Some conversations linger in space and time well after physically exiting. For friends, Alexander May of SIZED and Patrizio Gola and Guglielmo Giagnotti of studioutte, one particular exchange persisted—an affinity for profound simplicity. Since May’s move to Los Angeles from Milan, designers Gola and Giagnotti formed the architecture, interior, and collectible design practice, studioutte. The studio concentrates on the rich complexity of simple design, which led May to focus on one particular object, ert, to create a new dialogue in collaboration. ert is a wooden chair composed of strict boards and a square seat that nods to the graphic simplicity of the De Stijl. Its solid, straightforward composition became a canvas for an entirely different iteration.
For COLLABORATORS FOCUS, the studios produced the special edition “001 ert x SIZED” chair to reflect an abstract narrative of travel and exchange. In the spirit of Dutch Neoplasticism, they imagined the chair moving from Holland to Macao, where it was lacquered in a cerlacca (deep red sealing wax) hue. The warm earth tone in high gloss creates intensity and, at the same time, nuance to strike a precise balance. In this edition, the chair moves beyond the construct of furniture and an object. It is the culmination of dialogue as it travels, shifts, and picks up new energy from each move, and ultimately, the exchange of three friends between Los Angeles and Milan.
– As told to/by Ahnna Lee
AL: What first drew you to each other?
PG: Yes, it’s a result of a solid friendship, and I would say, mutual professional respect built over the years. Alex and I met in Milan through a New Yorker friend Michael Bargo. At that time, Alex was just back in Milan from the US, and he started his project Converso. We all miss a space like this in Milan. You did an amazing project here.
AM: When I first came to Milan, I was gauging for kindred spirits with people who understood and shared my interests and aesthetics. Patrizio was one of the initial individuals I met that I was like, oh, you get it. It was nice to explore the different typologies in the Milan design scene and talk freely. I’ve always respected his opinion when it came to design.
AL: What can we expect from the SIZED COLLABORATORS FOCUS? What are the ideas behind these collaborations?
AM: It started with the experience of collaborating with incredible designers, artists, and galleries for our exhibitions. It’s rewarding, but many conversations began when the exhibitions were on in this short term. I’ve been interested in continuing some of these conversations outside of the larger SIZED event and experience. COLLABORATORS FOCUS allows SIZED and our audience to get to know the people in our orbit in a more in-depth way, the people I am looking at that I want to shed light on or have a conversation with. It’s going to be a variety of unique programming like a virtual studio visit and conversation to a specific chair like we are doing with studioutte that’s a one-off specific edition, or it might be an open edition with a designer where we’re doing a specific run of a unique object for next year. It could also potentially be working collaboratively to build an exhibition around a solo artist or emerging designer. It will be varied, but it’s meant to focus primarily on one studio, whether an individual or a collective. It focuses on a designer or artist.
AL: And studioutte is among the first collaborations for SIZED COLLABORATORS FOCUS?
AM: Yes, one of the first. We started with Vanessa Beecroft when I opened up her studio in Los Angeles this past summer. That was around our first conversation when we began SIZED. I wanted to explore that with her and give a unique opportunity to her audience. From that experience and seeing what Patrizio has been doing with their studio, I got excited about the projects and the chair's design. I’m always interested in how an individual studio can understand, reference, and get excited about collaborations while maintaining its brand and ethos. This collaboration made so much sense because of our conversation about the chair. The chair is very much the chair.
AL: How would you describe studioutte as a practice?
GG: Let’s say for us, a clear way of expressing drawings corresponds with building objects, furniture, or architecture. And that’s the main goal of the office. It’s a kind of purity and simplicity led by a vernacular inspiration or an archetype of inspiration. That’s how we think about drawing and building out interiors or architecture. The role of objects in a box, room, or space is extremely important. For instance, the chair that we drew for a project in Munich is completely a part of the full experience of the room itself. We have a kind of animistic devotion to objects.
