“We don’t think, we do, and then later we might think, what is it? How does it sit in the world?”
Ask the design duo behind Studio Vit what object they are working on, and more than likely they won’t have an answer for you. They might be able to tell you how they expect it to make you feel, but not what it might do for you. Not yet anyway. For Helena Jonasson and Veronica Dragnert, function follows feeling. “We work on an unconscious level. Intellectual thought comes later. Objects for us have always been about the impact they have on people on an emotional level; the stillness, thoughtfulness and consideration they encourage.”
Aesthetically, Studio Vit’s oeuvre sits comfortably in the frame of modern, minimal Scandinavian design – its shapes are geometric, materials are tastefully mixed, proportion is played with, craft respected and the whole is sustainably enduring. Little surprise, then, that the pair both hail from Sweden. They met in 2009 as young graduates working in London, each with their own distinct route to London’s creative community: Jonasson did a BA in design in Australia before arriving in the UK, while Dragnert had studied for a fashion BA in Sweden and then came to London for a Masters in fashion communication at Central Saint Martins.
Realising they had very similar thoughts about design, the pair started experimenting in conceiving and making products together in 2010. In 2011, the opportunity to exhibit the results at Stockholm Design Week arose, followed by Milan’s annual Salone Satellite show. This first collection was titled 11 Boxes: a series of cases made from solid maple, but differing slightly in size, shape, structure and colour, to be compiled at will into endless variations. The pair describe them like letters in an alphabet, used to build words.
11 Boxes was a hit with the design community and the studio followed up at the 2012 Satellite show with their lighting family, Marble Lights, which was picked up by Danish furniture brand &Tradition. Then in 2015, Cast Lights came out of a commission by gallerist Laura Houseley, who was curating an exhibition at London’s Ace Hotel. Made from cast concrete to blend in with the hotel’s interior, the collection was picked up and manufactured by French design house, Petite Friture. Just prior to this, Jonasson had moved back to Sweden, but even before a pandemic taught us how, the pair found ways to continue their creative collaboration from different corners of Europe, a testament to their friendship and unity of vision.
The emotive nature of light
The emotive nature of light
Often, the duo acknowledge, the feel-do-think formula leads them towards creating lighting – a medium that is very good at expressing emotion. The silvered cone light they have developed for Lymited is a reprise of the instant classic lighting family they first designed in 2015, for an exhibition at the Etage Projects gallery in Copenhagen. Originally the spun aluminium of the cone was polished to a mirror finish, or textured matte by marble blasting. A silver-plated version is something they had been playing with, and the experiment was residing in the studio. During lockdown, they picked it up to develop further.
As with all their work, collaborative makers were sourced locally in London workshops. The silvering is carried out by a skilled craftsman in West London, while the generously-sized hand-blown borosilicate glass spheres that hold the halogen light source are the artistry of two octogenarian brothers in Forest Gate, who specialise in the scientific glass and have worked on all of Studio Vit’s lighting designs.
The positive ripple effect
The positive ripple effect
Though Nordic modernism and the closely entwined design philosophies of Japan may colour Studio Vit’s work (its very name is inspired by a Japanese notion of ‘white’ or ‘vit’ in Swedish, as explored by Kenya Hara), the studio’s creative drive has always delved deep, and its heroes come from outside the design community. “Agnes Martin is someone I understand and identify with,” says Dragnert of the American painter famed for her gridded works on canvas. “Everyone put her in the box of being a minimalist, but she described herself as an abstract expressionist. She was painting emotions.”
While the pair’s approach is somewhat poetic, they do not class their work as art. Rather they see it as an upgrading of the everyday to bring joy – and more. “We want to influence people on an emotional and ethical level by infusing things with positive vibes – like rings on water,” says Dragnert. They are committed to the idea of investing inanimate objects with the power to encourage better behaviour, an intangible quality that’s far from easy to measure; but Dragnert cites a moment of success she felt launching their 2018 Vessel collection exhibition for Houseley’s MDR Gallery. “There was such a good feeling in there – calm, compassionate, generous. Objects can really encourage that.”
An endorsement of this and all of Studio Vit’s qualities is coming later this year, when the Inox Table that they also designed for the 2018 MDR Gallery exhibition is published in Phaidon’s new title Woman Made, a tome that celebrates leading women product designers from the 20th century to the present day. Dragnert and Jonasson’s place in the book is well-deserved. With Studio Vit you get beautifully conceived and crafted, timeless, everyday pieces that may be genderless to the eye, but are generously invested with first-hand emotion.