Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien in their studio, a loft-like space in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood. The couple met in the ’90s as students at the RCA, where they remember being outspokenly critical about one another’s work; more than ten years after founding their own studio in 2000, they still approach design in markedly different ways, and yet the dialogue they’ve since developed is now a crucial part of their process. They balance each other out. (Though, as Doshi admits, “in a way you’re more brutal with each other because of the personal relationship. Communication can sometimes be harder because you’re not making allowances for the other person’s feelings.”)

Doshi Levien, Product and Furniture Designers

If you’d expect anyone to spend their days working amidst a snowdrift’s worth of process and ephemera, it’s London designers Doshi Levien. What you see piled atop the shelves and pinned to the walls of the couple’s Shoreditch studio, after all, is the product of two very different yet equally prolific minds working through their own approaches to the same tasks — Nipa Doshi being the Bombay-born lover of handicraft who collages, paints, and draws her way towards ideas from the ground up, and her Scottish husband Jonathan Levien, who spent his childhood in his parents’ toy factory and developed the more exacting methods of an industrial designer, prototyping proclivities and all. While both enjoy surrounding themselves with collected objects like Italian ice cream cups and Chinese pencil boxes, it’s impossible to understate the importance of the couple’s divergent interests to their work’s unique point of view; the designs that made them famous, after all, were daybeds and sofas for Moroso that combined industrially produced furnishings with hand-embroidery and textiles sourced from Indian artisans. It would be a cliché way of characterizing the pair if it weren’t so overwhelmingly true, even by their own admission: “After ten years of working together, I see it as an essential ingredient in what we do, almost a layer in the approach without which it would feel naked,” says Levien.

The day this past March that Sight Unseen visited the duo’s surprisingly sunlit studio, Doshi was poring over some colorful exploratory sketches for a forthcoming Camper store themed around boardwalks and the proverbial endless summer, while Levien stood over her shoulder offering suggestions for how to refine the focus and execution. Besides those rare times when one of them designs something the other thinks is perfect enough to leave be, they almost always collaborate on projects, to varying degrees. “What happens is that an idea will start from someone, but it’s not until the other person comes on board that it really becomes whole,” says Levien. “There are some projects where it’s easy to see who’s having a stronger influence — Principessa for Moroso was more of a Nipa project, whereas the Kali range is more into my territory — but there’s still always a balance.” By Kali he means the line of covetable plastic bathroom accessories put into production earlier this year with the German housewares company Authentics, and by balance he refers to those subtle moments when he and Doshi’s perspectives suddenly and crucially synch up. “I think it’s really important that even objects like these have that sense that you want them,” Doshi says of the line’s soap dishes and toothbrush holders, comparing their appeal to that of jewelry. “It’s really about creating objects and not products,” Levien chimes in.

There are a few other objectives on which the pair agrees, even as their interests are still, even now, diverging (Levien has his mind set on doing more industrial production pieces, while Doshi is yearning to dip back into experimental work like the pair’s Wellcome Trust window installation from 2004). They’ve been thinking about putting together a book, and even more ambitious, opening a curated retail store. They’d use it as a space to expand their design activities, offering not only their existing products and editions, some of which can’t be found elsewhere, but also pieces they haven’t been able to justify making without such an outlet — new textile collaborations with Indian craftspeople, for example, that would be too expensive to produce and difficult to sell with a middleman involved. “It will inspire us to create a lot more work,” says Doshi. “It’s not just about selling things, though, but about linking those things to cultural insights, and being able to present our idea of how the world should be.” To learn more about their vision in the meantime, check out our peek into Doshi Levien’s studio at right.

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