The influences behind Eugeni Quitllet’s highly idiosyncratic design language range from futuristic Science Fiction to Antoni Gaudí, and modernisme (Art Nouveau). The Odyssey collection which he designed for BD Barcelona is a case in point. Its unmistakable silhouette and curved forms lock together to provide an armchair with a retro-futuristic quality. When we recently caught up with Eugeni we found out why! There’s a dreaminess and gravity-defying feeling to all his projects which are only anchored to the earth through his unshakable belief in beauty.
Eugeni Quitllet is a Catalan designer, born in Ibiza in 1972. After having studied at art school in the Balearic islands Quitllet moved to Barcelona, where he obtained a diploma in Design and Interior Design. Back home for the summer, he met Philippe Starck on Formentera, and quickly began work at his agency in Paris. Ten years later, after having created some of the most interesting designs of the early 2000s, he opened his own agency in Barcelona. The pandemic brought him to Provence, in France, for a while. During this conversation about Odyssey, the armchair he designed for BD, Eugeni Quitllet talks to us from Dallas about another odyssey: his journey from a small island in the Mediterranean to the U.S. But as he says: isn’t our planet just a small island in a big universe?
Passionate about science and an avid space enthusiast, Quitllet describes the work of the designer as that of someone who shapes new realities and possesses an optimistic idea of the future. A perfect example of this is GalaXsea, his latest personal project, which is a space solar sailboat mid-way between Earth and the stars; a design exercise that aims to transform the idea of inhabiting space into an experience of beauty. Because it is beauty, Quitllet believes, that will save the world.
What are you doing in Dallas?
I have always been very curious about what is going on in California with start-ups and space design. In 2016 I worked with a Californian company and recently I started a collaboration with a company in Dallas, Texas. At first, I just designed a product, but then they asked me to get more involved. I said: “why not? Let’s see if this brings a new vision to my design,” and here I am, based in Dallas with my family. The company is Sutherland: an outdoor brand that makes teak furniture. It’s very well known here in the States - have you ever heard of them?
Unfortunately not, but that’s because we Europeans are too focused on European design.
Well, yes, and that’s one of the reasons I am here. I wanted to expand my viewpoint. The U.S. is very different to Europe.
First of all, in dimension. It’s a continent - a wide continent with just one country.
Here, you drive eleven hours to get to the next city - that’s a normal distance. Where can you go in Europe if you drive for eleven hours?
From a small island to a big continent: you were born in Ibiza.
Yes. But in the end, isn’t our planet just a small island in the universe? Ibiza is still my neuralgic point. My Big Bang happened there. When I was a child, people came from all over the world searching for their utopia; it was a very cosmopolitan atom in the centre of the sea. I left the island at 19 to go to Barcelona.
When I finished my studies, I prepared my portfolio - a very futuristic one, containing shoes, buildings, eyewear, and cars. I was on Formentera that summer, and I said to myself: “who can understand my work here?” Philippe Stark had a house there, so I took my bike and went to meet him. He was very nice, he said: “Go to Paris, let’s meet there.”
So you moved to Paris.
Yes. I had never been to Paris before. I didn’t have money, or a place to sleep. I lived in the agency for four months, in the meeting room. Every morning, I had to make the bed and tidy up. Sometimes we had meetings with Claudio Luti [Kartell’s CEO] ten minutes later, and I was always hoping I hadn’t left any socks lying around.
You were very committed to that job.
Yes, I stayed there for ten years, then my daughter was born, and my life changed again. I thought the moment had come to go back to the sea - I wanted her to grow up near the water. Choosing Ibiza would have been too radical, so we went to Barcelona.
"I like to explore the thin line between dreams and reality. I work on the idea of non-gravity. I mean, why are objects made as they are? I like to challenge objects in that sense."
How do you create? Where do you find inspiration?
When you design, you start from a blank page, and then your mind starts connecting things and suddenly brings an object in from another place. Where does that come from? That’s why I say that my inspiration comes from another dimension. I like to look into the thin line between dreams and reality. Also, I work on the idea of non-gravity. I mean, why are objects made as they are? Because we live in a world where there is gravity, so everything is stuck to the floor; the chair must have legs, a floor lamp must have a pole. But a lamp, for me, can’t be a structure. To me, a lamp is light, and light is free. I like to challenge objects in that sense.
What about BD?
BD is a masterpiece. It is perhaps the last great company that has a DNA of different talents and visions. Their eclecticism reminds me kind of a Medici art collection, where anything is possible. They can go from Kostantin Grcic to Jaime Hayon, from Salvador Dalì to Antoni Gaudì - it’s like a private collection that is always growing.
How did the Odyssey project come about?
Odyssey started with the idea of making a structure that holds a seat where people can write, work, dream, listen to music or play a video game, or even meditate. Then Ramon Ubeda (Former BD Art Director) challenged me to focus on the essence. We worked on that, and little by little, from the original chair, we created the lounge chair, an armchair, a chair with wheels, and another lounge chair but much more monumental and artistic. We used the same mold to make different variations: I think design today must be able to cover multiple functions with the same idea.
You said that some products have the capacity of representing a moment in time. Maybe this multifunctional chair, to some extent, represents our time?
It’s difficult to say, because there are always different times at the same time. I mean, when I think about design, I think about furniture… that is design for me. But the younger generation, they only care about the latest technology. Nobody cares about design. People queue up to buy the newest iPhone.
Which is still design…
…of course, and very well made. But what I mean is that people are looking more to technology than to chairs.
"I think the future is the projection of what we dream. If you think that the world is going to be beautiful and stable, the future will become that."
So how can you design an interesting chair today?
The chair evolves because our minds change, our way of seeing a chair changes. Take the Masterchair I signed for Kartell with Philippe Starck; I created it at the computer by combining Eames, Saarinen, and Jakobsen. Their chairs are icons of modernity, so I took their lines and merged them into one. Compressing memories and information to create a new product that contains all that came before it: this is a way to invent the future.
How do you imagine the future?
I think the future is the projection of what we dream. If you think that the world is going to be beautiful and stable, the future will become that. For example, today we are exploring space, but in a very archaic way, thinking about leaving a beautiful planet to live in a capsule in the dark: that’s not evolution. Maybe we will understand we don’t need to go to space anymore - we will understand that we are already in space.
So, if you were leading a space expedition, what would you do?
That’s a very big question. Well, I would start to talk about beauty more than money. I think beauty will save the world.