Originally trained as a dental technician, Viennese designer Marco Dessí has since ditched moulds of teeth for collaborations with brands like Wittmann, La Manufacture and, most recently, renowned 200-year-old outfit Thonet. In addition to furniture, his eponymous studio also conceives entire spaces, including an in-progress interior scheme that borrows from the oeuvre of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. It’s this interest in the past, Dessí tells Azure, that has not only guided his practice over the past decade, but informed the choice of companies he works with as well. Following are a few lessons gleaned from a designer who always keeps an eye on tradition.
Working with established companies like Thonet, it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. You work on a product and, often, you have to stop the development to take time and to focus on something else. Then you can return to the project. But it needs time. When a company has existed for 200 years, how can you design something in six months? You can’t. It feels good to be part of a longer process, a longer tradition.
How do you bring together Thonet’s bentwood classics with contemporary upholstery? How can you design a chair in 2020 using this material so that it’s relevant and updated? How do you use bentwood without being nostalgic? How can you bring the past, present and future of the company into a new product? These are the things that we tried to put in the 520 chair. But, then again, a chair is a complicated object.
I look for quality in the manufacturers I work with — in how they produce, but also in the quality of the people inside the company. What is their attitude and what is their culture? What is their knowledge? It’s important that I feel good with them. Not necessarily 100 years or 150 years, but I like when a brand has history.
I have approached many different projects with completely different problems for extremely different companies. I have a very chaotic, emotionally driven process in the beginning. I have a lot of influences, and the first phase is always a potpourri of all these ideas. In architecture, I have more of a product-design approach and there is maybe more of an architectural perspective behind some of my objects.
You require a whole team around you to make a design successful. For example, you need a good product manager who knows how to brief you. I like when a team at a company knows where they are and what they want when they say, “Let’s try something together. Let’s take a look at what we can do and what you want to do.”
For the Vienna-based designer, history, quality and tradition are inseparable parts of the process.