Norwegian Product Designers Stokke Austad

We’ve been fans of the work of Jonas Ravlo Stokke and Øystein Austad for years, ever since we included their studio, Stokke Austad, in ID Magazine’s 40 Under 40 issue back in 2008. So in that sense it’s a bit strange to call them Up and Coming, especially since their current project list includes the interior design for a major new wing of Oslo’s airport — the pair have, by all measures, already arrived. That said, this week we’re spotlighting three of our favorite studios presenting new work at this year’s edition of 100% Norway at the London Design Festival — starting yesterday with Silje Nesdal and continuing tomorrow with Gunzler Polmar — and we’d be remiss if we didn’t include them in that list, especially since we were surprised to realize we’d never featured them properly on the site before. So today, get to know the prolific duo and their latest work, including the flip-top privacy desk they’re debuting in London this week.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.

At the moment we’re launching a secretary desk in London during the design festival, with 100% Norway. It’s a project we’ve developed without any client, purely as an internal research project. I say research because when we develop projects initiated by ourselves, we can explore themes and materials usually not available to us, as they might not have an immediate commercial yield. It’s extremely important to us to have the freedom to do projects where we follow our intuition as designers and work free of any briefs or project statements.

The secretary is a product that you don’t see as much anymore. We feel that the need for it is ever more relevant, as it provides a sheltered area where you can focus. Even though it’s a slightly old-fashioned product category, we’ve been uncompromising in making it a contemporary piece. In a sense we’ve taken the elements of traditional cabinet/furniture making and rearranged them. So all the elements are there — green furniture felt, brass hinges and arms, birch laminate and glossy hardwearing coating — but we’ve combined them in a way that feels relevant today, at least to us. We also added internal lighting with the intention that it turns on as you open the Secretary to start working. We liked this idea of the closed nondescript box which contains a rich and tactile world inside it.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.

I would like to mention two projects which are on opposite ends of the design scale. One is a wooden bowl for a North American brand, and the other is a seating project for the new extension pier at Oslo airport.

The airport authorities in Oslo are ambitious people and want to compete with Copenhagen and Stockholm as the gateway to Scandinavia. To do this, they understand that you need to offer the travelers more than duty free alcohol and cigarettes. So they decided to take the traveler’s experience more seriously and set aside large spaces and a real budget with the intention of improving that experience. We were asked to create custom seating/waiting objects (model pictured above) that communicate the values of Scandinavia and Norway. Building a new pier to a fully operational international airport is an extremely complicated undertaking, and for us it’s been thrilling to be part of it. Apart form being a project which contains almost poetic qualities, such as closeness to nature, direct and haptic materials, and so on, it’s also a hardcore industrial-design challenge. This project needs to fit smoothly into the ongoing building of the pier, and so it has an interface towards anything from security to maintenance in close dialogue with Nordic, the architects. It will be finished in the spring of 2017.

The wooden bowl we’re working on is on the other end of the spectrum, as mentioned, where the idea came from a small sketch and a dialogue around material use. We made a model by hand, completely free and only on intuition, which we were very happy about. So much of the work after that has been translating the physical three-dimensional sketch into a computer model with technical drawings, and a manufacturing strategy. This is, of course, done closely with the manufacturer, and we hope it will be done by early next year.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.

We went to Chicago for the first time this summer, for the Neocon fair. It was a truly amazing experience. Getting out of the office and seeing different parts of the world is truly important input to our work. We also got to stay in a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper, which has always been a dream. The bill from the Langham where we stayed was eye-wateringly high, but we felt it was well worth it.

It was also very interesting to meet all the American brands on their home turf. There truly is a difference from the European scene, and a lot of it is connected to a sort of American optimism. It seems freer in a sense, office chairs in bright colors and proof of concepts taken all the way to finished products and services. We are really intrigued by the contract market (pictured above: the duo’s recent acoustic panels for Gudbrandsdalen Uldvarefabrikk). We’re working on a new office chair for a Scandinavian brand ourselves, and the amount of R&D that goes into the development of concepts for the contract market is invigorating. There are so many questions about how we will work in the future, and how technology will be part of that, how we will relate to the place we work, and nobody knows how these things will play out. It’s very interesting to see how heavy-weight brands like Knoll, Steelcase, or Herman Miller are tackling these issues — all in their different ways.
Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.

We love our studio. We’ve worked in many different places, from a gallery to a converted stable to a storefront, and the place where we’ve finally landed is PERFECT! We have lots of space, tall ceilings, and huge windows. The space is hugely important, because it means we can build prototypes and mockups in 1:1, and we can tape things on the walls and test heights and functions. The place also has a rough concrete floor that we painted so if we misfire the gluegun or drop a piece of steel, it really doesn’t matter. We also have a kitchen so we cook lunch every day and eat together around a common table. In addition to Øystein and Jonas, our team includes Nina Havermans from Holland and Angel Valiente from Spain, and our intern Antoine Lechary from France, so food-wise it’s interesting to see how people cook, not just design. We have a small workshop and storage, and last week we even got a sign, so we have everything we need!