Partners both in work and in private, French born Emma Marga Blanche and Swede Fredrik Färg are a design match made in heaven. Known as Färg & Blanche they work out of their sprawling studio in Södermalm, with all manner of tools and machines that help them to experiment and constantly push the boundaries within the design industry. They have the ability to design furniture that looks tailored and bespoke yet industrially produced. The duo have won numerous awards and design for established international companies as well as one off commissioned art pieces. Artist, designer, tailor, cabinet maker, Färg & Blanche is a duo that wears many hats. I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.
Photo credit: Lennart Durehed.
How did you come together as a designing duo?
We met after we had been exhibiting at Greenhouse, Stockholm Furniture Fair and some of us had been invited to exhibit in Berlin. Fredrik gave me a ride as my stool was made of large magnets and I was not allowed to fly with it. That road trip was the start of our relationship. In 2011 we curated an exhibition at Biologiska Museet featuring 20 international designers. That turned out to be a big success and it was then that we decided to form our design partnership. Fredrik then moved from Gothenburg, where he was already an established designer, to Stockholm, we looked for a bigger studio space and Färg & Blanche was born.
Can you give a little background on how you got into the design world?
F: We are both Interior Architects and Designers. I have no design related history in my family, but they have all had professions dealing with hands-on practical work. In Sweden it is not so common to go directly to art school after high school, we are required to have had some training beforehand. I studied cabinet making for two years before applying. I then managed to get into both the design and fashion courses, but decided to focus on design instead. Even when I did my masters I could have chosen either jewellery or furniture and I chose furniture, that piece went into production. I have always thought of myself as a maker as well as a designer.
E: My mother was a big creative influence on me as she was an art teacher. We would go to art exhibitions together and create crafts that we would sell at Christmas markets. I was always encouraged to do what I was interested in, and at fourteen I did a little work experience programme for school at an interior designer’s office. I had an ambition then that I wanted to be an interior designer. At 17 I applied to art school to study design and interior design. Having graduated at 21, I applied for a position in Tamil Nadu, India, teaching art for 6 months. That experience changed me, I wasn’t interested in living and working in France and decided to move abroad. So I left for Sweden where my father’s family are from.
Your designs are very innovative, that has become a hallmark for Färg & Blanche designs. Is there one of you who is more driven by innovation and experimentation than the other?
We are both innovative in different ways. Fredrik is very highly technical and solution based, with the ideas already clear in his head. Our vision of the product is very clear at the beginning, but the path to get there and in working together is very winding!
Are there stark differences in approach when you start to collaborate on a new project? What is your process?
I want the impossible done and Fredrik finds the solutions! As much as we let each other work on our own things, we are also working together all the time. I can be very provocative during the process but that’s how I work. At times we don’t even know where the idea originated from or from whom, it is a complete dual effort. Everyone thinks that we are very similar, it couldn’t be further from the truth! We are both very different in our approach.
How did you start to stitch on wood, how did that idea come about?
F: I had been experimenting already in school using different veneers. I also had a deep interest in tailoring. We had been doing extreme stitching in all our earlier chairs like Emma and Emily. We then just kept pushing the borders and continued to experiment, we like the contrast of soft and hard together. The trick is to create something unique, but with the possibility of having it mass produced. So we invested in a sewing machine in 2012 as we were not able to experiment with extreme stitching at our clients’ factories. In 2014 we presented stitching on wood to the design industry.
There’s been a lot of binding involved to create patterns on both furniture and ceramics. What attracted you to this process?
It was really to escape the stitching! It was a challenge to create the structure and a seamless pattern by binding. For our stools we used rope and took the ropes out after they had been in the oven. For the ceramics moulds were first created. The challenge is in finding the balance in the irregularities that binding creates. We have also used the binding method for large outdoor sculptures we were commissioned to do.
Sustainability in design has become a very important topic today, how does this play into your designs and the way you work?
We work with many companies that already have stringent rules concerning sustainability, especially the Swedish ones as we work mainly with the contract market. The problem we feel lies with the home market, that unlike the contract market, lacks accountability. That could also have a lot to do with pricing. I think sustainability is being used by some people as a fashionable or trendy issue without really putting in a lot of effort.
What is your favourite material to work with?
E: I would say the one we haven’t worked with yet! We have never worked with glass or casting so that is something totally new that we are working with on our new project. Fredrik doesn’t really have a preference really, although wood is a great material to work with.
What do you think has made your designs so successful, in a sea of furniture design? What are the biggest challenges designers face today?
Keep the creativity really strong and remain unique. Stay true to yourself when so much in design is so generic today. Balance this with the needs and demands of the market, as you do need to sell a lot to make any money.
What inspires you?
I love fashion books, in fact I never buy design books, I also love the details in tailoring and stitching. Fredrik finds the industrial process inspiring. We both love art museums and dance and I would say fashion has been a strong inspiration for both of us.
With everything you have already achieved is there a dream collaboration?
We have plenty of dreams! As we are both trained Interior Architects we would love to work on an interior like a restaurant for example. So far we have only worked with exhibition spaces. We would also love to collaborate with a fashion brand. Designers collaborating with fashion brands are very common in France, like designing perfume bottles as an example. We would love to do that.
What is it like being partners both in business and private?
If we didn’t we might not ever see each other. We let each other have our space and process, we have the same goals and the same salary. We have now been doing this for 10 years and we feel it is getting to be more and more enjoyable. We are not stressed by the work and we travel everywhere together. The design industry is also a very social one, so we get to meet a lot of interesting people from all over the world and we enjoy that.
What are you working on now?
We have many great projects that we are unfortunately not able to disclose at this time. But we are working on furniture and objects for 6 different countries at the moment.
We are also working on ten new objects that will be unveiled during the Stockholm Furniture Fair and Design Week in February 2019. The exhibition is entitled “The Baker”, and it is a hommage to Emma’s great great grandfather Julius Westerdahl, who had achieved great success with his Swedish Crispbread factory in the 1880s. The exhibition will take place in the beautiful apartment where he lived.
Dance Film “Longing to Fly/Longing to Fall” by Erika Janunger, with furniture designed by Färg & Blanche specially for the film.