make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend

make your fridays matter

Motifs of intersecting columnar forms yield Swell Studio’s Onna collection
Onna Collection by Swell Studio
Image: Courtesy of Joseph Kramm

Motifs of intersecting columnar forms yield Swell Studio’s Onna collection

The New York-based designer unveils a new collection of furniture and lighting that takes direct references from Italian art, architecture and design.

by Anushka Sharma
Published on : May 12, 2023

The evolution of architecture—the to and fro of its scales, the flickering appearances of ornamentation and its movement across a spectrum of materials—is conspicuous not only in the unified edifice, but also percolates down to each of its smaller components; a column is one such structural constituent. These often symbolic exterior elements have lived through a rich history of transformation—from the ornate Corinthian order to the much simpler Tuscan order. Despite being an eclectic melting pot of architectural styles that refuse to be classified, Italy, home to the Renaissance architectural movement, dons a distinctive creative language and the prominence of columns in its architectural forms cannot be overlooked. Can the poetry of columnar silhouettes yield equally enticing small-scale compositions?

On a trip to Italy with his partner Nikki Pettus, Mike White, founder of Swell Studio, could not help but notice a diverse yet consistent design language that permeates through Italian art, architecture and design. This journey became the point of emergence of his latest collection named Onna. With a name derived from the shortened version of colonna—meaning column in Italian—the Onna Collection’s concept revolves around a rather simple idea of two intersecting circles or columns. This complete repository of Studio Swell’s furniture designs will be showcased at New York-based design gallery Love House until May 25, 2023. “The concept of the Onna Collection was conceived while on a sourcing trip to Italy and was heavily inspired by the use of stone in architecture, art, and municipal use. I also visited a few Italian quarries, and seeing the process of extracting this material was so creatively stimulating on multiple levels,” says White.

White and Pettus observed the consistent utilisation of Breccia Pernice in Italian design, art and architecture. Following a visit to the Carlo Scarpa Gavina property in Bologna, the designers corroborated that the collection’s material palette will be an articulation of the abounding vernacular. Consequently, three materials came into play: Breccia Pernice stone, steel and white oak. The Breccia Pernice stone, sourced from quarries in Verona, Italy, displays a spectrum of intense reds to soft pinks, yellows and whites, depending on its cut within each piece. The pieces, which employ steel, have been hot-applied with a ‘house patina,’ a signature finish developed by Swell Studio that infuses a cool blend of chocolate brown and blue-green metallic hues. The white oak is sourced locally from the Hudson Valley. “For me, the uniqueness of the Onna Collection is its application and use of stone—the material is used in a way that others may have not seen in the past or is currently on the market. There are also many options to expand the works,” the furniture designer shares.

The Onna Collection comprises seven designs: a credenza, a floor lamp, a wall sconce, a mirror, a drum side table and a chandelier. The resultant compositions are conceived either to be mixed and matched or to be used independently. This sophomore collection augments Swell Studio’s rather young oeuvre which is known for boundlessly hybridising and scaling raw elements and shapes with a keen eye for detail. From the suspended volumes of the lighting design and the domineering stature of the lamp to the curving footprint of the credenza and the table design, the central theme of intersecting cylindrical shapes and geometries is perpetuated. “The collection is somewhat limitless: the material can be scaled back to be subtle details on, say, a traditional rectangular mirror, or as concept-driven as the floor lamp,” White comments.

Each piece is developed through an organic process of sketching, 3D rendering and creating scale models and prototypes using cardboard tubes. The lamp design, sconces and chandelier epitomise new breadths of engineering from the studio, featuring custom lighting tubes and dimming capabilities—all designed and fabricated in-house. The product designs—all handcrafted by the studio team—reiterate Swell Studio’s knack for experimentation, utilisation of raw materials, and an ever-evolving mastery of craftsmanship and product engineering.

For the duration of this design exhibition, Mexican-American artist Monica Curiel has breathed life into singular pieces in response to Swell Studio’s works. The pieces on view include Barro Blanco and Dos Piezas, both made of plaster and Roman clay—centred around honouring humble construction materials, as an homage to her heritage and her immigrant parents.

The show and the ensemble that makes it rest on three pillars or colonna: curiosity, beauty and utility. As the cylindrical volumes collide and melt into each other to cultivate something new yet familiar, the calm materiality pacifies the resounding dialogue of the forms. And just like that, a column that carries the weight of both the physical framework of buildings and the character of its time and place becomes the building block of entities much smaller, but in no way less impactful.

What do you think?

Comments Added Successfully!