Chris Duffy of Duffy London is an exception in the world of furniture design these days where commercialism reigns and individuality is rare. His playful designs garner optical illusion, re-imagining everyday furniture pieces as playful interpretations which are created through significant study, conceptual exploration and then creation in exemplary materials. These are collectors’ pieces, of gallery standard and finite in number.
In recent years, the introduction of the Abyss Table (2012) has launched the works of designer Chris Duffy into the consciousness of some of the world’s greatest interior decorators and collectors. We spoke to Duffy as he prepares to launch his latest design, the Kraken Abyss Table.
Chris, your designs have gathered a cult-like following. Can you tell us where the idea for the new Kraken Abyss Table came from?
The Kraken Abyss Tables are a variation on both the original Abyss Table, and the Atlantis table. We wanted to make something huge that could not be overlooked, that would grab your attention. We scaled up the Abyss Table to a huge size and then added a sister table, carrying the ocean floor pattern from one table and into the other. Both of the pieces complement each other. I envisioned that this piece would take centre stage in a huge home, a hotel or a company foyer where it would still make its presence felt, even if the space it was situated in was also huge.
The Kraken combines just two materials, sustainable wood and glass. How important are natural materials to you? Are they more challenging than working with manmade materials?
For me, the concept and the idea come first. After this, I select the materials and manufacturing processes that will best bring
this concept to life. It’s not whether the materials are natural or manmade that’s important – it’s that they’re right for the job, of the very best quality and that they arise from responsible sources. With the Kraken, we used mostly manmade materials, but which came from sustainable sources and were of the highest quality in their field. What I like most about the particular materials I have used in the Kraken is that on their own they are just very simple and everyday materials but when injected with our concept and design, I feel they become far more than the sum of their parts. This piece is the definition of alchemy.
You have limited this table to just 25 editions. Why is this?
We want to keep our pieces rare and exclusive of course, but it’s mainly for practical and personal reasons too. I want to run a design studio and not a factory pumping out the same products day in and day out. My favorite products are always the ones we are developing, so this is a way to make space for new designs, ideas and concepts to see the light of day.
You have a small team working with you in East London that helps to execute your designs. Where do your co-workers come from?
All over the world. At the moment in the studio, my team is made up of people from India, Italy, France and, of course, the UK. We all have a similar vision and an excitement that is generated through experimentation, the concept and ultimately the pieces that we make.
What trends are you seeing currently in design?
I really never look at trends. That’s not the kind of design that interests me or that I want to be a part of. Having said that it’s hard to know how much of an influence trends have on me – maybe it’s far greater than I think! I’m really just interested in ideas, seeing something a little differently and expanding that to a conclusive end.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing designers today?
Originality. So many people designing so many different things over so many years leaves little space for originality. Having the ability to produce game-changing designs grows increasingly harder. However, there will always be gaps somewhere. It’s a question of asking original questions, so you can find an original answer, which is a much larger challenge than it may sound. So much is changing in the world of design and for many the only way to support their original business is to sell some of their designs on.
Would you ever be drawn into the world of commercially made furniture?
I know nothing of this. No one has ever asked to purchase any of my designs. If I was approached and I felt the integrity of the design and quality of the finished pieces were going to be maintained to a high standard, then I might consider this. The benefit is that it would leave me with greater freedom, time and funds to develop my up-and-coming designs.
Whose designs do you have in your own home?
My flat is tiny as it’s located in the centre of London and right next to the river. There is simply no room for any designer pieces from anyone; it’s just full of battered prototypes and hand-me-down furniture. I have amassed a great art collection though and I do believe that I have a good knowledge of what makes good art. I like to think I have an eye for it and like to buy pieces from student artists before they emerge into the art world. I have accumulated some pieces from acclaimed artists in my collection over the years.
Is there anyone that you would like to collaborate with?
My dream would be to work with Elon Musk on a project or two. I have many designs locked away in sketchbooks that would be right up his street and he would be welcome to them if he could help me to bring them to life. In the right way and in the right hands there could be some spectacular work produced.
What inspires your work in your daily life?
Anything and everything. If I see something or see a new technology, for example, it goes in the sketchbooks and when the time is right it gets developed. There are now many hundreds of new designs awaiting their day in the sun.
If the Mayor of London commissioned you to produce a heritage piece for the city, what would you design?
I have no idea. Would I play it safe and take one of my proven pieces and expand on it for the scale of its situation, or be brave and launch a new concept? Give me a few months to mull it over and I’ll get back to you!
Duffy London; duffylondon.com