PG: As Gugliemo said, our goal is to reach a certain essence and purity. No matter the case study, interiors, or object, we try to concentrate on a primitive essence.
GG: I would say it’s more than a minimalistic approach. It is about simplicity. It’s about the complexity of making a simple object, architecture, or interiors because it’s always about balance, not about noise.
AL: How did you come together on this collaboration?
PG: We have always admired Alexander’s work as an artist and a creative director. He can create a certain vision with an impeccable visual identity. This is Alex. You can recognize his signature. So, we have always had a certain affinity for his aesthetic. We share something between what SIZED is proposing and what we are building as a studio.
AL: Why was the studioutte ert chair model chosen?
AM: I think simplicity is something a few people know or understand, which is why I think I am so drawn to your work. There is an incredible amount of complexity in a simple design. That’s something I gravitate towards. The ert chair made the most sense as an object and branded element that could traverse into a unique edition. It would allow the SIZED community and clients to access a set of pieces that will never be made again. For me, learning about the contemporary craftsmanship of Italy has always been remarkable, especially in terms of quality. Nine years ago, I asked a painter to do some panels for a painting. I wanted them to be painted in high gloss. And it was the best enameled finish I could have dreamt of. To me, this is next level. I could see myself reflected on this beautiful mirrored surface. I thought, if there’s anywhere I want to do gloss, it’s going to be in Italy, and of course, to apply that to an incredibly simple design makes sense.
AL: What’s the story behind the creation and materials chosen for this special edition 001 ert x SIZED chair?
PG: We wanted to give the ert chair a new look and create a sort of mutation. Since we link the original design to Dutch [De Stijl] Neoplasticism, we imagine the chair traveling from Holland to Macao. And there, to be more connected to its culture, it’s lacquered in a glossy ceralacca [red sealing wax] color. And as this is a collaboration between two worlds, Italy and America, we wanted to give this idea of mutation due to travel—a contamination of cultures. It’s also very distant from the initial design made of solid wood. The chair is a tribute to simplicity. It’s a combination of seven planks cut and joined together with a curved backrest.
GG: In a sense, it’s correct that there are some influences from Dutch [De Stijl] Neoplasticism. Still, it’s also about a certain forgotten mid-20th-century design in Italy linked to Giuseppe Pagano and some fascist-style furniture that was dry yet extremely balanced in proportions and selection of materials. The Italian roots and research behind this chair are important.
AL: What was the collaboration process like?
PG: It was an open conversation, and we thought we needed a completely new look different from the initial concept, which was to express the grain of the wood. We kept the same purity of the drawing but changed the look and feel of the piece. It’s almost an abstract work of art, something more than furniture.
AL: Why was this specific color chosen?
AM: We spoke about the Opium bottle by YSL and how that references terra cotta or earthbound materials and the warmth. Something about this color has a neutral value while having incredible depth. I think it’s rare to hit it right. I don’t project color, but something about this makes sense. It pushes the line between being in your face and being incredibly subtle. It’s almost neutral. This color has a solid reference to early ’90s energy.
AL: How many editions will be created for this new chair?
PG: All twenty-four pieces will be made-to-order following our prototype.
AL: What can we anticipate for the chair’s launch?
AM: We’ll be premiering the chair at INDUSTRIALISM, the next show for SIZED in May in New York. The show is focused loosely and specifically on an investigation of materials and industrialism. It’s about how industrial design affects our daily lives, how it enters things that we use, experience, look at, or touch, and how it influences design. We’re trying to create an atmosphere where we can explore emerging talent while also hitting different levels where people explore materiality every day.
AL: Where do you see this chair now versus in a hundred years? Is it functioning similarly, or will it have a new role?
PG: We see the chair as a timeless design, not changing much in how it is seen in hundred years.
GG: It would be funny for it to be difficult to date the chair in one hundred years. Our goal is met if we cannot tell when the chair was produced.