Patricia’s Bohemian Rhapsody
von Thomas Wagner | Jan 15, 2012

Patricia Urquiola seeks her inspiration in her personal world: "Sometimes," she once said in an interview, "it is something emotional, other times something very simple and quite trivial that gives me the idea. For me, design is a surprising process. You have an idea and mix it up with other ingredients, but you never know what's going to come out in the end." What she thus creates, above all sofas, armchairs, chairs, not to mention luminaires, outdoor furniture and carpets, is always comfortable and perfectly proportioned. And it always comes with a touch of extravagance and the Bohemian. Indeed the special charm of Urquiola's designs stems above all from her very own feel for subcutaneous subjectivity, to be seen in the patterns and ornaments, but also just as much in the refined craftsmanship of the fabrics and textures.

In recent years, not only her armchairs and recliners called "Antibodi" (boasting pieces of felt sewn together to form blossoms) have caused a real stir. With "Tropicalia" Urquiola has taken the structural principle of garden recliners featuring plastic wickerwork from the 1950s and given them a surprisingly new lease of life with colors, freshness and the joy of African patterns.

The careful and yet decidedly radical way in which she brings new air into the middle-class living room and gives it a completely new feel becomes especially clear in the case of her "Bohemian" collection, again created for Moroso. There, Urquiola not only finds a new form for the classic "Capitonné" but also succeeded in conjuring up a product family consisting of sofa, reclining armchair, chaise-longue and armchair, all with upholstery (attached to the seating frames by snap fasteners) and shapes that seem to dissolve into irregular, seemingly chance lines. For all the classical underlying shape, a sofa suddenly looks as though it has hung a shawl over its shoulders – or animal hides reminiscent of Mongolian carpets. This subtle superimposition of materials in forever new variants on a basic underlying element engenders a hybrid mix fueled by different cultures and traditions without trying to emulate the one or completely adopt it. It is above all this luxurious patchwork that now and again gives Urquiola's furniture that nomadic flair, thanks to which she refreshes the otherwise musty world of middle-class homes and comments ironically on them. Above all the Italians love her for the furniture that addresses a new multicultural and cosmopolitan bourgeoisie and for all the playfulness always exudes a certain grandezza. Because her postmodern variations on classics brilliantly combine cultures and epochs, they could be termed a kind of Bohemian Rhapsody.

And these are just some of the reasons why it is no surprise that in the past decade Patricia Urquiola has emerged as one of the best known and most sought after designers active in the field of furniture. Born in 1961 in Oviedo, Spain, she focused from an early date on Italian design. In 1989, having started her studies in Madrid, she graduated from the Milan Polytechnic in architecture having completed her final-year project under Achille Castiglioni; from 1990-6 she worked in product development at De Padova, where she and Vico Magistretti realized their "Flower", "Loom Sofa" and "Chaise Longue" designs. For five years she headed the Atelier Lissoni Associati design section before in 2001, joining up with Martino Berghinz to open her own studio in Milan, concerning herself with design, exhibition concepts and architectural projects.

The Italians have nicknamed her the "Hurricane" because of the way she has stormed through the design scene for years now. Conversely, she holds the fact that Italian manufacturers gladly experiment in high esteem: "Companies here have less fear of risks, they are flexible and move things forward. I like their agility." And Patricia Urquiola is equally successful as an architect, as is shown by the villa she and Martino Berghinz designed in Udine for Patrizia Moroso and her family. Here can we see not only how skillfully Urquiola links the private domain and a representative setting in a modern vein, but also how creates clear sequences of rooms that are decidedly contemporary.

To get an overview of Patricia Urquiola's diverse output all you need do is cast a glance in the Stylepark database. If one also includes her collaborative efforts with other designers, then there are round about 270 products there, for 19 different makers. What better testimony could there be to her own diversity and agility. And Patricia Urquiola is anything but an unknown for Stylepark over and above her work in product design. As part of "Stylepark in Residence – touchy-feely", in January 2007, on the basis of her "Pelle d'Asino" special show (first displayed at the Abitare il Tempo in Verona) her product cosmos was unfurled during imm cologne in the Kölnischer Kunstverein premises. The objects hung like trophies from a transportation belt in the "Dance n.2" installation, slowly circling the room. Again in 2007 she and Martino Berghinz devised the exhibition footprint for the second edition of "The Design Annual" in Frankfurt's Festhalle, which focused on "private identity", how design fosters it, and what its cultural and social reference points are.

We can now look forward to seeing what Patricia Urquiola has dreamed up in response to being made "Designer of the Year". There can be no doubt that with her rhapsodies on contemporary design she knows exactly how to give transient, only loosely linked cultural themes and patterns a decidedly current spin.

Tropicalia armchair, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Antibodi, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Tropicalia Cocoon, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Tropicalia Chaise Lounge, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Stylepark in Residence – Barock 2004, Cologne, photo © Constantin Meyer
The exhibition-parcours was devised by Patricia Urquiola together with Martino Berghinz, photo © Constantin Meyer
View from above into Frankfurt’s Festhalle, photo © Pietro Sutera
The objects hang like trophies from a transportation belt in the “Dance n.2” installation, photo © Constantin Meyer
Patricia Urquiola, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Bohemian chaise longue, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Bohemian sofa, photo © Alessandro Paderni
”Petals“ serve as upholstery, photo © Alessandro Paderni
Basketry out of synthetic fibers, photo © Alessandro Paderni
The fibers are made out of thermoplastic polymer in various colors, photo © Alessandro Paderni
The Design Annual – inside: private identity 2007, Frankfurt, photo © Constantin Meyer
The exhibition focused on “private identity”, how design fosters it, and what its cultural and social reference points are, photo © Constantin Meyer
Stylepark in Residence – touchy-feely 2007, Cologne, photo © Constantin Meyer
The products are slowly circling the room, photo © Constantin Meyer
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen