Azure looks at four designers making it big in the Big Apple by working their distinct aesthetic and formal signatures into brilliant furniture, lighting and interiors. In our final instalment, we check out the playful pieces of Francois Chambard and his Um Project studio.
Last fall, françois Chambard brought into orbit his Odd Harmonics, a family of 12 alien-looking theremins, electronic musical instruments that change pitch based on the user’s proximity. Created for the launch of Butterscotch Records at Judith Charles Gallery in Manhattan, the pieces were an immediate hit. They appeared at the Moogfest music festival in North Carolina in April, and they will be exhibited at Industry City during NYCxDesign in May before taking up residence this summer at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. Fittingly, the 46-year-old French designer-maker’s UM Project studio in New York has also attracted the attention of independent musicians; he has even produced a collapsible keyboard stand for the American alt-rock group Wilco to deploy on tour.
His whimsical range of projects – from simple wooden Milking Stools that look as if they’ve been dipped in paint, to the Craft System LED lamps, a group of Memphis-meets-steampunk characters with various quirky knobs, diffusers and other components – exude playfulness and delight.
Yet Chambard is serious about working with his hands, citing Isamu Noguchi and Jean Prouvé as influences. He believes that making products himself gives them an appealing edge. “I realized that consumers were tired of the abstract promises of big brands,” he says, speaking from experience; he worked in branding for multinational corporations before switching gears to focus on product design 10 years ago. “People want a connection with quality they can touch and feel. Being a designer-maker is one way to provide that, and to help the consumer appreciate the way things are made.”
At NYCxDesign, he will also present his Maypole installation in Carte Blanche, an exhibit hosted by the Hurricane Sandy relief organization Reclaim NYC. Updates of his Craft System lamps, tethered by cords to a towering maypole, will display a shifting animated light show (with programming assistance from Parallel Development). “I enjoy exploring, inventing and tinkering,” he says.