Writer: Amy Guttman
What does a young, aspiring graduate of Central St. Martins do to stand out in a city full of up and coming designers? Simple…partner with friends to create giant inflatable objects. 1994, London, the height of Britpop, and Michael Sodeau, like so many others, was desperate to gain the attention of the design community. And he did.
“It wasn’t our intention to stand out; that’s how it looks, but it was really just the practicality of mass producing items that were affordable because we had access to a high frequency welding machine for PVC.”
Items were custom-made and captured a moment in popular British culture when designers became superstars, and creative type wanted to be one. Launched at 100% Design, just off the Kings Road, the international community instantly took notice.
After three years with Inflate, Michael set up his own design studio with Lucy Giuliani with the sole purpose of not producing anything.
“I saw a lot of designers fall into the trap of having to be manufacturers as well as designers.”
Instead, Michael focussed on his Comfortable Living line, which established a new design language – one of soft, simple forms. Gone was the traditional, replaced by the natural. Designing leather chairs, rattan lighting, ceramics, and rugs, Michael’s debut line marked the departure from the Asian influence to a more Scandinavian approach. All 19 pieces became commercial hits worldwide at a time when everything else was pop culture, heavily dosed with colour and a retro feel. Michael’s clean; almost no-colour approach was embraced. It gave way to the white approach, keeping the relationship between design and the material honest, and without gimmicks.
That connection has only continued for Michael, with new projects like a range of domestic exterior products for a Portuguese resort working with a local stone quarry, integrating cork and native timbers.
At the same time, Michael’s work has also moved beyond products and furniture, to include interiors. His work creating the restaurant for London’s legendary Roundhouse music venue involved designing everything – including the kitchen sink. And, for other venues, he’s brought in a network of people to provide brand creation and identity, websites, literature, menu design and placemats. I ask about the difference between designing products versus interiors.
“Interiors tend to be extremely stressful and take a lot of energy. I wake up in the middle of the night and think of things, solutions, or different ways of doing thing. It takes up a lot of energy, whereas products, a vase, or a coat rack, are much easier. Commercially, an interior can provide a nice lump sum, but a great product can pay off nicely over time. They’re different, but intrinsically, I view them in the same way. It’s all about the challenge.”
Another of Michael’s challenges is his role as Art Director for Design Junction. With the popularity of design, and advent of more consumer shows, also comes the need to stand out, this time without the use of inflatable PVC.
“We’ve we’ve tried to bring design in that’s for trade and public; make it engaging. I want a place that people can come to and stay all day.”
Design Junction instantly outgrew its first location in Holborn, and is now spread over three floors with 4,000 square metres. Each floor with a different feeling some fragmented into several themes. There’s food and drink with an old and new view in the form of a classic Italian ice cream parlour run by Gelupo. And Michael hints at two new ice cream flavours being developed just for the show. I’m sworn to secrecy, but let’s just say it’s in keeping with his “natural” approach.
A Danish bar speaks to the modern, while an outpost of Canteen provides a nostalgic take on the old fashioned eateries of yesteryear.
Hives of activity will occupy each floor, with space dedicated to, trade, exhibition, a cinema, seminars and retail in the form of flash factory vending machines and pop-up shops.
“We’re offering something different, and more than a standard format trade show. It means we can look at things that crossover into art and fashion blurring the lines, specifically from a retail perspective.”
Having designed everything from home wares to stationary, to restaurants, to exhibit space for other designers, I’m curious to know about Michael’s dream project.
“Transport design. When you start out, you design what you need; things you want to want to improve, like lighting, airports and airplanes. I travel quite a bit and I find it quite stressful. I would see that as a challenge.”
And with any luck for the rest of us, he’ll get his wish. I can already envision the calming effect of stone and earth coloured reclining loungers at Terminal 3.