LOCATION: Eindhoven, The Netherlands / BEST-KNOWN PROJECT: Pump It Up / BIGGEST CREATIVE INSPIRATION: Nature and the environment / GOAL FOR THE YEAR 2020: “To live inside one of my chairs” / TITLE OF IMAGINARY MONOGRAPH: Dissection of a Modern World / WOULD RATHER DIE THAN DESIGN: A functional toilet seat
It’s odd that a Spanish designer should owe his career to small-town Indiana, but that’s where Nacho Carbonell found his calling. At age 18, having graduated from high school, he was invited to stay in Goshen, Indiana, with the family of an exchange student he’d hosted in Valencia. “There was nothing to do there,” says Carbonell, 27, “so I went back to school.” After auditing high-school classes in woodworking, ceramics, and photography (subjects missing from his Spanish curriculum), a newly inspired Carbonell enrolled in a design program back in Valencia and suddenly went from being “one of the worst students to one of the best.”
The Milanese design doyenne Rossana Orlandi must have agreed: She thrust him straight from a 2007 Eindhoven degree show to a solo spot at her gallery during the Milan Furniture Fair last April, where he peopled a basement space with his spindly-legged Evolution chairs, their seats contorted into papery, cocoon-like cavities in which to retreat—or in the case of a double-sided “bench,” meet—in private. Carbonell used bent steel wires to create 3-D versions of his sketches before covering the frame in chicken wire and smothering it in papier-mâché. Boiling a mix of waste paper (in one case, a pile of flyers advertising Dutch Design Week) and glue to make furniture may sound foolhardy (apart from anything else, the designer admits, “it stinks”), but as Carbonell points out, “There are French antiques made using papier-mâché that have lasted for many hundreds of years.”
Carbonell’s is a particularly animated brand of static design, often starting with the most unprepossessing of materials. For his Soft Concrete sofa, fabric molds are filled with wet cement, then ripped away to reveal the dried impression of upholstery. The latex Pump It Up chair looks like a twisted take on Gaetano Pesce’s classic Up chair. Sit down or move around on the sponge-filled seat, and displaced air is forced down a connecting tube, bringing five parasitical creatures to life. The curious, featureless animals (cats? aardvarks?) were carved from foam, then coated in latex before being eviscerated, resealed, and joined to the mother seat via tubes for tails. Lying inert on the floor they resemble discarded garments. Once inflated they become your “friends,” to pick up or pet at will. “It’s about symbiosis in nature. I like that the chair doesn’t exist without you,”says Carbonell.
Watching Pump it Up in action on YouTube, or footage of Carbonell pummeling his Dream of Sand bench (a brightly colored, rubber-coated, sand-filled alternative to harsh street furniture) into shape, you get a hint of the designer as performer. “I liked theater at school,” he says, “but it’s also really important to record the process and remember what I did to make something.”