We sit down with the international and award-winning designer Ron Gilad to talk abstraction, function and panna cotta.
As an ambassador for the Italian powerhouse Molteni&C Dada, you might guess Ron Gilad is a furniture designer, and you’d be partially right. He’s designed a number of tables, sofas, beds and shelving solutions over the years and has been named designer of the year by Wallpaper and Elle Decor, but the tether that connects him to the function-based and service-oriented side of the industry is surprisingly tenuous. Where his minimalist contemporaries might work towards making a well-designed chair, Gilad seeks to explore what exactly it means to be a chair. Additionally an artist and a sculptor, he’s in the studio pursuing the abstract, and not necessarily the end user—a creative process that sometimes leads him to make tables when he’s been commissioned to make lamps. We had the pleasure to sit down and chat with the Tel-Aviv-born designer, who was in town recently to promote Livingspace’s new Molteni&C Dada shop-within-a-shop that just opened this past May.
Q&A with Molteni&C Designer Ron Gilad
How long have you been working with Molteni&C Dada? I entered into this story about six years ago when we started the collaboration, and I wanted on one hand to respect the DNA and the history of the craftsmanship and the research and the atmosphere that the company’s trying to create, yet to be also a little bit of an outsider and to drive it to places which are, a little bit more surprising. Working with these different collaborations, how much do you adjust your own personal style? With Moooi I just did one project and it wasn’t something that was done for the company; it’s a project that I did for myself in my studio in New York many, many years ago and it had been presented as part of a solo exhibition of mine at a gallery in Paris. Moooi saw it and they asked, “Would you mind keep developing it into a product?” and I said yes—a short and specific project that I did with them; it’s not a relationship that has sisters or brothers. How would you describe your style and where is it now? I think always in a place of doubt. I wouldn’t say that it’s something very, very specific. In general, I’m intrigued by our perception about the objects that surround us and the way we conceive life in general through objects. I cannot say that my spécialité is to serve as a filter to create new functions and to make life easier. On the contrary, sometimes I create things that are on the border of the abstract; however, it’s very intriguing for me to also be able to, again, with the help of my collaborators, mainly the Italian design industry, bring to life my abstract ideas and to inject into them certain function. The frame of Gilad's Tavolo table doesn't have standard edges, but sides cut in 45-degree angles. What’s an example of functional intervention in your work? The first project that we started six years ago with Molteni, it didn’t start from a certain function, rather playing with geometrics and our perception of basic geometry, like what is a cube? What is a surface? And what is a volume? And it started from a different variation of this table (here he gestures to his 45-degree Tavolino table right in front of us). This is like the third modification, but the first one started with a simple wooden structure; the parameter has been rotated in 45 degrees in order to create this corner, and to allow this surface to be set, into it, because of its geometry. And I think from that point we decided that the whole collection relates to the degrees of how you play with geometry, that’s why we call it Grado, (an Italian word that means “degree”) and slowly we created more and more, different typologies like a bed and a sofa, a library, vitrines, and so on.
How did your uniquely unstable Panna Cotta table come about? It’s actually very stable as a stool. Originally, it was about how to create function from two elements that are really unbalanced, the table structure itself and the surface are extremely lightweight and cannot survive without the counterbalance of the marble. I wanted to create a dialogue between two elements that didn’t belong to one another, almost like a political fight between two opinions and one is left wing and one is right wing and let’s see if these two together can form something that sort of makes sense. But when I make the sketches for it and we started prototyping it, for instance, it was not clear how stable and functional it could be and we realized it was shaking like panna cotta. And they said, “No, Ron, this is not furniture—if someone with a vase would like to put it on top, it will break and they will sue us and everything, so we must increase all the volume of the structure and the thickness in order for it to be stable.” And I said no; I think that the lightness is the magic of the whole thing and if it’s shaking like a panna cotta, we just need to shake it like a panna cotta. And say that it is what it is.
How would you describe your design relationship with Molteni? I feel that when speaking about collaboration with a very serious and function-oriented company, I manage to bring them to a new place, that is not very secure, that’s it a little bit more untraditional, and luckily my work is never best-sellers or anything like that. But luckily the market was really appreciating the panna cotta, especially when it comes to a place with so much logic, and I think at that point they started to give me a little bit more freedom to fool around. I think that on the other hand, it gives them also a freedom to understand how to be confused a little bit about who they are, because suddenly they realize they’re able to do more than just a sofa, or more than just a lamp—they can deal with the idea of what is a light. Ron Gilad's collection with Molteni&C. What’s inspiring you right now? I think that it’s life itself. I’m a daydreamer; I’m not trying to…I don’t necessarily think about the end user, and to try to satisfy a certain, taste or culture, rather than to satisfy myself. First and foremost I want to intrigue myself to create new typologies and play with new materials, or new structures and to intrigue the user or the viewer by offering a different perception of what they consider to be very common, like what is a table, what is a lamp, etc, etc. Any advice you would give to aspiring designers? Many times if you don’t have your own fingerprint, your own language right away, you’re starting to modify yourself and fit yourself into the mainstream. The mainstream to me is not very interesting—even if I play in this field—but I never try to fit myself into it. When someone says to me, “You know Ron, I think that we are missing some floor lamps in our collection, can you think about something?” And I go and after a few months I come back with an idea for a table lamp. You understand? I never try to answer something just because of the certain needs of the client. If it makes sense, clearly I will start thinking, catering the needs, but I will not limit my freedom to think outside of this frame that they call the industry.
A peek inside the Molteni&C Dada showroom at Livingspace.