Combining Design Traditions


Danish-Italian architect and design duo Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi have built their reputation by combining their two cultures into a minimalist aesthetic. Best known for the often-replicated Beetle chair the duo made for design house Gubi and the Balance hanging mobile created for modern home furnishings maker Cappellini, the influential duo are also active designing inventive cafes and restaurants. In Manila, the Harlan & Holden cafe gets its inspiration from a greenhouse to create a sense of calm, as the cafe is situated in the midst of a busy commercial area. Verandah in Copenhagen also plays on the theme of outdoors versus indoors; it uses outdoor furniture and houses verdant trees with fragrant flowers. A hotel is in their future, though details, even its location, remain under wraps.

GamFratesi’s latest project is a collaboration blending three distinct visions into a singular visual and sensory experience. The Copenhagen-based duo created a set of high-end scented home and car diffusers for Italian home fragrance maker Acqua di Parma and Italian leather furniture company Poltrona Frau. The airbound collection features fine leather spheres that straddle an electric diffuser, which infuses its surrounding with heady aromas.

We spoke to the couple about how they combine their design traditions, how Italian and Scandinavian design differ and complement each other, and more.

This diffuser collection draws on both of your heritages, as well as that of two luxury brands. How did you combine it all?

STINE GAM: We have to find the music that sets the harmony between the two brands and ourselves. Which is how we usually work; we are accustomed to working between cultures, between ourselves, and between personalities. That’s the interesting part, finding what’s important in the DNA of all three partners.

What do you find your two cultures have in common and what sets them apart, in terms of design?

GAM: We both come from very strong traditions in design. Italy is driven more by conceptual thinking, almost like a manifesto, and the Scandinavian approach is much more like a process—they go step by step. More comes from the craft.

ENRICO FRATESI: It’s natural for us to translate both our cultures into our work. When we start a project we want to come to it with a concept or idea, which is probably the Italian part. But then of course, our way of working is very symbiotic, because we are a couple in life and in work. That also makes it difficult to find where one started and the other finished. It’s a fluid process that becomes a mix of cultures in a very honest and natural way.

Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi, combine their cultures into a minimalist style, as seen in the Balance hanging mobile,

Photo Credit: GamFratesi

What are some examples?

FRATESI: The Beetle chair we did for Gubi, which has been very popular. We had to look for something to start the chair, because we didn’t want to start from a blank page. So we used an actual beetle for inspiration, because it was fascinating and because it was cute. I think this is why some of our projects are successful—because they’re iconic and they have a story.

The beetle is still recognizable, even if there are only a few lines. That has always been the challenge; few elements, but making sure it’s still recognizable.

GAM: We took a lot of meaning from the beetle itself. Beetles have their protective shells, and inside they’re soft and fertile. We worked with upholstery to create the feeling of being embraced, while also recognizing its fragility.

How did the Balance mobile you created for Cappellini come about?

GAM: That was for our first noncommercial exhibition. We were asked to express our philosophy at an exhibition in Milan. We thought about what we wanted to express, what pieces we wanted to show, and we ended up making this mobile. At that moment we were searching for balance in life, in process, and in work. Doing this mobile became very metaphoric for us, because it was all about how everything is interconnected; change one thing, and it falls out of balance. That became a metaphor for everyday life, that one telephone call can make your day or ruin it.

FRATESI: Instead of the classic mobile made out of wood, we used a fun absorbing material made with pressed foam that’s then covered with Kvadrat textiles. It makes a functional room divider with a contemporary twist.

For us it’s important to look to the past and then try to translate it; we believe as people and behavior change through time, it’s reflected in the design.

Can you share anything about this secret hotel project?

FRATESI: All we can say is that it’s the first large-scale project we’ve ever done. It’s kind of like a 360, where we design something we already have in mind—the hotel—and then we make projects to be inserted back into the project. It’s really nice that it’s not only related to furniture, but more to the full environment.

The duo was inspired by an insect for the popular—and often-replicated—Beetle chair

Photo Credit: GamFratesi

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