Coming to the Table

Jaime Hayon and Christian Rasmussen see eye to eye from worlds apart in their latest collaboration for The Republic of Fritz Hansen.

by Erika Templeton

The surface of the new Analog table by Jaime Hayon for The Republic of Fritz Hansen is not a square, not a circle, not an oval, but rather a melding of these three classic shapes into a new, organic form. The result, say its designers, is a table that promotes a return to the genuine togetherness that is a stark contrast to the digital life we face with demands of constant online presence.

Just as Analog presents a blurring of existing forms to promote social togetherness, the collaborative process behind it reveals a blurring of two distinct design approaches into one clearly communicated vision.

“You can have a lot of different looks, and I think it’s quite nice because you get this really thin, crisp wooden surface,” said Christian Rasmussen, design director for Fritz Hansen, noting a variety of four finishing options for both leg and top surface. “It has a lightness but is still very grounded.”

As gatekeeper of the Fritz Hansen brand through both new designs and an extensive library of classics, Rasmussen’s approach is exceptionally thoughtful and meticulous.

“We have a pretty well described design philosophy based on our legacy and history. It’s not something that we talk about every day, but we have it under our skin,” he said. “The approach is about having a lot of respect for the materials that we use, and having really good arguments for the choices you make as a designer sticks to us. It’s simply part of the mindset; we have a really hard time not thinking about it.”

Hayon, a renowned Spanish designer and artist, looks almost anti-principled in contrast. He operates on pure emotion, making decisions from the gut.

“It is good not to think too much about what you do,” he said. “I have no strategy. My world is my aesthetic, and it’s done with heart. I love what I do, and I hope to die with a pencil in my hand.”

By now, the two are comfortable design partners. Analog marks their third collaboration, after the launch of the Favn sofa in 2011 and the Ro Lounge chair in 2013. But before they ever set off on a project, Rasmussen spent a considerable amount of time talking with Hayon to ensure they could identify with each other’s values and align their vision in cohesion with the rest of the Fritz Hansen oeuvre.

“It’s not so much about a specific material or a specific form language; it’s more about the mindset behind it,” Rasmussen said. “Jaime is maybe not the most obvious match for Fritz Hansen because he comes out of a completely different design tradition. But he has a lot of respect for the brands that he works for and he’s really, really good at adapting his own universe to each brand.”

In the end Hayon did pass the litmus test, of course, but soon found out the trials were just beginning.

“When I started working with them my Spanish patience was being tested, because every detail was to be discussed and adjusted until it was perfect,” Hayon said.

Fritz Hansen has a uniquely slow style of production, due in part to the luxury of a large catalog of classic designs that reduces time to market pressure, but more so because careful methodology is in their blood. While licensed designers typically pop in to the production process for on-the-fly input, Rasmussen asks them to schedule long periods of time to work iteratively in the Fritz Hansen workshop.

“They have to really focus and book the time for it, because otherwise they would just leave in a few hours,” he said. “But then once they understand why we want them to stay there and spend some time with us it really makes sense for them also.”

It is through such close collaborative work that Rasmussen and Hayon have forged a strong mutual appreciation for each other’s design approach.

“I have learned a lot from the Nordic working form, and I have come to love this approach,” said Hayon. “I have learned that the last 5 percent you put into the design and refinement is incredibly important for the result.”

“It’s really inspiring for us to work with a guy like Jaime because he doesn’t need any reason for a color or shape. If it looks great, it’s good. He provokes us a bit more,” Rasmussen said. “And it’s funny because now he says we’re turning Spanish, and he’s turning Scandinavian.”

Three collaborations and many more shared compliments later, Rasmussen and Hayon still manage to sound like philosophical foes when they describe their idea of what a table should be.

What Hayon calls “an underrated piece of furniture,” “the heart of the home” where “we share our greatest joys and sorrows,” Rasmussen describes as “a little bit boring, actually. Tables in my mind shouldn’t be too expressive because it’s not their function.”

So how exactly did these two go about designing a table? By putting down their phones, making time for togetherness, and ultimately blending the shape of their two distinct visions into one.

“I have worked a lot with the shape of the table and the way it simultaneously is heavy and light, which exudes quality and possesses that special Fritz Hansen DNA,” Hayon explained. “The table is not as expressive as Ro and Favn that have more character and thus a greater familiarity. The table is more toned down compared to previous products, but with the right chairs around it can help give a room a powerful statement.”