Frederik Fialin on His New Tubular Metal Collection: “We All Like to be Comfortable, But Other Things Are Often More Important to Me”
Danish designer Frederik Fialin understands the idea that you have to know the rules before you can break them. He’s certain something is working not only when it’s functional and beautiful, but when it makes him laugh. It’s a way of taking the work seriously, without taking yourself too seriously, and it may have something to do with how Fialin got started. After high school, Fialin says he “drifted around aimlessly for a considerable amount of time, living in Copenhagen, and dropped out of university twice” before deciding to try something completely new to him when his sister suggested he take a course in cabinetmaking. Fialin finished it “with great joy” and a four-year apprenticeship followed, challenging in its rigor. “The cabinetmaker’s education in Denmark is considered the classic way of entering the world of woodworking with many traditions and rules that have to be followed,” he says. “I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time, but now I see why everything has to be done in a certain way. I consider this, now, to be possibly the greatest foundation of my professional life that I could ever have asked for — especially because I can use, remix, and warp this never-ending chase for perfection that dominates the environment. There’s reason in the madness.”
For Fialin, it’s proved to be the base from which he can experiment and create. “I now believe that traditions and a sense of strictness are to be experienced and lived before one can deviate… and I have, in fact, deviated completely from ‘how it’s supposed to be done,’ which I’m very happy to be able to do.” Fialin’s second furniture collection, Assembly 0.1, was released this past October, and it’s an exemplary combination of precision and playfulness. The simplicity and sleekness of geometric forms meet generous proportions and unexpected details. Take the Monteverdi Daybed — stainless steel and velvet or linen upholstery — whose long and low form echoes a race car. Or the Flagpole Lamp, which is composed of the barest essentials yet still has a distinct personality of its own.
We recently reached Fialin, who currently splits his time between Copenhagen and Berlin, via email, to get more insight into his work and process.
Your style tends to be stripped down and minimal, but you still have these very playful moments and there’s such an energetic spirit to the work, like the Slope Chair, inspired by a halfpipe ramp. I’m curious about what influences that? How do you know or gauge how playful or fun to make something while still maintaining its integrity and its elegance?
I tend to be satisfied once the piece I’m working on somehow makes me laugh and wonder why it seems so strange. I want it to be disproportionate or somehow unexpected in its shape but with a very clear and simple structure. For me, there is great beauty in simplicity and honesty, and I try to apply these values to my furniture. I usually make only slight adjustments to the initial idea and this is normally mainly to accommodate some sort of functionality and solve technical challenges that’ll make it work as intended. I like extremes and using the entire spectrum of available sizes if I can. Why use a 50 mm pipe when you can go 270mm? It is totally unnecessary, but it’s decorative and adds a funny factor, as well.
You often work with simple geometric shapes that fit together in interesting ways, like the Half Stool, which can be a single piece or combined in a kind of undulating bench form. Did you initially conceive of it as an individual piece or as a multiple? And what appeals to you about those geometric shapes?
In all honesty, this was coincidental, but because of how much I enjoy how it looks, I’ve decided to start working on a 3-seater version of the Half Stool but rolled out of one single piece of steel.
I like the framework that using mainly common geometric shapes gives me. For me, it’s about combining these well-known shapes and placing them in unusual ways, adding or decreasing thickness, changing the diameter, or something else entirely that can turn a simple circle or cylinder into something fantastic, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly, a functional piece of furniture.
I wanted to ask about your use of color (like the yellow polyethylene top to the Elephant Tripod Table) and upholstery. It seems like a way of adding softness and comfort. Is that something you’re increasingly drawn to?
I think it’s just a natural progression, as so far I’ve somehow ignored comfort altogether. Maybe because it’s difficult, maybe because I don’t care. I guess we all like to be comfortable, but other things are often more important to me.
I’ve also been terrified of ending up in this metal-only category which many young, emerging designers have, so it could also be that I’ve had a nagging feeling that perhaps I should do something to soften up my work a bit and an obvious way to do this is with color and upholstery.
How do you tend to approach color in your work?
Color, texture, and materials all work together to form one impression so color cannot be understood in a vacuum; context is everything, whether this be the space or the materials and colors in the piece itself.
You often work with either metal (aluminum, stainless steel) or wood (plywood, MDF). Do you see these materials in contrast to each other: metal as cold, wood as warm? In terms of process, does the design come first and then the material? Or is the other way around — you know you want to work with a specific material?
My work is very material-based and it comes first 95 percent of the time. The material decides what can be done and I consider it and plan based on it. I’ve had a feeling that this could be a limiting factor to my development, but so far it has been a good starting point for every single piece I’ve made. I have had a feeling that I want to return to woodworking and focus on that for a while mainly because of the material itself. It’s fantastic how much you can do with so little and I find working with it much easier and straightforward than metal. On the other hand, metal can be joined in ways that wood could never [be], so in that sense, metal might be more attractive. Metal and wood are definitely in contrast to each other, but still, many of the principles I was taught can be applied in metalwork with only slight adjustments.
In the end, I guess the material will ultimately decide for me, along with whatever project I am working on.
What’s been inspiring you lately?
A book I bought about Carlo Scarpa, one of my heroes.
Are you working on anything new that you’d like to share?
Currently, I am thinking, evaluating, and planning for my upcoming show during Salone 2024 in Milan, which I am very much looking forward to. It hasn’t been made public yet, so I can’t share the location, but it’s going to be an intimate and hopefully beautiful show alongside a very talented ceramic designer.