Crisp lines, perfect proportions and considered details distinguish the work of Les Few, the New York design studio set up by Swedish-born designer Eva Eklöf in 2014.
The atelier’s small collections of accessories and furniture, which can be found in luxury hotels and the houses of discerning design collectors around the world, are produced in collaboration with Swedish craftsmen, working mainly in wood, brass and leather.
For Lymited, Les Few has created a series of four pieces – two candlestick designs, a low table and a turned wood centrepiece. Like much of Eklöf’s work, the sculptural pieces nod to modernist architecture and the works of midcentury designers and artists. Often, she says, an architectural detail or a production method will serve as a starting point for the design. For instance, the double hyperbolic roof of Marcel Breuer’s Villa Sayer informed the conical shape of the Lilly centrepiece; the Annette candlestick was sparked by a detail in the ironwork of the Giacometti brothers’ lamp designs for Jean-Michel Frank, and the hand-turned brass and leather rivets used to create the Lilly triple candlestick are borrowed from bag making.
In addition, the piece’s names – Lilly and Annette – are an ode to the wives and lovers of these renowned 20th-century designers. Namely Lilly Reich, the lover of Mies Van der Rohe, who was a remarkable designer in her own right, and the wife of Alberto Giacometti, Annette Arm, who devoted her life to documenting, archiving and protecting her husband’s work.
Eklöf, who says she is a perpetual student of this era, is instinctively drawn to the clean lines and pure forms that the designers used. This is in part, she thinks, thanks to her upbringing in a 1960s house on the Baltic coast outside of Stockholm.
“My father’s uncle worked for KF Arkitektkontor, one of the largest architecture firms of the postwar era in Sweden,” she recounts. “He created some quite avant-garde solutions – things that we take for granted now, like department stores, modern warehouses and open-plan offices.”
Her parents, who both worked in medicine, encouraged her creativity. “I loved biology at school and I wanted to be a doctor, but my Dad discouraged me,” she laughs. “Instead they took me to lots of art classes. My father actually has a great eye too. He’s a doctor, but he understands proportions and materials, so I often go to him for advice on design work.”
Eklöf admits that her own creative path has been long and not always easy. Prior to founding Les Few, she worked in New York, Paris and Spain creating designs for global companies – experiences that she describes as “great learning curves”. It was during this time that she realised that the relationships that she developed with makers, was the most important and enjoyable element of her work; so when setting up her own studio, she knew that people had to be at its heart.
Each of Les Few’s collections are created in Sweden in close collaboration with Eklöf’s network of trusted craftspeople, who are all within a few hours of Stockholm. The relationships that she has established and built over the years, she says, are not only integral to the quality of her work but also one of the most rewarding aspects.
“I work with my craftsmen very closely and every relationship is quite different,” Eklöf explains. “For example, my brass craftsman and my woodturner work very much from my drawings, whereas with my leather craftsman, it’s much more back and forth. Ideas and concepts take time to mature, so a design can take a while to come to life.”
“With all of my craftsmen, if there’s something that isn’t quite working or that can’t be done, they will apply their knowledge to work around it, and I trust their judgement completely.”
As is the case in many countries across the world, a number of the makers that Eklöf works with are nearing retirement age and are often working alone, with no one to continue the business. As a result, it’s important for Eklöf to seek out new craftspeople to work with in the future and to broaden her studio’s offering. Creating the collection for Lymited provided an opportunity to do just this. The collection’s largest piece, the Lilly low table, is made from white-tinted Swedish ash and is produced just north of Stockholm near Arlanda, in collaboration with a studio of three young furniture makers.
“I had known about them and I was intrigued,” she recalls. “I wanted to work with them, but for the longest time I didn’t have the right design to bring to them. Lymited gave me an opportunity to do that – it was perfect as an introduction.”
Previously, Les Few’s collections have been made up of smaller accessories, so working at a larger scale was also a welcome challenge. “Lymited was quite fabulous in the way that they set the brief,” continues Eklöf. “They asked for a small, medium and large piece and I’d never really thought about my work in that sense, so that really structured my mind moving forward. I was also on a strict deadline, and I love to work with deadlines. I start with a lot of inspirations and I have to narrow it down to just a few images – less than five.”
Going forward, Eklöf hopes to continue working on small collections of limited-edition pieces and exploring more projects with interior designers. “There are always those exciting sales that make you really happy,” she enthuses. “One of them was a year ago for a high profile client in Italy, another was last month for a private client I really respect in New York. It’s rewarding and so great to know that people enjoy and appreciate your work.”