There’s a theory that the introduction of coffee to Europe from the Arab world was the catalyst for the Enlightenment back in the 1700s. Alfredo Häblerli’s design for a commemorative coffee set for Dubai’S 2021 World Exhibition was inspired by its deep cultural roots. Now it has been adapted to commemorate BD’s 50th anniversary.
Designer Alfredo Häberli (Buenos Aires, 1964) was born in Argentina to Swiss parents. His family background was in the restaurant business which would later help inform some of Alfredo’s design commissions. The family moved back to Switzerland in 1977 where he graduated as an industrial designer from the Höhere Schule für Gestaltung, Zúrich in 1991. Subsequently he founded his own design studio there, Alfredo Haberli Design Development. Success followed quickly with numerous awards for different pieces in collaboration with renowned brands including MW, Camper, Driade, Edra, FSB, Georg Jensen, Iittala, Kvadrat, Luceplan, Vitra and Zanotta as well as BD Barcelona Design, of course. His designs feature a dynamic character combined with precise functionality, always with a marked graphic quality. A retrospective of his work was held at Zurich’s Museum für Gestaltung, in 2008 under the title “Surround Things”, while in 2014 he received the Swiss Grand Prix of Design Award.
His first collaboration with BD came about during the early 2,000s when he designed Ginger stools, under the Happy Hour collection. Since then he has gone on to create several important works for the company such as the Swiss benches collection of outdoor seating as well as the Doobide Collection, the first tableware collection ever produced by BD Barcelona Design over its 50 year history. Here below BD got a chance to catch up with Alfredo and ask him about some of these collaborative designs and how the relationship came about in the first place.
How did the idea of you collaborating with BD arise in the first place?
We met at the Salone Del Mobile in Milano. I think it was back in the year 2,000. I met Ramón Úbeda and Mireia Riera, and they suggested a collaboration. At the time I was doing the complete interior design of a Japanese restaurant in Zurich, so we immediately came up with a stool for it, that BD produced and which became part of the Ginger collection. That was more than 20 years ago.
How did the Dubai project come about and tell us about the evolution of the 50th anniversary edition?
The Dubai collection started with The World Expo in Dubai, under the title “Connecting minds, creating the future” in 2021. I discovered the meanings behind the coffee drinking ritual, as a ceremony, as a symbol of generosity, representing an important aspect of cordial hospitality. This was the beginning. Now, I’ve redesigned it for the 50th anniversary of BD.
"I would say BD has been a small jewel in Barcelona design culture since its founding in 1972."
What did you think of BD before working with the brand?
BD Barcelona Design is a small but very interesting company. They work with different personalities, architects, designers and artists, which results in a diverse catalogue. The early historical designs which are really clever are very interesting. Some of them are still in production and are a reference for me. But I also know the company from having worked for them for so long, and I’m friendly with all the designers. I would say BD has been a small jewel in Barcelona design culture since its founding in 1972.
So is it fair to say you believe in bringing together traditions combined with innovations. Can you outline how you have conveyed this approach with the Dubai Connection?
The innovation here is how you hold the pot, there’s no additional handle, you just hold the neck which is quite innovative, in a way. The other playful innovation is the three different shapes of the cups, which when you pile them always create a different image, together with the nuance of the colours. Just by piling them when not being used, you create a very nice sculpture.
And how did the graphic motifs, the drawings on the different sets, come about?
By being asked to do an anniversary edition, I thought about doing 50 sets. So I created five different motifs as a brush drawing. A future client, a collector, could choose corresponding to their personal tastes and colour choices. Some are more geometric, some are simple with repetitive lines, and some are more narrative, a conscious and open range.
And how did you work around the different colours?
Colours are something very personal. I always say the first decoration is colour. And of course there are these five families... so I was looking into some dark colours... dark and light, warm and cold, to provide a greater range.
What is your approach to colour in general?
I have to say that when I start sketching a project, thinking about it, dreaming, quite often I already have a colour in mind. I start to sense the appropriate colour for it.
Before Dubai, had you worked with ceramics at all? What’s your experience with them?
During the 30 years that I’ve been running my studio, I have been lucky enough to do several projects with ceramics, but of course every project is new. In this case, it was more about the way the pot is held and how to stack the cups.
"It’s always interesting to have small series because you can test different things, things that are more manual. In this case the production and painting, and this value should be seen and felt."
And what did you think about the final product? Did it feel different than working on something on a bigger scale, or is the process very similar?
I’m happy that there are only 50 items because I had to paint each one of them! So I was really lucky that it wasn’t the 100 years anniversary. Otherwise I would have spent the whole month painting! It’s always interesting to have small series because you can test different things, things that are more manual. In this case the production and painting, and this value should be seen and felt. I'm looking forward to continue working for BD over the next 50 years. So see you soon!