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Philippe Malouin’s Most Famous Designs Usually Evolve From an Accident in the Studio

Considering the technical rigor involved in making the majority of Philippe Malouin‘s designs, most of them start life in a deceptively simple fashion. “Sometimes we choose an archetype that we want to modernize or minimize, but more often than not, we’ll be working on something else, an accident will happen, and we’ll go from there,” the London-based designer told me over the phone earlier this month. For example, Malouin’s Press Mirror for Umbra evolved by accident one day when he was squeezing a tube in a vise in order to make a shelf bracket; likewise his studio’s Lines rug for CC-Tapis, which looks like wobbly sketched lines in crayon, was inspired by the designer’s own admittedly limited drawing skills. But his latest product, a modular armchair and sofa system for the Swiss furniture manufacturer De Sede, had perhaps the most dead simple process yet: “When you’re making shapes, especially if it’s upholstery, it makes sense to work with foam because you can generate shapes that a computer can’t,” Malouin says. “For this, it was really dumb. We took an A6 foam sheet, folded it in half, and folded it in half again. That’s it. That’s the sofa.”

Something simple to model, however, isn’t necessarily simple to make, and Malouin flew back and forth to the factory outside Zurich for two years figuring out the details: the ergonomics, the lumbar support, the system by which the modules attach, the exact thickness of leather (at 6 mm, Malouin calls it practically bulletproof). “The cool thing about De Sede is that an armchair will last 50 years; it’s not throwaway-ism.”

Malouin spent a lot of time in lockdown thinking about just that idea – how to extend the life of his products. With Matter, he worked with founder Jamie Gray on a lithium-ion–based rechargeable version of his popular Arca light, which was released this month; and for SCP, he designed a new puffy chair that comes with a jacket that is both reversible — so you can have linen in summer and wool in the winter— and removable, so that it can be dry-cleaned. The SCP chair in particular evolved from another simple reference point, Malouin laughs: “I don’t want to sound romantic about it, but during that first lockdown, it was cold and lonely in London so the puffiness probably came from spending the day in my duvet.”

Philippe Malouin_De Sede Philippe Malouin_De Sede2 Puffer armchair by Philippe Malouin-3-4 MATTER.MADE