When Sabine Marcelis was studying industrial design, the concepts she presented to teachers were always summarized in one line of text.
"My classmates were carrying papyri," she told us when we virtually met her a few weeks before FuoriSalone 2022, where she presented a collection of lights for IKEA and an installation in Alcova. "I never understood this lengthening in the explanations of the projects. Maybe I'm too pragmatic, but I start from the idea that if something cannot be summarized in a few words, it lacks substance".
In this memory of the times of the studies there is all the poetics of this young creative (class 1985 , Dutch, born and raised in New Zealand), who has been carrying out projects for years very interesting by extracting light from the most diverse materials - from glass to resin, from marble to metal, from water to wool.
A few examples? Fountains on resin blocks mounted on travertine (for Fendi, in 2018), a chaise longue in curved colored glass and marble (for the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, 2020), neon tubes folded and embedded in the resin (for several galleries), carpets that look like brushstrokes, capable of transforming any floor into a huge canvas (for CC-Tapis).
And Monumental Wonders, presented at Alcova at FuoriSalone: a monolithic bathroom made using nine different types of Solid Nature onyx, to be admired from different angles like a sculpture. "I look for beauty in things. My objects have the purpose of transforming normality into a moment of exception: the one in which the emotion begins and the living space is filled with atmosphere. To get to this suspended moment I go to probe the light in the materials and explore the ways to get it out ", she explains.
The lamps she designed for IKEA perfectly summarize this philosophy: a circle and a line in bent metal that applied to the wall, with the light coming out from the meeting point between the lamp and the wall. "The light is diffused, not direct. It takes up the shape of the object. It is somewhat surprising because it seems to magically emerge from the back of the lamp - duplicating its presence - which has an aesthetic value when turned off and from on".
Extracting light from things does not mean always and only designing lamps. Although he used neon a lot ("I have always preferred them to LEDs because they are light made object and they can almost be sculpted to create different atmospheres"), Marcelis has in fact furniture, accessories and objects to her credit which, thanks to the particular processing of the material they are made of, emit flashes, gleams, reflections, glimmers or reverberations.
To understand what the designer means when she talks about atmosphere, just look at the house where she lives with her family in Rotterdam (you can find it everywhere on social networks).
A decidedly minimalist space from an architectural point of view but full of objects in bright colors: canary yellow, smurf blue, harlequin green. Where a pink sofa that looks like a huge marshmallow is paired with cubes and parallelepipeds in cast and polished resin scattered everywhere (these are her famous Candy Cubes, sold in galleries), while mirrors, lamps and sculptures dot the walls.
Everything seems to be constantly changing, because light plays on every surface generating different colors and unexpected reflections.
"If objects are designed to interact with light and space, whoever puts them in the house has the possibility to make them live according to their taste", says Marcelis.
That is why, for IKEA, she has also designed a series of objects for the home, which will be unveiled later this year. "I conceived them with the idea that they were iridescent, able to take action to create vibrant atmospheres in the home, taking advantage of natural light and the games it creates on surfaces. They are objects for those who love to decorate their environment, change it, and live in perfect harmony with their feelings".
Although she is best known for the objects she makes in her studio and then sells in galleries around the world, Sabine Marcelis cares about her industrial background designer. "Because I am interested in the themes of the project: the reasons why we arrive at a certain shape and create it, what materials to use and how to bring them to give their best".
Her collaboration with IKEA is the first for a large scale production.
"It was a very different experience than I'm used to, which brought me back to my education," she explains (studied at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand, and at Design Academy Eindhoven). "The challenge, in fact, was to create the same wonder effect that I look for with the pieces I make for the galleries, but taking into account the limitations due to mass production and the containment of the price.
It was not easy for the IKEA technicians to arrive at an optimization like the one they finally arrived at, because, even if there were some compromises, I was adamant about one thing: I didn't want light in any way - which is led - spilled in dots.
In the first prototype it was like this, in the one that goes into production the light is full, united, I would say magical as one would expect from a gallery piece. We also worked a lot on packaging, so that it was reduced to a minimum: another issue that obviously I had never tackled ".
Color is another fundamental element in Marcelis' poetics.
"I made it the center of my re-interpretation of Vitra Schaudepot, presented in May, where I arranged the 400 works on display by ordering them by color". It might seem like an 'instagrammable' gimmick but, albeit decidedly social media friendly, Marcelis' curation, like everything she does, has a purpose didactic very specific.
"The organization by colors of Color Rush! demonstrates why a careful choice of shades and shades is central in interior design and planning: natural colors, for example , tend to suggest a welcoming atmosphere; the bright colors represent unconventional attitudes; rough and unpainted surfaces can express a minimalist or purist philosophy ".
Another simple idea, articulated in a solution that fills the eyes and the heart.