Philippe Bestenheider

A Swiss by birth, Philippe Bestenheider earned a degree in Architecture from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. With experience of working in studios both in Switzerland and the US, he obtained a Masters degree in industrial design from the Domus Academy in Milan in 2000. He has later became a workshop-tutor with Alessi and Ikea. He is now working for Moroso, Pallucco and Nilufar Gallery.

In a candid conversation with us, Philippe Bestenheider bares his heart as he speaks on his inspirations, designs and products. Read on:

FAE: What motivated you to get into design?


Philippe Bestenheider: When I was a young boy I wanted to become an inventor. I always loved to build things with the materials that were at hand around the household, an old box of cigars, rubber bands, spaghetti, glue, scotch tape etc. I enjoyed finding solutions to problems with “les moyens du bord” like we say in French, the things you have onboard when on sea. I pretty much see my profession in this way now. You have to find the most efficient, economical and at the same time expressive solution with given constraints of materials and processes.


FAE: You generally use strong and vibrant colours in your design. What role does colour play in your creations?


Philippe Bestenheider : Colour is an important part of the world that surrounds us, and I don’t see why we should shy using it. Just look at nature. It is a material and a means of expression like any other. Even more, it can help underlining certain constructive or geometrical qualities of an object. For me colour is used at its best when it is a consequence of the material or of the morphology of an object. In my Kente furniture range (Varaschin) for instance, colour is a consequence more than an intention. The weaving was the starting point of the project, colour came at the very end, and so did the name, when I realized that the pattern reminded me of Kente textiles of Ghana.


FAE: You have been awarded several significant prizes, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement?


Philippe Bestenheider : Even if it sounds a bit commonplace, the greatest achievement for me is to see my products used by people, when I see my Lui5 armchair for (Fratelli Boffi) chair find its place in the Paris hotel Martin Margiela for instance. Of course it also was an incredible emotion to receive the “Premio dei Premi” reward from the hands of Napolitano, Italy’s former President.


FAE: The ‘Nanook’ is your significant achievement. Tell us something about this unique creation.


Philippe Bestenheider : The idea that underlies the Nanook project is that of fragmenting a surface. The image that I had in mind was branches of a tree that divide from the stem and reach out to the sky forming the crown. So I started from the crown, a multitude of points and tried to rationalize this geometry, uniting points three by three, and then uniting these groups amongst them, pretty much as it happens in the structure of a tree. This game is visible in the Nanook side table, the chair is a further abstraction of this geometry.


FAE: How did the idea ‘Binta Armchair’ for Moroso Collection come up?


Philippe Bestenheider : Binta was an assignment form Patrizia Moroso the year that Moroso was presenting the M’afrique exhibit for the Milan furniture fair. She knew I had a particular love for this continent and asked me to think about a product that would use African fabrics. I was inspired by African archetypical shapes that I translated into a geometrical study of intersecting curved planes. I also had in mind the vibrant Wax fabrics worn in Africa in an often explosive mix of colours and patterns. By applying these fabrics in a mix of designs allowed me to underline the different parts of the armchair.


FAE: Most of your work has a clear reference to primitive cultures; do you have a special interest in primitive folk?


Philippe Bestenheider : I am not consciously referring to primitive cultures. I believe this is more a consequence of my way of designing than a source of inspiration. In some ways, it comforts me in the hope that my work is in touch with some primordial themes and somehow rooted deeply with natural rules of nature or physics. It all sounds a bit emphatic, but that’s how I feel.


FAE: Share with us your experience and memorable time with Patricia Urquiola and her studio.


Philippe Bestenheider : For me Patricia has been a very generous teacher, the time working with her was very intense. At the very beginning the office was small so we had to do everything from design to PR and this way I learnt a great deal not only about design but also about how to deal with clients, with press and so on; stuff no school will ever teach you.


FAE: What are the recent projects you are working on?


Philippe Bestenheider : Besides some new projects for the upcoming Furniture Fair in Milan I am working on a project I am particularly proud of. I was asked along other two design offices (Mario Ferrarini and Gioppato/Coombes) to design a chair for the outdoor spaces of the new area of Porta Nuova, Milan’s new booming neighborhood that is just being completed. This project is special because we had to coach a group of students from the Oliver Twist school in Como that inspired and followed the entire design process. The three designs that were conceived together with the students will be submitted to public voting during the furniture fair, only one will win. Cross fingers, if you like our design vote for us!


FAE: What would be your piece of advice to the young designers?


Philippe Bestenheider : Start doing stuff as soon as possible, if you have an idea, look for a way to realize it. And start working in a studio to get some experience, even part time during your studies.


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