Renew or Die
Fair play. Viccarbe summarises its production model —quality and honesty— with this sporting concept, and it is good that two words suffice, because that way there is more space to focus on what really matters in design: subtlety, respect and perfection.
These Valencians specialise in making products for staying still and comfortable (chairs, armchairs, sofas), something more difficult than it seems at first glance because human beings are restless by nature. This is how they concluded that big problems require big solutions. This shows up in the company’s background: Patricia Urquiola, Piero Lissoni, Jean-Marie Massaud, Naoto Fukasawa, Jorge Pensi, Luis Vidal… all with traits in common: a sense of humour, tidiness, the playful but never extravagant use of colour, the poetic and the delicate.
We spoke with Marta Piñol and Rubén Mateos (exports and communication), who represent two generations of the Viccarbe team.
Do you believe that the design business was somehow more naïve decades ago?
Marta: I think that access to the Internet has brought many people that did not know the design world before closer to it. I am lucky that I grew up in a house where we had Thonet and Knoll Tulip chairs, while my friends’ homes still had boiseries. Of course, they would say that my parents were super-modern. This doesn’t happen today, when most people have seen —whether online, in a magazine or in a shop— a Castiglioni Arco lamp, for example.
Rubén: I feel like design is more internalised in the social imagination. We no longer have this insecurity to create something from scratch. Everything is more commercialised. Most companies’ efforts focus on increasing figures; I don’t blame them for that, as they have to live off these figures, but it does give me the feeling that there is some kind of dark fog enveloping sectors such as design, technology and fashion. Around 40% of applications no longer work on first-generation iPads and that sounds terrible. I cannot use Google Maps on the device that I bought four years ago.
How do you know when you have a good product or a good outcome?
Rubén: It is not very rational. When it excites the person that interacts with it. Or when you don’t have to ask the designer when he or she intends to achieve with their product: you look at it and say “damn, this really turned out well”. This expression summarises a good outcome very well, regardless of whether or not it creates the need to possess it.
Marta: That’s right. When the object fills you up and you don’t need anyone to explain it to you, because you want it just by looking at it.
On what objects or experiences is it worth spending a good amount of money?
Marta: I would buy a nice sofa.
Rubén:On a bicycle. On a trip to the legendary bicycling sites (Tourmalet, Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Los Lagos, Mortirolo, etc.). On great editions of books. On pretty things. You evaluate, prioritise and stop going to restaurants for a few months, but you end up getting that Eames Lounge Chair in your library for the rest of your life, shaped to the form of your back.
Marta: A good tactic is to split purchases into two categories: classic products and current ones that are well designed, which you think could be great pieces in the future.
Do you prefer to be outdoors or in pleasant indoor spaces?
Marta: I like the beach and the sun, but also restaurants and hotels designed with simplicity and good taste.
Rubén: For me, the outdoors is synonymous with pastures, fields and mountains, and not with a polluted street in Singapore. If the outdoors means nature and wilderness, than I like the fresh air. That may seem strange coming from someone that designs pleasant interiors, but I grew up amidst nature and that’s where I feel most comfortable. To some degree, I think it’s also valuable when creating ambiances; you give the piece of furniture a more natural character, an energy that conveys sensations, which is something that we cannot do with industrial processes.
How can you make a brand stand out in this age when we are so saturated with information?
Rubén: By doing things well. That’s all.
Marta: By being transparent and letting yourself be guided by solid values: honesty and humility. Information has reach and with a brand, you cannot allow yourself to make any mistakes.
Rubén: In the end, the decision is up to the customer and what they’re looking for. We all know that the alternatives are out there; the key lies in knowing how to find them. When we plan a trip, we are the ones that make an effort to find the best flight and accommodation options and brands are not continually on top of us. If I need new chairs for my house, I’ll check out the stores, ask around and look online to find more alternatives. I’ll end up picking the option that brings me something more than a simple chair, and the chair I choose will be made by a brand that does things well.
What cultures do you think are more advanced in terms of sensitivity to beauty and the functional elements of a home?
Marta: For the relationship between functionality and design, Japan and the Nordic countries.
Rubén: The rest of us move on totally different planes.
What does a brand have to do so it doesn’t get bored with itself?
Marta:Renew or die. Make innovation the top priority.
Rubén: Do the same that you do in your daily life to stave off boredom. What do you do on the weekend so that it isn’t like all the rest? I take my bicycle to the mountains and look for unknown places without forgetting to ride by the places I know that help me to improve my technique. With a brand, it’s the same. You have to explore new, uncharted lands with no fear of disaster because you’re moving over well established foundations that must be reviewed after every turn of earth you create.
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