This is the first installment in our Designer of The Week series. There will be a new designer profile every Tuesday of the year.
The above photo is from Driade. Visit their website to see more about his famous Toy Chair.
Born in France (1949), Philippe Starck is one of the most renowned interior designers still alive today that follow the modernist tradition. He’s become almost a pop figure in decoration and furniture design, but he’s also created a wide array of household objects, and other accessories such as watches, which makes him a genius in the related field of industrial design.
Starck’s father was an aircraft engineer, and many people agree that he might have been his biggest influence. However, Starck is also a more contemporary product of mid-century modernism, which is why we choose to include him in the DOTW series.
First commissions and professional career
Starck went to the prestigious École de Nissim de Camondo in Paris, and set up his first workshop in 1968, producing inflatable items. At this point in time, mid-century furniture was extremely popular and gaining traction both in Europe and in America. However, Starck became more immediately focused on interior design.
His most important professional commission came in 1983, when he was asked to furnish and redecorate the Élysée Palace apartments in Paris for the then French president, François Mitterrand. He then started to receive international commissions, getting the chance to work in Mexico, Japan, Spain, and New York City.
By the time he worked on NYC’s Royalton and Paramount hotels in the late 1980s, Starck had already developed a distinctive modern style that would inspire other hotels to follow suit. He didn’t, however, associate himself with a particular trend, but rather chose to focus on each client’s individual needs and vision. This work ethic made him even more sought-after and profitable.
Starck’s furniture design
Currently licensed by Kartell, Starck’s furniture draws from the mid-century modern baggage and triumphs, looking distinctively sleek and serious, but adding playful little details to account for aesthetic preoccupation. In regards to function and form, it seems that Starck championed the idea of the user becoming more involved in the design process, adding value through usage and placement. Innovation, for Starck, is a fluid, continuous process, not a necessary deviation from an already established trend.
More importantly, Starck has a populist approach to interior design, following on the footsteps on his Bauhaus predecessors and the philosophy behind brands like Design Within Reach. However, his fame often gets in the way of his mass-marketed aspirations, something that is very common to successful design careers.
Starck is a very good designer to look at if one wants to see the evolution of mid-century inspired original furniture designs. His Kingwood chair and ottoman seems like the perfect amalgam between Hans Wegner and the Eameses plywood workings, as do his Queenwood and Princesswood iterations. Starck’s Art Director chair also looks like a more casual reinterpretation of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair, and his Lou Speak chair can definitely be considered a beautiful homage to Wegner’s Egg chair.
It can be quite difficult to bring together and categorize each of Starck’s product lines: his 40-year-long career in furniture design includes tables, armchairs, outdoor (summer) furniture, stools, storage, beds, sofas, and much more. Starck is also very flexible and innovative with his materials, and has created great items in plywood, fiberglass, aluminum, bronze, plastic, leather, and synthetic fabrics.