Material Lust is vehemently anti-trend. At just over two years old, the New York interior and product design studio is in it for the long haul, producing small batches of handmade furniture in the workshops of traditional European artisans.
“We’re old souls,” says Christian Swafford, who co-founded the studio with Lauren Larson in 2013. Striving for a timeless aesthetic, the two adhere to a palette of natural, high-endurance materials — carved woods, solid brass, and glass among them, with no synthetics or surface-plating to be found. They draw inspiration from anthropological and art historical origins, from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to the artwork of Louise Bourgeois. The consequent body of work exudes both a sense of drama and familiarity.
1stdibs spoke to these self-described “artists masquerading as designers” about their unique sensibilities, their recent collaboration with Paul Kasmin and what the future of their studio holds.
Currently, there’s a new generation of designers in New York who have adopted an all-in-one, designer-manufacturer business model, yet the two of you still opt to travel to Italy to have your work made.
Christian Swafford The studios we work with have been doing the same thing for 200 years. They don’t email. They don’t invoice. But the quality of work is unparalleled. Working with great artisans means we can do pretty much anything. In the end, we want our stuff to be heirloom-quality and passed-along; we stay with classic materials. When it comes to things like the latest mixed resin or foam, we don’t really do that stuff. If you make something trendy, it’s going to end up in a landfill, especially if it’s not well made.
There’s also stylistic purity also comes across in your work: monochrome, very sharp, very straightforward.
CS We’re OCD. That’s what comes from really wanting to make sure the craftsmanship is there. The simpler a piece is, the harder it is to perfect. If it’s slightly off, you can tell.
Where do the two of you look for inspiration?
CS It’s also really art-based. We spend a lot of time looking at paintings and drawings. When we started our company two-and-a-half years ago, we were consulting for interior designers who didn’t have in-house product design teams. We spent a lot of time referencing vintage furniture and making them new or creating a new take on them. We didn’t want that for our own line. We wanted to do something unique.
Tell us about working on your first children’s collection, entitled Fictional Furniture.
LL The point was to instill a sense of respect for the things in a child’s room as pieces of art and design. We went back to the idea of the kids’ bedroom being as important as your own bedroom; you shouldn’t want to hide their furniture. They can be playful and fun and sculptural at the same time. There’s also an element of interaction. With the Crawl Chair, you can sit all over in different directions and it starts to come alive. The Amalgam Stand and Shelf are based on Dali’s Exquisite Corpse game, and you can move the parts around as you like.
What are a few of your more recent projects?
LL In the fall, we did the interiors of the Paul Kasmin bookshop in New York. We wanted to highlight the publications in a way that was subtle, yet had enough of a sculptural element to draw you in. There is a horizon line, or step, that we created that wraps all four walls to extenuate the “eye-level” idea you have in a gallery setting. Because the space was smaller we wanted to create the illusion of the box being carved out or away, playing with positive and negative spaces.
CS We’re going to start putting more vintage pieces on 1stdibs. We go to Europe all the time to buy things, and we want to show how that mixes in with new stuff. We’re also getting more into upholstery, porcelain, and wood-carving. Less hard metals and more soft materials is where our surrealism seems to be going.
Interview by Janelle Zara. To view more of Material Lust’s designs, check out their 1stdibs storefront.