Design team Müsing–Sellés captures nuanced moments, breaking down the reputation of furniture design and making way for distinctive functionality and form.
Explore more of Müsing–Sellés︎︎︎
The concept of ‘expectedness’ can stem from various parts of our everyday life. As our normal is starting to become something new, the boundaries of design may be challenged as well. Müsing–Sellés, a duo made up of Álvaro Gómez-Sellés and Marisa Müsing, capture those nuanced moments in evolving design–breaking the reputation of furniture design, and making way for distinctive functionality and form.
Both of their backgrounds being in architecture, we talked over video call about the mental process of making furniture from renders, humanlike forms from unexpected materials, and what the future of design could look like.
Thank you for being here today—I’ve been wanting to interview you guys for a while now. To start off could you give me some background on your personal practices and how you became a duo?
Marisa: We both have backgrounds in architecture—I've been studying architecture for the past 7 or 8 years now, and I'm currently doing a masters at the Royal College of Art [in London]. We met in New York at an architectural office called SO-IL; I was working on my bachelors and doing an internship there, and Alvaro had been working as project manager there for about 3 years. We did two competitions together, and we both worked really well—we had interesting beliefs in creative styles.
Alvaro : And we won one.
Marisa: Yeah we also won one competition. So I guessed it worked out pretty well [laughs]. SO-IL is the type of office where you work long hours and you work really hard, but it's also a beneficial experience because you learn from each other. It's an interesting creative place to be in, so you find other creatives that you're excited to collaborate with. [About] a year later, that's where we discussed doing collaborations between just the two of us.
Alvaro: We were doing really big developments and there was a desire to do smaller things. Often in architecture, you always have to study smaller details for smaller scale spaces. I think we both find that very interesting.
Marisa: When I was at SO-IL, I did the modelmaking there and was focused on a very tiny scale already, but Alvaro had these beautiful sketches that he did. I think we often had similar interests in the ways we were working—we were always making characters and objects from the things we were designing there.
Alvaro: We did this last competition in Paris and that's the one we won, but it's really interesting that the initial sketches for those buildings became our first collection.
Wow, so you designed the buildings too?
Alvaro: We designed four buildings in Paris near Place de la Bastille and the sketch for that sort of became the beginning of our first collection.
As architects I think it's interesting that you came to design furniture and other objects.
Marisa: I think, for both of us, we thought that furniture would be a good place to start off because it's something that is accessible and easy enough to produce, and quickly too. Compared to architecture, there's a huge difference in the time frame, so it's exciting to play with this scale. We were building some of our interests from backgrounds and set design as well. In the beginning, we thought of how to make pieces that would fit in a staged environment. It is essentially scaling down the size of the architecture to a scale of a room.
I saw that a lot of your work is based on moving away from expected functionality in furniture. What does that mean to you and how do you push those boundaries?
Alvaro: That's really in line with what Marisa was saying about set design; it's related to the fact that we started our first collection with a sketch for a building. I think because we are architects, we were always designing these pieces as something that will take a space, sort of like set design. And that's why we didn't want to have a clear function or a clearly recognizable thing.
Marisa: I agree, with the background in SO-IL, it was always about looking at the details of the buildings and there's something really interesting about how these different forms would go together. The building itself could be any sort of function; the interest was in how you describe that function in a very nuanced way. So that was always our focus—how do you make these really beautiful details in these projects and [allow it to] enhance itself into a scale of a room.
It's interesting because furniture has a heavy connotation of being user-based design. In a sense, it's a type of restriction due to serving a function for the user. There’s a fine line to that restriction and pushing those expected boundaries to new levels. In your design process, do you ever think the design is too far from what the point of the object is?
Alvaro: I think that's our goal [laughs]. Move far away from the actual form and function—
Marisa: I always find it really funny—I think we both do—that no one ever suspects the actual scale of the objects. Everyone always thinks it's so much smaller in reality than it actually is.
Alvaro : I think us too.
Marisa: Yeah, because we designed our pieces on the computer, we were like “Oh yeah, that looks like the right scale.” But we're also making it in this endless grid space so there's no actual understanding of the actual size [laughs].
With the first set, we didn't really know the scale of it until we had the materials sent to our studio. Like “Holy shit, this is really big!” But I think it's also kind of great that we were working that way, because that way you don't limit yourself to the expected ideas of what furniture size should be. It’s kind of based on these dream sets of rules and values that we've given to it, not what is expected.
