French designer Inga Sempé takes everyday stuff and turns it into objects of beauty and elegance, but with a twist. From furniture to paper lamps, colanders and shimmery crystal candlesticks, Sempé has done it all, in her inimitable style.
She has been called “France’s hottest designer” and “the next big thing” in design. The New York Times called her, “The Wizard of Odd” and meant it as a compliment. Inga Sempé, however, does not care much for platitudes, her focus is firmly on her work, creating beautiful objects that are accessible and useful.
Born in 1968, Sempé grew up in Paris, the child of two celebrated parents. Her father is the French illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé, a frequent contributor to various international publications including several New Yorker covers to his credit, and her mother is the Danish painter and illustrator Mette Ivers-Sempé. Growing up in an artistic environment might have been a prelude to an interest in design. Sempé however shied away from illustration and fell in love, instead, with the idea of working with industrial, everyday objects.
In 1993, she graduated from the Parisian public school for Industrial design – Les Ateliers-ENSCI, (L´Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle), Paris. After completion of her studies she focussed her attention on designing furniture, lighting and textiles. In 2000, she turned freelance (after working with several designers like George Sowden, Marc Newson and Andrée Putman).
Soon after, she began designing for reputed Italian companies like Cappellini and Edra. In 2002, her Pleated Lamp for Cappellini was warmly received. Created out of wrinkled polyester, the tall floor lamp looks like a mushroom, accordion style. It is beautiful, functional and very unusual all at the same time. A hanging-lamp version was created for Design Lab, France, in 2003.
Inga Sempé’s black or white Brosse shelving system for Edra (2003) created a stir with its shelves screened with a fringe made from the bristles of sweeping brooms. The tactile quotient of the product notwithstanding, one must appreciate the humour of the Brosse.
The following years document Sempé’s interest in working with everyday objects like kitchenware, furniture and tools. She created metal chairs for VIA, the Lunatique Table for Ligne Roset and the LaChapelle Table for David Design, Sweden. The interest in creating pleated objects continued with the Lamp Plissé for Luceplan, a rectangular box-like “light beam” that can be extended from 60 cm to 160 cm, to suit the client’s interiors. Pleated shades in various colours add drama and texture. In 2008, inspired by traditional Chinese paper lanterns, Sempé created paper lampshades for Artecnica which are flat-packed and require no assembly, making it easy to install for even the average DIY-er.
The designs for innovative lamps continued with the Lamps Vapeur for French design firm Moustache. Resembling elegant paper hot-air balloons, these lamps look like Sempé’s other paper-pleated lamps but are actually made of Tyvek and pleated iron. Her latest design for lamps (2012) is the Hanging Lamps W103 for Viaduct. These LED pendant lamps are multi-coloured and strung together to create a fun, playful chandelier. These lamps can also be strung on a bar, in a line or hung onto a hexagonal frame for added interest. The versatile colour combinations make it a good fit for most interiors.
Sempé’s tryst with furniture design continued with the Sofas Moël, a beautiful range of sofas and armchairs with welcoming, enveloping arms (2007). She touched a new peak in 2010 with the Sofas Ruché for Ligne Roset. Inspired by swing seats, Sempé created a frame out of solid beech, upon which rests “a thick mattress with distinctive quilting, a kind of boutis stitch or padding made using a cross-hatching of interrupted seams.”
The height of the armrest is the same as the back enabling the user to rest sideways as well, using the armrests for comfortable support. The one-arm settee version is especially beautiful, looking like a flower half-opened to the sun.
Earlier this year, Sempé collaborated with lighting specialists Legrand for a collection of switches, sockets and dimmers which have been reinterpreted in a sleek, modern way.
In several interviews over the years, Inga Sempé has said that her dream project would be to work for a tool company designing some hammers, or even better, pens for a stationery company. With her elegant twists to household objects, one can only hope that this idea becomes a reality soon and her designs reach the masses, just as she intends them to.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Inga Sempé