Beneath the brand’s skin
by Nancy Jehmlich | Jul 6, 2009
Simon Pengelly

British designer Simon Pengelly has created the "Nuur" table and the "Babar" bar stool for Italian company Arper. It was Arper who chose the names for the products, underscoring their unique character. Babar, derived from Babar the elephant, has a surprisingly soft skin. Nuur is the name of a clear and calm lake out in the Mongolian desert. A conversation with Simon Pengelly on quiet and timeless design.

You were still very young when you first came into contact with furniture design. Is it your true calling?
Simon Pengelly: My father is a furniture designer, which is how I came to enter the profession. In my case, it's primarily the creative side and not the mathematical side of my brain that does all the thinking. It would seem to be an inherited thing. I wanted to understand how you design a piece of furniture and all the different things involved in the process. I was interested in the different materials and the respective potential they have. I like penetrating to the very structures of the materials and getting the very best out of each material's properties. That is my true inspiration. Pretty simple, really!

Were you influenced along the way by outstanding personalities or currents?
Pengelly: By Hans Wegner, the Danish designer, most certainly. He is great.

Do you think that it is imperative that a designer learn a craft?
Pengelly: From my viewpoint and experience, I wold say yes. There are many designers who do not understand how things go together, but that is essential as otherwise you remain merely a stylist. You then create things that are beautiful but nothing more. Whereas the design must also have a spirit, and esprit, and then the object fulfils its task and solves real problems. That is a complex challenge.

What personal challenge do you face when squaring up to each new design task?
Pengelly: First and foremost, I believe it is not important for a designer to make a personal touch visible. I don't think the designer's signature should be stronger than that of the company in question. As a designer you have the duty to get under the skin of the brand and really understand what goes to make up the company's identity. It is important that the table looks like an Arper table and not like a Simon Pengelly table. I believe that is one of the largest challenges. You have to discern and understand the differences between your clients.

Ross Lovegrove, for one, takes a completely different approach to designing.
Pengelly: That is his personal way of going about his work. He is a fantastic designer and some companies buy his branding and his name, as it were, because he is a famous personality. But I am not. My personal challenge, my philosophy, is therefore different. I prefer to try and tread a quiet path in what I do.

Does the material define the form, or the form the material?
Pengelly: It is a combination of both. I am inspired by materials and processes. Good design has to be a combination of the two. It's like that in all walks of life: You have to strike a balance, accept compromises, that is the key to success.

How did Arper and yourself join forces?
Pengelly: A friend introduced me to the company. Arper had always been a company I liked because it makes very straightforward and very beautiful products. The pieces are intelligent and very controlled, but have a human soul. That is important.

For which consumers are your designs intended?
Pengelly: For all of them! I am not interested in products that cost a lot. Artistic furniture, limited editions, very expensive objects - none of that's for me. And it's not democratic, either. One of my challenges is not to design something that costs too much and is simply stylish.

Does sustainability play a role in your work?
Pengelly: Yes. But it is very difficult to be sustainable if you a re designing furniture, as there are very many processes involved. The way in which we try to be sustainable is to be intelligent, first of all by reducing the waste and making materials and workflow more eco-friendly. And we should at any rate resolutely practice a sustainable way of life.

Do you have a message?
Pengelly: Strictly speaking, no, not really. Rather, it is my working method that I wish to convey to others, the way I create things and how they seem timeless without bearing my signature. To my mind, quiet design is timeless design.

Simon Pengelly