You can’t get a much better sign that it’s going to be a good furniture fair than running into the new line by Fredrik Färg and Emma Marga Blanche fresh out of the gate. The inventive approach to furniture from their Stockholm-based studio Färg & Blanche has been making us rethink upholstery for several years. They never fail to impress.
The morning I ran into them they were premiering both the EMILY chair for Gärsnäs and prototypes from an experimental new self-produced line called Wood Tailoring. It uses a sewing machine to create full-scale wood furniture. How does that work, you ask?
Here is what they had to say.
So, wood tailoring. Is that the name of the line or the technique?
EMB: That’s what we’re calling the technique because we plan to do much more with this method. We’re experimenting with wood as if it was a textile, and we have many ideas. For now though it is also the name of this line, our first collection using the technique.
How did you get the idea of using wood in this way?
EMB: We love to work with textiles and are known for doing a lot of textile experiments. Last year for example we did the EMMA armchair for Gärsnäs and it involved extreme sewing for furniture. After that we decided to go back and experiment more with the sewing technique and industrial machinery, not just with hand-sewn craft.
People have tried before to sew through harder materials- they drill holes to attach pieces together. We wanted to see though what you could actually do with a sewing machine. That way it could be made in an industrial setting but with a craft finish, because it really feels like craft.
What was your first step?
EMB: First we removed all the textile covering and the form created by the upholstery until we had just the shell left. We wanted to take the technique used for upholstery to make the outside look nice, and apply it directly to the inside instead, to the wood. Typically it’s not just different materials for the two, but very different techniques and even industries involved. We wanted to mix it all up and see what happens.
Once you have the idea, when does your first big breakthrough come?
EMB: The first big milestone was to figure out if we could sew through hard material, so we tried first with a thick insulation material that was hard enough to cut like wood but soft at the same time so we could experiment sewing through it.
The next question was what to make? At the time, we were working on a project with filmmaker Erika Janunger, and she asked us to make a cupboard for it. We really wanted to try out our technique on wood so we thought about what we could sew on to a cupboard. Then it came to us… Pockets! And it worked!
After that we thought why not go even further, so we continued on to the chair and the armchair.
You were basically inventing something new. What was the most challenging part?
EMB: Well it was trying to find the right… everything! The right thread, the right thickness, the right wood, and the right tempo. Luckily Fredrick is really great with a sewing machine, so that’s a good thing.
But it doesn’t work if you don’t have the right combinations. Maybe you have the right wood but not the right thread, and you don’t know why it’s not working. Maybe you have all of the materials right but the tempo is wrong, so you have to really understand what’s going on.
So it was just the two of you, figuring it out through trial and error…
EMB: Yes! When you work with a producer you have a lot of resources, a lot of people who are all working together to find a solution. But when you are doing it yourself, you are in your studio and you have to develop your own skills and knowledge to be able to finish the project. So that is a big challenge, to do it yourself.
On top of that, we decided to finish the pieces completely in order to show the idea was possible, because nobody has done it before. It’s really difficult to go to a producer and say: Shall we do that? Because then they’re like: That doesn’t work.
FF: This just shows them that if we’re able to make these, then we’re able to make other things with this type of innovation.
What’s next then? Will we see your Wood Tailoring pieces popping up in shops anytime soon?
EMB: Well the challenge now is to find a producer, but who should it be? Is it sewing people or is it carpentry people? Because you have to find the right people who can work with wood… or is it the right people who can work with a sewing machine?
It seems like you’ve been walking that line for awhile, except before maybe it’s been: Do we work with fashion people or furniture people?
EMB: Yes, we love the fashion way of working so we put it in our work. But it’s a challenge to work with new techniques. It may even be a traditional technique and traditional material, but combined with a different industry it becomes something new - and furniture-makers can be quite conservative in the way things are made. So it’s a challenge to find the right people to actually make the piece.
What kind of feedback are you getting so far from producers to the Layer Armchair?
FF: I don’t know, we’ve never shown it! This is the first time. Today. This is the first hour.
Ah, fresh off the sewing machine! Right. And how about the other pieces? Any interest already?
EMB: We want to keep the Layer Cupboard as a limited edition - something like 15 pieces - so we’ll do it ourselves in the studio. And the pocket cupboard… we actually already might have someone interested, so we’ll see what happens.
Any clues who that might be?
EMB: No it’s too early.
What’s next for you guys then, cement tailoring?
FF: (Laughs) We’ll see. Or maybe we’ll find another technique! I think it’s all part of the drive and innovation. Pushing materials. Finding new ways to make new shapes with craft, but actually working with production in an industrial way. Not something that takes a lot of time to make individually.
So sewing in this way could make for fast production?
FF: In our case it was just one man on a sewing machine. Right away you’re straight into it. It actually is quite effective, quite fast.
As long as you know what you’re doing.
FF: Exactly! (Laughs)
Färg & Blanche’s Layer armchair went on to win the 2014 Form +1 Award for best new product at the Fair from FORM Magazine. Form +1 is an annual honorary award in which just one exceptional product is chosen personally by the previous year’s winner. This year the winner was selected by design studio Form Us With Love, who themselves won in 2013 for their Levels lamp for One Nordic Furniture Company.
FORM is a Stockholm-based magazine that covers architecture and design with a special focus on the Nordic region, and is one of the oldest design magazines in the world.
Photo of Emma Marga Blanche & Fredrik Färg with their Dark Layer Cupboard at 2014 Stockholm Furniture Fair by Tiffany Orvet.
Photo of Gärsnäs EMILY chair (short) and EMMA chairs (tall) by Lennart Dunhard.
Photos (in order): Layer armchair, detail of Bespoke chair, Fredrik Färg sewing, Pocket cupboard, Pocket cupboard detail, and collage of Dark Layer cupboard with Bespoke chairs, all courtesy of Färg & Blanche.
Photo of Form +1 Award at 2014 Stockholm Furniture Fair by Tiffany Orvet.