique, and high tech. We like the way it mixes industrial engineering and modern technology with handicraft. That’s the charm of it: It’s built by a machine that’s programmed to think in a highly aesthetic way.”

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Yves Klein: “A fantastic example of the color effectively becoming the art. Klein was a master at branding and actually managed to trademark a color,” says Pettersson. As for their own color philosophy, he says “We only use color if we feel it’s necessary. It’s some version of minimalism. The form often becomes less visible if you use a strong color, so if it doesn’t need a bright red, why use it?”

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One of the rare exceptions to that rule: Their Unfold Lamp, created for the Swedish company Muuto, comes in a rainbow of rubberized silicone, including a color very close to International Klein Blue.

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Moderna Museet in Mälmo, Sweden: The trio cites Swedish architects Tham Videgård, who were also behind the recent Treehotel, as one of their primary current inspirations. “The museum is a perforated metal–clad orange box, on the site of a former electricity station, and it sits between two old historical buildings. It goes to show that new and old can exist perfectly well together.”

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Moderna Museet in Mälmo, Sweden: “It’s also completely orange inside. It feels like they’ve approached it almost as if they’ve designed a product. The orange furniture, flooring, ceiling almost make it feel like packaging. We think architecture is pushing boundaries in an interesting way that product design isn’t.”

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Form Us With Love's 2007 Cord Lamp for Design House Stockholm. See the trio's new work next month during Stockholm Design Week — the secret location will be revealed in coming weeks!