Design is curiosity, respect, self-knowledge. Design raises questions: Who are we in relation to our surroundings? How do form and materials relate to our body, our mind, and our daily life? Maria Bruun tries to answer these and many other questions through her work as a designer. Born, raised, and trained in Denmark, Bruun has become a great interpreter of wood, creating collections and furnishings that are so similar to art objects that they’ve been exhibited at numerous exhibitions and museums. Trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, she’s developed a very personal style that’s forever in flux, based on a close dialogue with craftspeople from the most varied sectors, but always with a deep respect for classic Danish design.
In your opinion, what is design? What makes an item more desirable than another?
«For me, design is both artistic and commercial.
For me, design is a lifelong task.
For me, design is a scenographic whole.
For me, design is esthetic and material upbringing.
For me, design is a creative urge.
Design is an ubiquitous element in everyday life, both as a general consumer and as a creator of design. The daily alternation between design as ”function” and ”ambition”, is the starting point for everything I create. Design is a rhythm, an iteration and a process of constant change. But it is also material impact, and the ability to create real and lasting design - most important of all, is that design manifests itself from thought to concrete action. Design is curiosity, respect and care, which at the same time pushes the boundaries of how we understand our space and the objects we surround ourselves with. The goal is always to develop designs and furniture with esthetic consideration for time and place that contribute more than the purely functional. The users are inextricably linked to the designed objects - like everyday scenography, as design becomes part of the individual's understanding of self. Design raises the questions: Who are you in relation to your surroundings? How does the form and material relate to your mind and body? How do you fit into the whole?».
What is your preferred environment/atmosphere to work and create in?
«I’m based in Copenhagen and work out of my studio in a charming cobblestone street, with large windows and beautiful light beaming in the windows - I absolutely thrive in this environment at street-level where neighbors say hello to people who pass by are curious; this connects me to the outside world while I immerse myself into my work. I work with furniture, interiors and exhibitions at the junction between the artistic and sculptural practice and commercial design, insisting that one does not exclude the other. What constitutes a piece of furniture and what constitutes a sculptural utility object? These are the questions that interest me in my professional practice. I try not to categorize my work too much and let the shape development and the materials naturally progress. My products often consist of series of objects or furniture. Early in the process, I visualize the object's spatial context or relation to its surroundings. I see the images to my eye very early in the process».
You’ve said that the collaboration with artisans, potters/ceramists and professionals of different fields is fundamental in order to mutually enrich your approach and work. How do you establish this trust-based and collaborative relationship each time?
«In my practice I often work in collaboration with skilled craftsmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, glassblowers, potters, etc. I have a great and deep respect for the tradition and dedication it takes to master a craft and I am often dependent on finding the best and most experienced hands to carry out my designs. Due to my great curiosity and fascination for the craft, I have made it an important part of my work to both teach myself skills in the workshop - but to a large extent also to listen and absorb experiences from those who have worked all their lives with a material. I feel in many ways that it is part of my salary that I am allowed to get to know new crafts. It also often opens the horizon for new designs. When you get to know the inherent quality of a material and the process and processing associated with it, one of my tasks is to step into the process and sometimes also to challenge it. The traditions that lie in a given craft also sometimes need to be moved on, so that together we can create something new - and some new production methods and designs that suit the world we live in now».
Wood is the protagonist in many of your works. What do you feel when touching and shaping this ancient yet contemporary material? Do you think it could be used more in the future of design and architecture?
«The quality of the wood is amazing. The fascination of receiving a log, knowing its time and place in the world. To saw, cut, trim and plan the wood – controlling the forces studying its veins and structure, refining its curves and re-constructing it. And consequently, adding all that value into a single piece of furniture or object – it fascinates me every time! Most times I make sure to do prototypes or tests in the workshop! Over the years I have become more and more skilled in the workshop and I have an enormous respect for the craftsmanship. When you, yourself, have tried to saw up the timber or operate the drills, milling or CNC it effect your way of creating. When you know how to operate the materials in the systems you can challenge the process and push the boundaries of what is possible. I definitely think that wood is a material we will see more integrated in design and architecture in the future».