What draws you to the rounded cylindrical shapes throughout your pieces?
Alvaro: Something that was always present is how, when you see the piece, it's like human. You feel related to it. There's certain humanity in all those shapes. We're working on this project—hopefully it's going to graviates on only that—like “How can you create this sort of fit or even with the finish.” As a human when you're looking at them, you feel related to them subconsciously.
Marisa: It's really beautiful to see the reaction when people see the pieces, and I've noticed with the set no.6 that we made last year for Salone Satellite, everyone always wants to hug the pieces. They say “They look so huggable, so cushy.” It’s beautiful to hear, since when you first see it you don't think, “That looks like a human.” It's not so obvious, but there must be an intrinsic thing about the forms that imply a human narrative and language.
Alvaro: Everyone was so disappointed that the pieces were actually hard. We are trying to achieve a smooth feeling, but they are solid, and rigid. Everyone was touching it.
Marisa: Yeah they were always like knocking it [laughs].
Alvaro: “Why is not soft?” [laughs]
What was it made out of?
Alvaro: CNC’ed high density foam.
So it's very sturdy?
Marisa: Yeah, that was again one of the architectural things we had to put into place a bit. There's this big piece of glass that sits in between the foam, and we didn't want any intrusive details that showed it being supported, so instead we had to make the seats really heavy, and the high density foam was the best option for us.
I think we always want to juxtapose two things, so one was the hard and soft materials, and the translucency of the glass versus the starkness of the white object.
We still have to play with the ideas of making soft furniture, we've always had an interest in that.
Alvaro: We're always trying to not recreate, but find a medium that allows it to wrinkle, kind of like body wrinkles.
Marisa: We always reference—Alvaro has four? Or five?
Alvaro: Four french bulldogs.
Marisa: [Laughs] So we always try to make these little wrinkles that they have on their body.
[Laughs] That is amazing.
Alvaro: We have to find the material or technique that allows us to make the wrinkle because we don't want to recreate the wrinkles, we want to be able to build it in a way that creates the wrinkles by itself.
I feel like that is a very architectural mindset to think in that way; instead of recreating something, you want to build the structure of it in order to fold in that way. You have the special skill set to do so.
Alvaro: Yeah. The collection we did in Milan, the initial manufacture was by a guy in Venice that used to do our concrete castings. So the technique was also related to some of the projects we worked on before, in New York. I guess everything we work on is architectural, we can't escape [laughs].
Does your personal relationship with objects in your home and what you interact with in the everyday influence your work?
Alvaro: It's actually the opposite for me. Because we live in New York going from apartment to apartment, we don't really have anything at all—I don't own anything. And Marisa, that time we were doing this collection, I think you were living between four apartments.
Marisa: Yeah, I was house hopping, I didn't really have a house [laughs]. Also for the both of us, we have such diverse strange backgrounds: my family is Chinese-German and I'm from Canada, but I've also been travelling all over the place. Alvaro’s from Spain, but he's been living in New York for a while and Rotterdam and Tokyo [in the past]. So we have this weird nomadic lifestyle.
Alvaro: That's why we wanted to create sets of objects you could put in an empty room. It's like this concept of being in New York—you move every six months and you want to just have something where you put these three things and create a home relationship.
Marisa: One of our first conversations was about living in New York and what it would be like if you were to just come home and have these objects fill a space, what that would look like.
Alvaro: So I think to answer your question, it's the opposite, it's the lack of our relationship with our objects [laughs].
That’s a good point though. In regards to your ideas of challenging the everyday functionality and having objects in sets: since a lot of us are spending more time at home, do you think the interactions of the everyday and the direction of the design world might change?
Marisa: The idea of working in sets has always been interesting for us, and building around activities is key for us, so maybe it's more about the isolated person in the room. There's always a group of people interacting with groups of objects, so maybe now it would be interesting to focus on what it would mean for someone in their home to be interacting with these strange series of characters surrounding them. Maybe that's a new narrative that we can play with.
Alvaro: Yeah. It's more about how you physiologically relate to those things.
Marisa: I’ve been really inspired seeing people online finding unique ways of working at this time and designers and creators will always find work with what they have. In a recent fair we did in Brussels, called Collectible, there were some really interesting galleries there, like Fracas Gallery and Everyday Gallery, presenting work where you can see the artists had a strong impression on their pieces, so I can definitely see that becoming a bigger part of it now.