My name is Tobias Jacobsen. I would describe myself as a nostalgic designer, designing everyday objects for a modern era.
My ambition as a designer is to create dynamic homes with a sense of nostalgia and function in the form of multi-purpose furniture and ‘honest’ kitchen utensils.
In my work, the idea for a design often springs from studying objects that are characterised by high-quality craftsmanship and history.
A well-shaped crank on an old bicycle, for example, might provide the inspiration for the shape of a modern spoon or a door handle!
Inspiration can also spring from an experience. A few years ago, I was touring Spain together with a Spanish friend. Our trip took us to the town of Osuna, the original birthplace of tapas. The town had a fiesta going on, and there were flamenco dancers on the town squares. A Spanish woman asked me to dance, spinning and turning with proud poses and sensuous moves.
“I am the bull! You are the bullfighter,” she said. To me, this was an incredibly inspiring way to view men and women, and this experience provided the perspective for a salt and pepper set called osuna.
Culinary delights and history. In my family, the first question we ask when someone returns from a trip “What did you have?” Culinary experiences have always ranked highly in our family. Once a year, a friend and I go to London to dine in the best restaurants and try out new places. On one of these trips, I was inspired by Paul Smith’s striped universe. This led me to design striped glass doors in a furniture series for a Spanish firm.
Among other outcomes, my interest in food and gastronomy has led to collaborations with Raadvad, Fiskars and Coop Danmark. For Raadvad I designed the popular cutlery series Erica and the pot series Raadvad Carat. The pots reflect an aspect of Danish agricultural history: The handles were inspired by the handles on an old-fashioned milk can. I like it when things have a history, and I love good craftsmanship.
My fascination with in good craftsmanship is evident in many ways. For example, I have a particular affinity for handmade English shoes, which have been produced along the same traditions for more than 100 years. In my office, I always have a spare pair, with wooden shoe trees inside, so that I can change during the day. Thus, I always have the pleasure of looking at the pair that I am not currently wearing.
The shoes are not my only “soft spot”. I have also invested in a beautiful old ballpoint pen – and in my workshop I have a racing
bicycle from the 1950s. I prefer to use and surround myself with good craftsmanship.
In a counter-reaction to the culture of made-to-break consumer products, I strive to create honest, functional and sustainable design.
Growing up with Arne Jacobsen. My love of craftsmanship stems from my time as a jeweller, a profession that is focused on craft and on materials. I trained as a jeweller first and later undertook training as a designer and furniture maker.
My interest in design and craftsmanship also springs from my childhood; my childhood home were filled with furniture designed by my grandfather – architect Arne Jacobsen.
By choosing the jeweller’s trade, I unconsciously sought to distinguish myself from my famous grandfather. But my jewellery too is inspired by architecture, so I enrolled at The Danish Design School and began to design furniture and functional design.
Being Arne Jacobsen’s grandson is not something I give much thought on a daily basis, but I often ‘talk’ to him and wonder what he might have done.
Treating it as a conversation rather than an appearance before a judge who is keeping an eye on me lets me turn the relationship into something positive. It is an inescapable fact that I am not only measured up against myself but also against a grandfather who has created so many beautiful things, and this is a part of my everyday life that I have come to cherish.
Alternative perspectives When I give lectures, I am often asked to speak about my sources of inspiration – and some ask me to speak about the cross-field of gastronomy and design. To me, these are often two sides of the same coin! But instead of simply talking about it, I sometimes invite a friend, the Spanish chef Marco Gil who cooks while we discuss the ideas that his culinary art inspires in me. Together, we once did a show called Nordic tapas, where I presented him with the challenge of cooking exclusively with Danish ingredients… We were high on oysters, but the encounter with the herbs and fruits of the December forest in particular made a big impression on both of us; a short film about this event is featured on the web site.
A few years ago, I was invited to Spain to head a five-day workshop for architects. I opened with a lecture about Bauhaus in Weimar, and next I asked the participants to produce a model of the day – without the use of glue, screws or nails. This led to many unusual and innovative proposals – these workshops enrich my workday, and I love providing inspiration and promoting dynamics. The participants are in my memory for ever.
Design has to cut to the bone Danish kitchens have become much too showy. They have become ‘expensive cars’ with high-gloss cabinet doors and American refrigerators with ice makers. The interior design of modern Danish homes must reflect the residents’ happiness. But it all seems a bit hollow when people do not have any time left to spend at home – apart from the time they spend in front of the TV. I want to design useful stuff. It should never just be empty design without content. I think that people grow to appreciate my Raadvad pot; it reflects a love of food and cooking, has a chubby shape and milk can handles, and its insulation properties keep the food hot for a long time. It has precisely the honesty that reflects its function.
Perhaps my pot is only slightly better than the cheapest pot at least it is better. I prefer the ‘honest’ expression. We will probably see a counter-reaction to the showroom kitchens and spa baths. We will return to spaces that are about reflection and conversations about other topics than equity values and consumption. Modern self-development is about making room for the individual. And so I believe that families will once again begin to focus on giving each other the freedom to pursue individual interests in the home.
To many, the bathroom has become a wellness room and the last refuge where one can truly relax. Perhaps also a new sort of study. I know from my own experience how wonderful it can be to go into the bathroom lock the door and delve into cycle and camera magazines.
Sustainability makes sense Through my cooperation with Coop Danmark, I have learned about the concept of sustainability, and I have had the opportunity to work with wood that is produced under sustainable conditions. Among other things, I have designed out-door kitchens and garden furniture in wood from selected plantations in Zimbabwe and Honduras.
Before I embarked on the project, I was sent to Honduras, among other places, to see the production facilities and meet the local farmers and workers.
Naively, I asked a farmer whether his coffee was organically grown.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Do you spray the young bushes?”
“No, I can’t afford to. But I have a lot of birds. Insects like berries, birds like insects, and birds need trees to hide in, so I plant trees next to my coffee bushes. I try to create a setting that attracts a lot of birds,” the farmer explained. All the travel experiences that I have in connection with my work provide additional energy for new projects.
In Africa and Middle America I saw the local saw mills, visited cabinetmakers’ workshops, saw the rusty saws and the old-fashioned tools and talked to the workers who use them – not to mention the chickens that lay their eggs inside the circular saw. This has given me invaluable insight into the actual capabilities of the local workers. When designing furniture out of FSC-certified wood from these plantations, I have to make sure that the workers are able to make my designs with their tools.
In the beginning of my career, I was very focused on having my designs put into production and less aware of the production methods behind the materials. That has changed, and today that means a great deal to me.
Earlier in my career, I designed mass-produced furniture made of cheap materials. But I no longer want to be involved in exploiting people in the Third World just so that we in the West can have cheap furniture. In Denmark, we ought to be more aware of the consequences for the worker when we buy a handmade purse for 10 kroner, which we throw away a month later.
ADRIÁN FREIRE & HILDA CUBA
EVA PÉREZ CARBALLIDO