In their daily operations, designers and architects have to be able to read the necessities of the present-day, while also trying to imagine what will be needed in the future. Surely the fight against waste is an issue of both today and tomorrow and some of your works represent this. Can you describe them?
«I join a long-standing Danish design tradition. With sincere respect for classic Danish furniture design, I strive to build on this foundation in an innovative approach, and create designs in close dialogue with skilled craftsmen. I am interested in the past, present and future of Danish design.We are entering a new and exciting time for Danish furniture and product design. We respect and stand on the shoulders of the modernist coryphaeus and our historical esthetic upbringing - but it is time for something new! My ambition is to insist that good design matters. When we speak about furniture, wood, manufacturing and sustainability, we initially have to think about the full circle of life for the products we create. From how much we wood we trim, to the maximum of use of that material, not only using specific species but presenting consumers to new species: packaging, local production, freight, use and re-use, reparation and maintenance, deconstruction and decomposing, reforestation. When you design, I believe that it is also important that the idea of sustainability is represented in the piece. It could be through Flexible Functionality. Where one create multiple opportunities within one design, multiple scales within one design. One can also focus on Minimal use of adjacent materials: developing and designing details and solutions in wood - so that the product cycle of disposal- in terms of decomposition or recycling of the materials. Or simply using classic woodworking methods that have existed for ages and have been tested over time - this also helps preserve the craft and the craft industry, and essentially help preserve local jobs and national production.
I have absolutely no problem outsourcing - but I do believe it is a balance to be aware of. For example, in light of some challenging years for the world with a global pandemic, we are challenged, vulnerable and we might be more resistant in a crisis if we based some of our production on local labor and local material resources. But I believe the strongest value is designing with High design quality. Essentially, I believe that creating a piece of furniture that is esthetically pleasing with well-thought details carried out requires the best craftsmanship and materials. In this manner we create pieces that its users will care for and repair and essentially will be carried on through generations».
Among your projects, is there any you are particularly attached to? Why?
«In 2020 I was contacted by the Design Museum London in collaboration with a British manufacturer Benchmark and American Hardwood Export Council - to design a ‘home office furniture collection’ to match the new normal we all had to adapt to during the pandemic. I created a series of work titled Nordic Pioneer. Made in solid maple, they represent a soft esthetic that is pleasing for the eye. With characteristic details that looks easy - as if they were always meant to be like that - but they are extremely complex craftsmanship and an example of a piece of bespoke furniture that Benchmark does so well. Expect a ‘safe space’ a ‘table for one’ where work and personal life can collide - and when the world is back to normal we can fold out and invite the ones we love to sit with us again! I choose to work in the most beautiful american maple - with haptic qualities you dream of. A white milky color - making the pieces light and almost invisible in the space - a playfull and subtle vein-structure and a soft touch to calm me down. Essentially the result - The Nordic Pioneer chair, table and stool continued my vein of SCULPTURAL MINIMALISM that characterize all my work. Deceptively simple design - with few but carefully considered details and a playfull element (with the balance of never becoming comical or irrelevant - just enough to spark your attention and sharpen your senses.Since we presented the collection back in 2020) - The Nordic pioneer stool has been on quite the journey.
My simple idea of taking the small foot detail from under the table and armchair and scaling it into a massive solid wood cushion on a small stackable stool - became a simple and useful object that a lot of people could relate to. The users have been drawn like a magnet to this wooden cushion - equally fascinated by its actual solid maple wood, and its softness. But also that from a far looks are deceiving - it reads as a cushion and a functional sculpture.This stool has been quite the journey and is currently on its way to production - and will be launched as a commercial product in the spring of 2023».
Do you have a dream? Would you like to share it with us?
«I represent contemporary Danish design - right now! That is why I am fascinated by, and I work to create what it will help to define Danish design in the future; what will take our long heritage and tradition and make it sustainable for the next fifty or hundred years. My practice is, in reality, about providing insights into my perspective as a designer - and trying to convey the values and products I find meaningful to consumers».
Individual photo credits are included in each gallery image