In Lipsey’s Acciaio series of chairs and stools, a seat made from a sandwich of perforated aluminum and saddle leather is stretched between tapered rolls of chromosteel, a special steel alloy that’s only available through bicycle suppliers. The chairs debuted this year in Milan at the annual furniture fair and in New York with Sight Unseen’s Noho Design District. They’re now for sale at Matter in New York.
Lipsey, who has a bit of a bike obsession (he took a frame-building class a few years back and continues to fix bikes for his friends in Eindhoven), was originally inspired by this pink-and-white racing frame he had in his living room at the time. “Something about the bright colors and stark geometry worked really nicely in a slightly messy interior and eventually infected my design,” he says.
The colors he ended up using, though, were a bit more Achille, a bit less Barbie. “I keep a folder full of retro car, motorcycle, and bike colors, and they’re mostly from the ’60s and ’70s,” Lipsey says. “I don’t know why the colors they used then were so much stronger.”
A poster from the Milan show. Each color in the Acciaio series is based on a specific favorite classic bike of Lipsey’s and named after its builder: Mint green goes by the name of Edoardo, while a black frame is called Paulo & Italo.
The red frame is named Faliero, after one of the most legendary bicycle frame-builders in all of Italy. “In Milan, I got to visit his son Alberto Masi’s workshop (above), which is tucked into a corner of the now unused Vigorelli Velodrome,” says Lipsey. “Both Masi and his father are among the most respected bicycle frame-builders. During the show in Milan, Alberto came by the opening and saw my chairs. He said little other than ‘Complimenti’ but it’s maybe the most meaningful thing anyone has said about my work.”
What do you collect? “My favorite thing to collect, aside from bicycles, are antique tools. The more worn and obscure, the better. On the left is a pair of clippers someone brought me from a market in Russia; on the right is a wood carving–plane from 1700s, which came from an amazing antique tool shop in Amsterdam. Most of the stuff they carry is from the 1600s or 1700s, and each tool is so exquisite and beautiful — and much more specialized than anything we have today. I have six different kinds of hammers that I’ve never seen before. I like to try and figure out how they were used. They were expensive, so they were made with a lot of care, and they often have the initials of their maker stamped on them. It just speaks of a different world.”
Event that inspired you to be a designer: “My dad was an architect, which was something I admired. But the practical concerns of architecture overwhelmed me, how every detail has a drawing and is considered and has a plan. My parents definitely let me know, though, that design was something I could do. This is the house I grew up in, which my dad designed and built himself over five years. It’s a really funky, late ’70s mountain house but unique in every detail. I especially like the mix of the Western aesthetic with classic design pieces like the Wegner and Magistretti chairs. Very homey, yet still design-y.”
Favorite material to work with: Metal is so cool I find myself going back again and again. When I was a kid making things, metal was the one material I couldn’t really do anything with. When I was older and discovered welding, it was like being a kid all over again. It’s a total mindflip to realize you can play with this material that is so hard and durable.” (Above: Lipsey’s cast-aluminum coat hooks, part of his graduation project at Eindhoven)
Favorite everyday object: “A Brooks bike saddle. It really is a perfect object.”
Favorite design object: “Jean Prouvé's Cité armchair. It’s super elegant, but also a really nice chair to sit in. I love the way the leather straps emerge from the steel frame. It’s technically functional but still very elegant.”
Piece you wish you’d made: “I really admire Jonah Takagi’s F/K/A table lamp. The stand actually reminded me of the qualities I wanted to use in the Acciaio series: bright colors, open tubes, and I love the way they tubes are joined. I also like the unusual shape of the shade, and the dangling ball is such a friendly touch.”
Last great exhibition you saw: “Infernopolis, which was this Atelier van Lieshout exhibition on an old submarine dock in Rotterdam. It’s this raw industrial space from World War II, and then to see all of his work collected in one space, you really get a sense of his vision.”
Favorite shop: “Sadly, the now defunct hardware shop in Eindhoven, Ijzerhandel De Spijker, which translates literally to ‘Hardware, The Nail.’ It had floor-to-ceiling drawers of stuff, and even though it was tiny, somehow they managed to carry much more than the chain hardware shops. Now it’s gone, and there’s a cheesy bar there with the same name — The Nail. It kind of makes sense but it’s also kind of insulting. I imagine it’s how people in New York felt about the NYU Palladium dorm being built on top of the old nightclub.”
Favorite design ritual: “A very fortunate ritual that I try to repeat every year is breakfast in Milan.”
Place you go to be inspired: “Usually out into the woods, on a bicycle. But the captain of such rides would have to be this bike road I found in Bali. I still can’t believe it was real when I see the photo.”
What do you keep around your studio or home for inspiration? “Very, very random objects and half-models I can’t seem to throw away. In this photo, on the left, that copper wheel is an empty spool for welding wire. Below that is a stainless steel Ikea bowl I use to mix paint in. In the background is a drawing I made in school of floating teapots. There’s also an antique shaving brush, a piece of coral, a piece of blackened steel, a branch and a plaster cast of that same branch, and an Indonesian die. The fingers are tin casts of my own, and in the foreground is a sample from the Acciaio seating, which went through several iterations: I tried wood, fabric straps, mesh, solid aluminum, perforated aluminum, leather without aluminum. The leather and aluminum sandwich ended up being an effective way to control the material so it doesn’t stretch or deform.”
Design or art hero: “My design heroes change all the time, but the art ones are a bit more stable. A longtime favorite is Tom Friedman, for his wild creativity with materials and wry sense of absurdity.” (Above: Friedman's Untitled (1995) toothpicks)
What inspires your work in general? “Moments that make me feel something that my brain doesn’t know how to process. Like this display of buckets from a Mexican marketplace. I find it really beautiful but for no reason. It makes me smile and feel something, but I can’t explain it. I find that concept fascinating. I take a lot of pictures like this when I travel, but it’s usually after the fact, when I go through pictures, that I realize how inspiring some things actually were.”
Right now, Max Lipsey is: “Welding Acciaio chairs.”