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02/12/15 Norwegian Design Studio Anderssen & Voll

Words by Margarita Buenaventura

Duality seems to play a big role at Anderssen & Voll (A&V). Pieces are elegant but playful, restrained but creative. From three-seater sofas to pastel-hued pepper grinders, their creations are mindful of practicality and generous with panache. Differing elements with a sense of accord:  perhaps very Scandinavian.

Based in Oslo, the design studio is helmed by Norwegian designers Torbjørn Anderssen and Espen Voll. The duo built a name in the early 2000s as the cofounders of Norway Says, a group that sought to introduce the design world to emerging Norwegian talent.

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Nine years later, they founded what became Anderssen & Voll, where they have and continue to craft items using a wide range of media. The group has taken on designing textiles to mobile phones for Nokia. They have also picked up a number of accolades along the way: since 2009, A&V has been given the Honorary Award for Design Excellence in Norway, a Wallpaper Award, an IF Award, and the Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize.

The studio has lately been busy with several capsule collections, teaming up with brands as renowned as Magis to local craftsmen as far off as Toronto. Taking time during a recent trip to China, A&V cofounder Torbjørn Anderssen talked to NOUS about the duo’s latest collaborations, the unique stamp of Nordic design, and why deviating from the plan isn’t always a bad thing.

We’d love to know more about your work dynamic. Is someone responsible for one aspect or are you quite fluid with your roles in the design process?

The design process is a continuous dialogue at our studio. In a small studio, you will ultimately have to take on a lot of different roles. We strive for everyone to take part and contribute to the projects. It’s not always easy as we have a lot of projects in parallel, but it’s always best.

Scandinavian design is quite distinct, but what about Nordic design specifically? Is there anything about it that sets itself apart from its neighbors? 

I think Nordic design is a vague term—it has gotten to mean something simplified and perhaps a bit rounded: something friendly. But it’s a continuous challenge for the industry to keep on evolving with the interests of designers so as not to get stuck and too constrained.

If you look at the younger Norwegian designers, they are all much less unified than for instance the young Swedish designers. We have this theory that the Swedish industry and emerging Swedish designers view each other as a possibility, we could work with these guys. In Norway we don’t have the same strong industry. The result being that many young designers are doing more conceptual work, building skills and position through blog posts, press, and independent exhibitions. The image of the product is the product, so to speak. It is about exploring their own individual interests, and maybe at the early point of the career creating some sort of a signature. Norwegian designers are more diversified than ever, and it can be really interesting. It’s hard to even see a connecting line between the different designers.

With such a defined aesthetic, how do you continue to innovate your designs? 

I don’t think we have a defined aesthetic. Or maybe it’s just important to us not to define ourselves too precisely. I think A&V has a very broad spectrum of expressions and ways to work. Working with Magis in Italy ultimately will give different results than working with Muuto in Denmark, not necessarily because of geographical and cultural differences but because the different brands have different structures and are headed by very different, strong individualists.

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In a previous interview, you mentioned that you were surprised that the Tibu stools you created for Magis turned out to be a lot more playful than you intended. Is this slight deviation from the original plan usually the case for you when designing pieces? 

Yes, that’s part of the fun. If you head out into a project with a finished map on where to go and what to see, it’s difficult to recognize novelties when they occur.

You’ve created a number of pieces for Muuto, as well. Did your inspiration for these come from a specific source or did you work with several themes?

New project – new rules. Making a sofa is different from making a candlestick. Anyway, inspiration is always present and could literally be anything. Motivation is much more important in a design process. You have to create an output to be able to recognize the input, so to speak.

Which one of your pieces for Muuto would you say was the most interesting and challenging to create?

Probably the Oslo sofa due to the fact that it was all developed in less than three months.

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You’re also launching a collection with Mjölk in Toronto this month. What was it like to collaborate with local craftspeople in the city?

The collaboration with John and Juli Baker of Mjölk and the team of Toronto artisans and crafts people has been amazing in terms of the contribution to expression and content from everyone involved. We can’t imagine how these results could have been reached with any other people in any other way. Obviously the regional, craft-based production offered us a speedy, flexible, and organic developing phase. But more importantly, the glass water saver for instance is something you probably wouldn’t industrialize as the technological investment would be huge compared to the projected sales.

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Anything up your sleeves that we ought to look forward to?

As for new projects, we a lot of new stuff in the pipeline. In the next six months, we’ll launch with Muuto, Nevvvorks, Menu, Febrik, Røros Tweed, Artifort and Magis.