A Rebel with a Cause
// A CONVERSATION WITH JACOB GUBI
November 2012 - This interview is the first in a series of conversations with Jacob, part of an ongoing journey, where he shares personal insights about his background, his search for icons and some of the attributes which define Gubi.
Bringing aesthetics from abroad
"As far back as I can remember, I was a rebel. When I was a teenager helping my father in his furniture and arts & crafts business, I always wanted to do things differently - in terms of design or innovation or ways of doing business. My father was the boss, so I had to find my way through the business and put my own fingerprint on the company. My parents have a Danish heritage and I thought it would be interesting to bring different aesthetics from abroad into the equation. I grew up in a home surrounded by different artistic influences. My grandfather was a painter and had all kinds of African masks and figures, Japanese paintings and Italian and Moroccan designs. Basically I've taken that eclectic mix with me and translated it into a business paradigm."
A desire to be different
"I don't get any personal satisfaction from doing a product that everyone else is doing. I think it's a waste of time. I did it once for office interiors. We had to make the designs more generic and I decided: never again. I don't want to do standard things. Now I only pursue things which touch me emotionally."
"I'm driven by a curiosity to find artists and visionaries ahead of their time. Like Jens Quistgaard, an auto didactic sculptor known for his silver cutlery, cookware and jewellery. He wasn't trained as a designer and that's why he was more free form in his approach to designing furniture. And Boris Berlin from Komplot Design, who partnered with Poul Christiansen to create the Gubi Chair, which is part of the permanent collection at MoMA. Boris is a Russian guy who is more like a scientist. He was trained as a photographer and became a designer because of his passion for creating. He's fascinated with forms but more intrigued by working with new materials."
An intuition for icons
"When I was first presented with the Gubi Chair idea, I only saw a hand-made miniature of just the shell but that was enough for me to see its potential as an instant classic. The design had clear references to Eames and Mid-Century Modern but still with its own expression. At the same time, it was based on new technology: 3D veneer. The Gubi Chair was the first of its kind to use this technology."
Icons of the future
"I'm always looking for design treasures. Searching old archives, books, visiting old museums around the world. I often go to Paris to art and design galleries in the 6th arrondissement, where they feature artists starting to make a name for themselves. Of course, I love the flea market at Clignancourt. That mix of different environments is inspiring. I get to see designers doing limited edition pieces. Then I can see if a piece is too detailed or uses too many materials to become a design we can then produce."
What makes a design a classic?
"There has to be some kind of compelling emotional appeal. I like simple expressions with very few details. A design has to be beautiful and sculptural. Something that's not too much, but then again, not too minimal. With some form of visual attraction that makes it stand out when you see it together with 50 other products. And it has to make you feel good. A design also has to add something in terms of innovation. From a practical point of view, of course it has to be possible to produce at a reasonable cost."
Attracting new talent
"Ever since the Gubi Chair became part of MoMA's permanent collection, it brought us a certain credibility. Now we're in a better position to attract designers with new ideas. I get design proposals every day. It's exciting to have reached a level we can leverage, where we can collaborate with the artists we truly want.
What's next on the design agenda?
"Right now I'm curious about Bauhaus, with a focus on the Austrian design culture from the start of the 20th Century. People like the Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann and Austro-Hungarian architect Adolf Loos. Both were pioneers in contemporary design in Vienna during the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements. So far, we've been discovering old and new designers primarily from Europe. But, I'm not concerned with where a designer is from. For me, what's more important is that they have a story to tell and a clear point of view. We live in a global world, so …"