Tables with striking legs, a phone booth for the mobile generation, a mirror that gives you a new perspective – designer Alain Gilles has both the curiosity and creativity to conjure up a magical bouquet of intriguing yet practical ideas.
Brussels-based designer Alain Gilles has had an interesting life. After studying political science and marketing management, Gilles spent some time working in the financial sector with JP Morgan. Things took a different turn soon, because as his bio says, “one has to live his own life”. Gilles followed his passion and went back, at age 32, to studying.
This time though, his focus was on Industrial Design at the Institut Supérieur de Design (ISD) in Valenciennes. (The only other branch of ISD, incidentally, is in Pune.) He then worked with several designers including Xavier Lust and Arne Quinze before opening his own studio in 2007.
What makes a Gilles design stand out from the rest? To my eye, it is the pure shape of each of his objects or the poetic colours he uses. From furniture, product design, lighting and art, Gilles has successfully put his own personalised stamp on his designs.
One of Gilles’ first striking projects was The Big Table (2009), a steel and wood table with differently-sized and coloured steel legs. The wood of the table-top gives it a more traditional feel while the legs take it to another plane altogether. Similarly with Metamorphosis (2009), a set of bar stools and tables that appear to look different from different angles.
My First Translation (2009) is a series of chairs for children based on the grown-up, fully recyclable polyethylene Translation (2008) chairs. Scratch and water-resistant, these chairs come in delightful colours making it a great investment for a family-friendly home.
The Tectonic Table Series (2008) have a dual image. Their intriguing wire-framed structures are graphic and striking on their own but they are also straight-forward when used with a plain top. From a certain angle, the design of the flat surface recalls that of a rose.
The W8 side tables (pronounced ‘weight’) (2016) are “a discussion between visual weight and effective weight”. The table by itself would not have been stable but for the addition of a large Italian grey sandstone that acts as the weight.
Similarly, the Basket (2016) collection of tables emphasises the role of the raw rattan basket as much as the wooden top which doubles up as a removable tray.
The X-Ray (2015) series of sofas and daybeds is just pure architecture. The sofa reveals the interior structure of such a piece, normally hidden under upholstery. The ‘revelation’ is unexpected and lends a graphic element to a standard furniture item.
Similarly, the Vessel Desk (2013) is a child’s desk with a twist. The oak desk and bench is reminiscent of traditional school furniture while the ‘vessels’ mounted on the desk remind one of wooden toys, adding a playful element. Each ‘vessel’ can be used for different things – from storing papers, pencils, paper-clips and other utility items.
The Box (2015) sofa messes with the general idea of what a sofa should look like; how high its arms should be and the relationship between its various pieces. Here, the arms defy standardisation and seem to hang independently.
Gilles has a range of out-of-the-ordinary furniture and accessories for the modern office. The BuzzHub (2011) Single, for instance, is a little private getaway for when you need to escape from your surroundings or need some privacy to discuss things with a co-worker. Put two or more Buzzhubs together and you have an informal (yet private) meeting room that can accommodate more people the more Buzzhubs you add. The range of colours and the recycled fabric used make it ideal for a friendly corporate environment.
Taking the concept of privacy in an office setting further, Gilles designed the Buzzibooth (2010), an “acoustical cocoon made of recycled fabric in order to absorb the surrounding noise as much as possible.” The Buzzibooth reminds me of the rapidly-vanishing public telephone booths that allowed you a moment of respite from the world outside.
This series also has the BuzziHood (2010), a quick wall-mounted privacy booth also dubbed “phone booth for the mobile generation”. The beautiful Buzimilk Stool (2014) brings to mind milking stools but with a contemporary edge. The idea was to introduce elements not typically found in a modern working environment thus creating “a warm and homely” atmosphere in an office setting.
Gilles has an eclectic range for kitchenware tools called Evolution (2017). The tools have evocative names like Madame is Served – for a tart server and display stand; Undercover Carafe for a carafe whose funnel-shaped neck becomes the handle; Hot Stuff, the cooking thermometer and All on Board, a ‘smart’ cutting board which has a built-in scoop that collects vegetable peelings for easy disposal. The board has grooves on the other side, to be used to collect meat juices thus instantly turning it into a dual-function board.
Besides furniture and kitchenware, Gilles has also designed lighting, like the Nomad Solar Lamp, and garden-ware like the Rock Garden (2008/09) range of planters in various shapes and heights that can be used together or individually.
Gilles has also designed several mirrors; the Trompe L’Oeil will fool you with its clever shapes and play with depth; the New Perspective mirror gives the illusion of extra perspective in the room; the Faux mirrors refer to the faux wood grain or design juxtaposed in the mirror along with a playful little shelf that defies the traditional meaning of mirrors and their attachments.
In an interview with the magazine Design Father, Gilles once said that he wanted to create things that would continue to exist long after he was gone and that he wanted his designs to be useful and to be products that don’t lose their functionality because they are different or beautiful. If this extensive list of useful, beautiful and certainly different products is anything to go by, Alain Gilles is firmly on the road to creating a long-lasting and sustainable legacy of his creativity.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy The Designer