When Canadian designer Philippe Malouin moved to London in 2008, he had a degree from the Design Academy Eindhoven, a job with Tom Dixon, and nowhere to live.
‘I remember looking for a live-work space,’ he says. ‘The first one I found was in an old warehouse in Stoke Newington. It was 40 square metres and £400 a month. There was nothing there — no kitchen, no bathroom. I had two suitcases, a drill and a table saw. They were tearing down a residential building across the street, and every night I would jump the fence and take giant pieces of wood so I could build myself a second floor to sleep on, or find a shower tray, make a shower and tile it. I tapped into the mains to bring in water.’ He laughs. ‘Well, that’s London. If you want to survive, you’ve gotta hustle!’
Two years later, the space was given a 10-page spread in Case da Abitare. Malouin has a talent for making something from nothing. Take ‘Alvin’, the simple mobile he fashioned from two dowels, three eye screws and a length of rope when he had no money and half an hour before a friend’s birthday. Or his new home on Stoke Newington High Street, a fourth-floor Victorian conversion above a fancy-dress shop, where Malouin has removed the plaster from the wall between the sitting room and kitchen to leave just the wooden skeleton, and exposed the ceiling beams and one brick wall. ‘We do that a lot with interiors,’ he says, referring to himself and Eva Feldkamp, the German designer he runs his studio with, who is a great friend.
‘The worst mistake you can make is to get a lot of things at once,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to want something for a while before you buy it’
‘Instead of trying to mask what is there, we glorify it, or we use standard things you can get inexpensively at B&Q and glorify them.’ The result is raw and striking, a bit like the 34-year-old, six-foot-three designer himself, with his black beard, pale-blue eyes and almost palpable energy — he cycles everywhere and looks as fit as an athlete.
As for the decor, every piece has earned its place: the Ligne Roset Togo sofa Malouin bought with the first £2,000 he made (shown at top); the 1970s Bang & Olufsen sound system he found in mint condition on eBay. ‘The worst mistake you can make is to get a lot of things at once,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to want something for a while before you buy it.’
There are also a number of his own designs, including his space-saving Hanger chair for Umbra Shift, suspended in a corner alongside his bike; his Gridlock pendant lamp, an ‘architectural lattice of brass tubes and connectors’ which is now manufactured by lighting specialists Roll & Hill; and some laminated MDF boxes and bookends made for a show titled Simple at the ProjectB gallery in Milan in 2013.
Philippe Malouin’s Type Cast Chair
Philippe Malouin’s Gridlock Lamp
The boxes illustrate his studio’s exploratory approach to materials. ‘It’s about applying different techniques to unexpected materials and making new discoveries,’ explains Malouin. ‘With the MDF, we layered it up and polished it to such a degree that it felt like stone. We changed the material and how people perceive it.’
They have done much the same with Kvadrat Hallingdal upholstery fabric, rolling it and setting it with resin to give it a structural function in stools commissioned by the Danish textiles company; with galvanised steel, used in a chain-mail rug (‘Yachiyo’); and with Caesarstone, an engineered quartz typically used for kitchen worktops, which was turned into geometric planters and a set of swings presented at Milan Design Week this year. Similarly intriguing are the plates and bowls Malouin designed for the Staffordshire ceramics company 1882 Ltd, the shape of which was determined ‘naturally’ by allowing sugar to trickle through a funnel onto a turntable.
Born in Montreal, Malouin is from a family of lawyers, but the desire to make things didn’t come from nowhere. ‘My dad always did a lot of things by hand,’ he says. ‘He learnt to weld to make my sister a set of furniture for uni, and I helped him build things like our sugar shack.’ After two years as a straight-A student of industrial design at the University of Montreal, Malouin won a mobility grant and went to Paris’s prestigious ENSCI–Les Ateliers (École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle), then to Tjep in Amsterdam for a summer internship.
A corner of Philippe Malouin’s flat, including the Hanger Chair and Kvadrat Hallingdal stool he designed
‘Tjep have done a lot of work for Droog, and I was a massive fan of Droog, so my boss suggested I try Eindhoven [where Droog co-founder Gijs Bakker taught].’ The degree, ‘Man and Living’, was ‘all about experimental design within the living space, reading dystopian and utopian novels and reinterpreting them as environments,’ says Malouin.
‘I want to take my time, travel, get inspired by things,’ he says. ‘We want to try things out like we did when we started’
His graduate show featured an inflatable table, a Dervish lamp inspired by carwash brushes, and a transparent Ballpoint stool filled with ink and set on ball transfers, which tracked the movement of the sitter. This led to the job with Dixon, for whom Malouin worked three days a week while simultaneously creating his own projects.
Now the holder of a W Hotels Designers of the Future Award and a Wallpaper* Best Use of Material Award (for the chain-mail rug), Malouin works in Hackney with Feldkamp and two interns. As well as designing products (his latest is a wall sconce for Roll & Hill called Eclipse), he runs the architectural and interior design practice Post-Office, which has created interiors for Dezeen, Touch Digital and now the new Clerkenwell HQ of hip Australian skincare brand Aesop.
The next step, says Malouin, is to a buy a new, bigger work space, part of which will be rented out, so they don’t have to take on quite so many projects. ‘I want to take my time, travel, get inspired by things,’ he says. ‘We want to try things out like we did when we started.’
For more, see philippemalouin.com. Photographs by Carol Sachs
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