Profile: Gam Fratesi – cultural balance

GamFratesi make the most of their different cultural backgrounds. Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi bring their respective Danish and Italian perspectives to every project, challenging conceptions to achieve a new creative balance.

by Jenny Dalton

The new Copenhague restaurant at the cultural institute Maison du Danemark on the Champs Elysées in Paris – in collaboration with Gubi

GAMFRATESI are at the pre-Salone exhibition panic stage. It is March 2017, two weeks away from the world’s biggest design show in Milan, and prototypes are still being tweaked, installation designs completed. Except they’re not panicking. They – explains Enrico Fratesi, the Italian mouthpiece of the Copenhagen-based duo that includes his Danish partner Stine Gam – are used to this jittery end-of-year. Italian clients, he reveals affectionately, are very much last-second tweakers. And so the new soft upholstery chair for Porro he adjusted three days ago to make the seat a touch deeper and change the posture ever so slightly may be cutting it fine, but Fratesi just calmly hopes it is the last prototype before the show.

New client Louis Poulsen, on the other hand, has been putting the final touches to its GamFratesi lighting design – a modern take on the sharp-as-Concorde Arne Jacobsen AJ lamp -for the last two years. Even the stand they have designed for the brand – with its theme of folded paper – is relative calmness and organisation. The difference between the two – and the balance right in the middle – is where GamFratesi likes to be. “We like to keep things proportional”, says Fratesi. “Working with two different cultures makes everything a bit more interesting. You could get a little bored of both if everything was either too fast and irrational or too considered. Our two cultures together make everyday a little more interesting. They balance each other.”

Gebruder Thonet Vienna (GTV)’s bent wood and cane Targa sofa and Allegory desk

Just as GamFratesi exhibit a northernmeets-southern sensibility, they are equally split between disciplines. Their studio has become largely known for its human, accessible yet clean-lined takes on past design classics. Their furniture for Gubi in particular is genius in its simple richness and has become a part of the 21st century design landscape. The cultish Beetle chair, now in a new non-upholstered and bar version, is somewhat reminiscent of the mid-century; the 2011 Masculo armchair (newly available with four legs) took the classics of Hans Wegner and Jacobsen as its starting point; their recent bent-wood and woven cane furniture – including the Targa sofa for GTV – has a light, elegant pre-War feel to it.

New Beetle polypropylene chairs for Gubi – exhibited at Stockholm Furniture Fair

Nowadays, however, their product designs are relatively rare. Fratesi has always been keen on story-telling through design. The studio’s ultimate goal is design as communication, he says, Italians being “nothing if they can’t communicate”. But it is not something that is easy to convey in a single object. In addition, there is more pressure on an individual design, because “if you’re unhappy with the result – unfortunately you’re going to see it forever. These days we only go through that process if we are absolutely sure we can reconsider at any stage. Louis Poulsen were very conscious of that. Their solution with rapid prototyping is to try the design with tiny millimetre differences between versions, just so we could really make sure 2mm was the best measurement to use in a certain part of it. This way you make sure all the designs are responsible and the best they can be.”

The other 50% of the studio’s work is about creating window displays or exhibition stands, such as the Mindcraft show during the Salone in 2015, that still has people talking thanks to the use of 500sq metres of mirror ornamenting a beautiful Milanese cloister courtyard full of contemporary design pieces. This year’s shows – unseen at the time of writing – include window displays at Hermès on via Montenapoleone, plus an installation for Kvadrat featuring metre long folding interpretations of African masks made from the brand’s textiles. Chances are – given GamFratesi’s theatricality – it will be one of the highlights of the Milan show season. Striking visuals aside, however, there are always interesting subtexts beneath the colour and line. The idea of masks, says Fratesi, mirrors the way an upholstery textile “is almost a mask for the furniture. You put it Martin Sølyst on top, and it can change the feeling of the product completely. It can be very playful. Whenever you see the fabric on your design for the first time, it’s a theatrical moment.”

Models of masks for Kvadrat in the Kvadrat showroom in Milan

As for the Hermès installation, the threaded, giant weaving machine they have created which appears to move on a background of colourful textiles, has an “anthropomorphic appearance” to prove that machines are a collaborative friend to creativity rather than a foe.

GamFratesi’s ability to create fun, narrative spaces as well as the products to fill those spaces has meant an obvious but growing outcome for the duo. That of public space and restaurant design. Early this year they completed two atmospheric restaurants at the Maison du Danemark institute in Paris, complete with custom furniture created with Gubi including a new split-column TS bistrot table. These have in turn led to another commission in Paris, and a restaurant in the Philippines. For Enrico Fratesi this is the perfect opportunity to combine “interiors and architecture, which we both studied. For us the idea of working on the in-between – the human scale of architecture combined with product – is incredibly positive. Our intention with our spaces is to introduce really strong and clear memories. We want your experience there to be about feeling. And this feeling should be something you can then take away with you.”

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