Kvadrat: A Design Family

Port travels to the new Copenhagen showroom of renowned textile designer Kvadrat, to learn more about the brand’s philosophy and conceptions of space

Kvadrat – the Danish textile company founded in 1968, beloved of architects and interior designers – prides itself on a focus on quality and heritage, just not at the expense of innovation. This unique mix of classic design and originality is evident in the brand’s new showroom in Pakhus 48, an old warehouse in the former freeport area of the Copenhagen docks, outfitted by the Bouroullec brothers, the renowned French design duo.

Having studied industrial design and modern art, Ronan and Erwan have been working together as product and interior designers since 1999. When we speak at the opening of the new showroom, Erwan tells me how they’ve fostered a relaxed and organic relationship. “We are brothers, we’ve been in the same place, and we’ve been drinking or eating the same things, so our relation to shapes and material are pretty similar. Yet, with our way of working, sometimes one of us can be much more inside something, while the other one can be in more of the surroundings.”

The Bouroullecs are long-time collaborators with Kvadrat. Since their first project with the brand, designing a display space in Stockholm 11 years ago, they have fostered a continuing partnership. The pair were asked to design Kvadrat’s original showroom in Copenhagen, as well as a number of products now sold by the brand – Clouds, a system of flexible panels, and Ready Made Curtain, a set of pegs that turns any fabric into a curtain, were originally bespoke products for Kvadrat’s offices.

The closeness of the relationship between the brand and the brothers is such that neither Erwan, nor Kvadrat CEO Anders Byriel, can remember when they first brought up the idea of the new showroom. “Anders never exactly asked, because we saw each other all the time,” says Erwan. Together, they seem to understand each other’s needs and interests and talk simply of how natural it was that they would work with each other.

During the time that the Bouroullecs have been collaborating with the brand, Kvadrat has grown from a handful of office staff to nearly 30: they outgrew their old offices and display rooms, and simply needed more space. This was the challenge for the Bouroullecs, how to set everyone at ease and return the focus to the materials at hand. Erwan tells me the first step was to set up the backdrop for the space by turning to the natural light, which floods in from two walls of south-facing glass, overlooking the expanse of the harbour and the low-lying city beyond.

Inside, the space is carefully divided up by panels of fluted glass and low lying brick walls, the physical weight and textural surface of which ground the space. Erwan points out the slight imperfections in the bricks and glass: for him, it highlights the hands that have gone into its production. The slight irregularity, as an example of resistance to industrial processes, is pleasing, even if it doesn’t please the German engineers that made them. These divide the open office space, which is filled with furniture upholstered in Kvadrat’s minimal Basel and Hallingdal 65 fabrics, and includes smaller, more intimate areas for cutting lengths of cloth. This brings a sense of humanity to what Erwan worried could have been a very empty, cold space.

Byriel and the Bouroullecs talk highly of the new typologies of bespoke products they’ve designed for Kvadrat, many of which have now entered into large scale production, for Kvadrat and for others. Here, they designed a modular and movable rail system to hang display fabrics from the ceiling. These finely machined aluminium links can be set to different heights and moved throughout the showroom to open up or close off areas. Strong enough to hold metres and metres of raw textiles with no cutting and stitching, the system presents the fabrics ready to be touched and inspected.

It’s hard not to see it as a gallery – over its history, Kvadrat has worked with artists and designers including Peter Saville, Olafur Eliasson, and Miriam Bäckström. But Byriel and Erwan are keen to emphasise the working aspect of the space. Byriel notes that a third of the entire showroom is dedicated to working space for architects and specifiers. “We have lots of people coming here every day, maybe you come with drawings, maybe you come with clients, you stand or sit and work. It’s a little bit more of a space where you interact and you touch the goods… You’re not allowed do that in art galleries.”

From the way Erwan talks, it is clear that the Bouroullecs work isn’t simply a case of installing parts to please a client. Rather, he espouses a philosophy of materiality and honesty: “It’s important to make sure that you embed inside objects a kind of a self-learning process, so that people can find out what it is… Materials have to express what they are, where they come from, they have to express if they’re fragile or if they’re strong, they have to express if they’re here forever or not, in order that people properly behave with things that are given to them, especially when they are customers.”

It seems that many people share this philosophy. Kvadrat textiles are seen all over the world, in hotels, offices, aeroplanes and recently, a concept car by BMW. Kvadrat have also worked with David Chipperfield architects to upholster the entire headquarters of Amorepacific cosmetics in Seoul, opening later this year. Likewise, Byriel has high words for the Bouroullecs work too. “In 100 years there will be four or five people who defined our times, and I really think the Bouroullecs will be one of them. Like Eames defined the mid-century, I feel they’re defining our time.”