Benjamin Hubert isn’t out there to create the next nice thing. As founder of London-based Layer Design, whose clients include multinational companies such as Bauer, Samsung and BMW, the firm’s collective focus is “problem-solving and adding value, not just in terms of shape or colour.”
It actively seeks out projects that require analytical thinking over aesthetically driven exercises, and it has ventured into the world of furniture with the same vigour. From exploring digital knit as a form of upholstery with Moroso to playing around with modularity with Fritz Hansen, Hubert talks about adding depth, as well as increasing functionality and systematic smartness in a world dominated by the veneer of style.
How did you stumble into the world of furniture-making?
Benjamin Hubert (BH) I’m not a furniture designer—no one in the studio at Layer Design is, really. There are about 20 of us, including industrial designers and ethnographic researchers, who just happen to like designing furniture. We do a lot of human-focused work, and we use the same approach and apply it to furniture. We find it difficult to do just nice things… Of course, it has to be beautiful, but there needs to be something more. The more choices we have and the more we consume, all the more we need stories that resonate beyond style in a given season or year. It’s not grandiose, but we aim to build layers of smartness into something that doesn’t have it.
Tell us how your collaboration with Moroso evolved.
BH Patricia Urquiola put Patrizia Moroso and me in touch back in 2012; just a year later, we launched the Net table and the Talma armchair. The most important thing about working with a company that collaborates with a lot of designers is finding your place. I’ve always admired the way Moroso works with textiles and upholstery. At Layer, we work with technical knitting, which is undergoing massive growth and development—you just have to look at most sneakers to see how it’s exploded. As such, we were able to find this common ground of interest and build from there.
Why are you so excited about the Cradle collection?
BH I think it’s a milestone in digital knitting. It has more than two million loops of knit, and from the point of view of the factory in Austria, it’s the largest piece of digital-knitted upholstery that has ever been produced. To produce digital knit, we need to work on a complex matrix that requires mathematical calculations and considerations, such as how things stretch. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Technology is a driving force in design and our lives. How do you see it changing?
BH Today, we want information all the time, but we also want to relax—although even in our leisure time, we do highly stimulating things like checking social media, so the two are fighting each other a little bit. I think we will see technology being softened. We want more technology, but no more screens. Integrating technology softly and subtly, and making it more human, will be the evolution.
Problem-solving is at the core of Layer Design. What particular issues are you most interested in?
BH At a design fair, you see a million new chairs, even though the problem of sitting was solved a long time ago. Imagine what could happen if we put a tenth of the creativity and design prowess into solving real problems including healthcare, sanitation and water! We’re trying to work more on development problems such as these. We need to step out of the bubble for meaningful change to occur and there are a lot of opportunities for designers to address real-world issues—and not just create for consumption’s sake.
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This story was adapted from Singapore Tatler Homes August-September 2017.