The work of Anasstassiades is immediately recognizable because of its consistent commitment to elegance and refinement. In his words, the work and the brand can be defined by one word: timelessness. His commitment to real materials coupled with his fierce dedication to his vision make for a collection that is arresting and stunning performing a balancing act between art and design. Anastassiades studied engineering before entering the Royal College of Art. When furnishing his apartment, he couldn’t find a light that he loved so he made his own and thus began his journey into light.
We spoke with Michael in London and have created a sound portrait of him and and his work.
EARLY WORKS: THE SOCIAL AND ANTI-SOCIAL LIGHT
I was very much interested in interactive design and the role of objects with relation to users. I was interested in, let’s say, the psychological dimension that existed between objects and users. One of the pieces that I made at the time was this piece called “The Anti-Social Light.” It was a living room light that would glow only when there’s absolute silence.
The whole idea behind it is that you have to respect the light’s function in order to get it to work, so you have to be silent to get its glow. Once you start speaking, the light starts dimming down, and then eventually, turn off. Then, when you get quiet again, then the light goes on again.
At the same time, I did this other light called “The Social Light,” which was exactly the opposite. It was a light that would react to sound, and it would maintain its glow only if you talk to it, so it becomes almost like a therapy object. A light that you talk your frustrations to in order to get it to work.
I’m a person that loves silence. I don’t like to work with music. When I listen to music, I get more distracted, so I decide to listen to music more as an experience when I’m completely focused. I can’t really listen to music and do something else at the same time.
You have to design without compromise, without any restrictions. You have to be true to the vision that you have right from the beginning.
FROM THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART TO FLOS
It’s interesting because when I started my brand, I always say that it was out of no choice, but the reality is that I think that in life, you always have a choice. Nobody really wanted to work with me before. There was no manufacturer that opened its doors and say, “Let’s do a project together,” and I knocked at many doors.
After I graduated from the Royal College, I did try for many, many, many years to enter that world of designing for industry, but after all this effort, I realized that it was quite a destructive process that I needed to isolate myself, and focus in what I could do, and try to understand how I was going to make it happen, and this is why I set up my own brand. For many years, I did show people what I could do because the brand became quite successful, and then at some point, an invitation came from FLOS to work together.
You have to design without compromise, without any restrictions. You have to be true to the vision that you have right from the beginning, and I think to maintain that vision is always a big challenge. For me, to reach the point where you create something mediocre, I think that’s what I considered a total failure, and that’s what I consider a complete and absolute compromise. Freedom for me is to be able to communicate the idea in its purest form.
THE POETRY OF LIGHT
If you consider light as an object, it’s very different than any other object around you. The fact that it has to exist in two different scenarios, one, when it’s on, and the other one when it’s off. It’s two completely different scenarios. As you said, you turn a light on, you change completely the mood of the space.
For me, there’s a certain poetry associated with that, and I think there’s no person in this world that doesn’t actually emotionally respond to light. I think we’re drawn to light. It’s a natural thing. You have to look at glowing objects and this admiration for those glowing objects. Even in nature, you look at the moon. You look at the sun. There’s always been worship to these elements, I would say.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
When I start designing, I always try to remove as much information as possible from the object itself. It’s a little bit of a distillation project, a process, so you remove layer after layer, and then what happens is that you purify the idea, and that’s when the idea behind that product becomes strongest. Simplicity, I would say. You have to make things simple. That’s one fundamental thing.
The other thing is materiality. I always look for materials that get better with time. I’m interested in using materials that are real materials, woods that look like woods, so that … metals that look like metals, not like plastics that happened to look like metals or plastics that look like wood because I believe in the patina that develops over time, and I think that’s what makes you appreciate an object more and more, and you never get tired of it.
I don’t like to live with many objects. I think that I think about what to bring in my home over, and over, and over again. I think there needs to be a place for something to enter my life, and if there isn’t, then there’s no need for it to be there, and it doesn’t matter. The thing is that what people don’t understand is when they’re building their homes and their environments that it shouldn’t … everything be completed in a few months’ time. You built your home, and you complete your environment, and everything is perfect.
It’s a life project at the end of the day, and it’s that search, that long search to find the objects that you like to have around you and to find the object that actually suits the space that’s around you. I like many things, but I can’t have them all in my environment, so I just have to choose the right ones.
I look back at things that I … Sometimes, I wonder why did it take me so long to get where I am, and it’s interesting because when I first met Piero Gandini from FLOS, the owner of FLOS, and we started working together, he turned around, and he looked at me, and he said to me, “Where have you been all these years? I mean, you’re almost 50 years old. Where have you been hiding?”
It’s interesting because it made me smile because a lot of other designers find themselves out there doing things much earlier than I do, and if you ask me, I don’t regret any moment of that, the difficult process that I had to go through because at least it makes you more secure. It makes you more confident in doing the things that you really want to do.
You constantly have to remind yourself what you’re here to do, and I think that as a creative person, you’re always looking for something. As I said, you never actually know what you’re looking for. You discover things through a process of illumination of identifying the things that you don’t want to do, so it’s quite satisfying.
You have to post that question back to yourself and remind yourself, “What is the starting point? Why did I do all these things?” and you have to listen to yourself somehow and remind yourself through the different steps that you had to take to get where you are, and I think that’s … It’s a little bit of a reset pattern somehow, and that’s when it puts you back into perspective.
Everybody goes through hard times, and at times, we get stuck in life not only creatively, and you always question yourself, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I in the right path?” I think these are the moments when I always know that actually, the only recipe that is going to get you out of it is when you get back to work.
Those were the words of lighting designer extraordinaire Michael Anastassiades. Thank you for listening to Design in Mind, a production of Arkitektura based in San Francisco. To hear other Design in Mind, please visit Arkitektura Assembly. Next up, Ingo Maurer. Thank you for listening.