Kristine Five Melvær‘s multidisciplinary approach to design has resulted in products that not only look stunning but that function well in our homes and build a long term relationship with the user. The Norwegian designer’s door mat Sand for Heymat has just won the Archiproducts 2019 design award in the Decor category as I write this interview. Her strong use of colours coupled with Scandinavian sensibilities in design results in some of the most exciting and beautiful designs to come out of Scandinavia at the moment.
How did you set off on a creative path?
Making things was one of my favourite things to do as a child. I loved to be in the flow state, not quite knowing what the result would be. I also went to a school where there was a great focus on creative processes. Although I had many interests, it was quite natural for me to follow this path and apply for a creative course of study. My first education was in industrial design, which I saw as a good combination of logical problem solving and creative outlet, that was a good fit for me. Later I studied related subjects that I also found very interesting.
You have an interesting mix of graphic design/visual communication, architecture and industrial design as your educational background. How do all these various studies contribute to the designer you are today?
The subjects are close enough to be combined, but far apart enough to inform each other. My three-dimensional objects often have a graphic dimension. And when I work with graphics, I’m aware of how the design will perform in a physical environment. I guess being multi disciplinary makes it easier to move between categories and themes. I also enjoy working beyond the products, and contribute to the story telling towards the user, both through art directing photos, and by designing graphic surfaces and exhibitions. Although I may not recommend anyone to choose such a long education, I’m very happy that it turned out like this for me.
You talk about the communicative potential of objects as being very important to you, and of creating emotional bonds. What do you mean by that, could you elaborate?
I hope people who buy my products will keep them for a long time, preferably all their lives, and then pass them on to someone else. If you grow an attachment to an object, you’ll less likely replace it. I try to make things with layers of subtle connotations rather than one clear message. The idea is that you might read the objects differently over time and hopefully the objects will stay relevant as you grow older.
You have won a slew of design awards from the time you graduated, what do you think makes your products stand out?
I always try to make smart products, with an optimal function and quality. And I like to be generous in my aesthetics, which often result in expressions that are richer than what one might associate with very strict Scandinavian minimalism. I hope you might experience this in my objects.
You have worked with a very wide range of products and materials, glass, lamps, textiles and blankets, and even doormats, it is an impressive list. What is your process when you start on a new design?
My process is a mix of two ways of working. One of them comes from my first degree in industrial design, where the focus lies on logical problem solving through a string of thorough methods. The other way of working comes from my later education, where you work more freely, take inspiration more seriously, follow your gut feeling to a greater extent, and have a more organic process. Now, I alternate between these two ways of working. I go into the project with the analytical industrial design glasses on, and get to know the category, the framework of the project, and the manufacturer. When I start the creative process, I have these guidelines with me, but work quite freely, and dare to follow my gut feeling. Towards the end of the project the process becomes more streamlined again, when working on the details and planning the production, often in close dialogue with the producer and the factory. Sometimes a project does not come from a brief, but one project inspires the next. For example, in my collaboration with Røros Tweed, one project has often occurred as an extension of the previous one, as a kind of organic string of projects.
When looking at your designs one is struck by your use of bright colours along with your neat, clean Scandinavian design principles. Have you always been attracted to strong colours?
When I was a child, I went to a school with a great focus on colours. We were surrounded by colours, and mixed our own colours, not being limited by narrow standards. A drawing or painting was not considered finished until the entire sheet was filled with colours and there was no white left. I think it’s a bit like verbal languages. The languages you learn early on become part of you in a different way than the ones you learn as an adult. It feels like an important part of my language as a designer, and a part of the process that comes easily and intuitively. For me it’s natural to choose colours, and I would rather need good a reason not to use them than a good reason to use them. Sometimes I start with the colour palette when I start a project, for instance in some of the objects for Røros Tweed and Heymat.
Is there a favourite among your designs?
All of my designs are important to me as they evoke different memories. For example, the Soft Bowl for ‘When Objects Work’ stands out as my first product in regular production. It was also a great experience to create my first glass objects and blankets, and watch them take shape at the factories. And to experience my outdoor furniture series Pop becoming part of the cityscape, with a completely different scale than I was used to. As a designer, I’m very interested in everyday rituals, and the objects I use daily means a lot to me, like the doormats from the Heymat + series, which makes a great impression in our hallway, or the Røros blanket we wrap around our son.
Do you collaborate with companies for most of your designs or do you create your own prototypes as well and try to get them produced?
In the beginning, I made my own prototypes and presented the finished results to the industry. Now I work in a more collaborative process with my manufacturing partners. I like working with manufacturers for a long time. When you have a good dialogue and trust each other, you automatically feel the necessary security for taking greater risks, which can potentially result in exciting processes and innovative products. Over time you’ll also learn more from the skilled professionals working at the factories.
What inspires you?
Most things can serve as inspiration if you use the channels. When in process, the process itself becomes a set of glasses you view the world through. I think human beings and our everyday rituals are inspiring. And I’m often inspired by being in nature, but also by man-made expressions such as film, music, art, scenography and dance. The further away from my own disciplines, the greater the room for interpretation.
There will always be a need and demand for functional and beautiful objects, as much as we talk about the negative impact of consumerism. What in your opinion can designers do towards a more sustainable world?
It’s important that we work with manufacturers who are concerned about quality, sustainability and ethics. Then it’s our job to design products that will make the users want to keep the products for as long as the quality allows. I like to think that for every premium quality wool blanket I sell with Røros Tweed, we eliminate a stack of fleece blankets with a short life span.The designers also have an important task in communicating the quality of a product. Knowledge of production processes, materials and the thoughts behind the design can give the user greater respect for the product, and a better understanding of why it’s worth investing in a quality product.
Is there a dream project?
Fortunately, I have many, because I want to keep designing for many more years. Some of them are in categories I haven’t worked on before that I’m curious about, for instance carpets, porcelain, fabrics, and acoustic walls. I also want to improve objects that’s not working well enough. For instance, this rainy fall in Oslo, I’m thinking there’s a great potential for improvement for umbrellas, in terms of function, durability and aesthetics. I would also love to design scenography, and work on storytelling in such a rich and pure way.
What are you working on now?
I’m designing my first sofa, a category I’ve been curious about for a long time. And I’m designing my first jacket, in collaboration with a very skilled fashion designer. I also work with categories I’ve worked with previously, such as furniture, tableware, textile objects and doormats.
Portrait of the designer by Erik Five Gunnerud.