^ Left to right: Caroline Sillesen and Rose Hermansen of atelier axo. Photo: Sarah Stenfeldt.
OTP Short-Forms: atelier axo
An interview with the Copenhagen-based architectural design duo.
Respect for colour, furniture with personality and "The World of Upside Down".
Born out of the longstanding friendship and collaboration between designer Rose Hermansen and architect Caroline Sillesen, the pair founded atelier axo in 2019, a cross-disciplinary design studio located in central Copenhagen.
Inspired by a broad range of cultural influences that include modern European literature, sci-fi aesthetics, twentieth century Danish furniture and the “new chamber music” being produced by contemporary Scandinavian electronic musicians, in the past two years axo have developed a signature treatment of space and material that combines Italo Calvino’s insistence on lightness with Frank Lloyd Wright’s commitment to organic forms.
The following interview was recorded to co-incide with atelier axo’s debut furniture presentation “lazy objects” during the 2020 edition of Copenhagen’s annual 3 days of design festival.
OTP Perhaps I could start by asking you guys to relate in your own words how atelier axo came into being?
Caroline We actually talked about starting our own practise years before we jumped into it. Mostly when we were drinking wine and sharing dreams.
Rose Then spring 2019, Caroline was asked to submit a pitch for a competition and asked me if I wanted to join her. We worked really hard on it and to our own surprise we won. The next day we met up and started atelier axo.
^ lazy objects installation view at Brigade Gallery. From left to right: Lazey Haley, Tavler III, Tavler I, Otto Puff.
OTP How important is it for you that your work has its own personality?
aa Danish furniture design is known all over the world for its functionality and simple beauty, but in our designs we are more interested in what you might can call the ‘imperfection’ or ‘crookedness’.
You know, when you look at a piece of furniture and think to yourself ‘that was odd’ or ‘how does this work' and it makes you look one more time. Maybe you have to walk around it or lift it up.
We are driven by this crooked unexpectedness to cultivate curiosity, and we strongly believe that the pieces have their own personality.
It is the furniture that makes you act the way you do around it.
OTP For "lazy objects" you produced furniture that consciously encourages people to slow down - how did you manifest this idea in the design of the pieces?
aa The intention of the exhibition was to focus on the importance of slowing down in a world that cultivates speed, productivity and optimization. We wanted to honor the break as a ritual.
All the furniture thus relates to the break - Scarlett Daybed (a place to take a nap); Otto Puff (named after the office dog - a break for your feet) and Lazy Haley (a table where everyone can reach everything without too much effort).
OTP The "tavle" reliefs you produced as part of this presentation strike me as being particularly original, could you tell me a little bit about when you first started creating these?
Caroline I started to make these tavle reliefs while studying art and architecture on my Master programme. I found it interesting to build your drawing.
Somehow it becomes a piece in itself that forces you to recognize it, and you take it somehow more seriously. It is like analogue drawings with a lot of layers where you can sense the time and thought that has been put into the paper.
That disappears in the digital drawings, and we are interested in keeping an analogue feeling in our practice. This media/method functions as a dialogue between us and our creations.
OTP Ideas of the everyday seem to recur throughout your work together, but the everyday is not the same for everyone right? What is the “everyday” like for atelier axo?
aa Sure, as you say, the everyday is different for everyone.
To us, the everyday is waking up in the morning, listening to morning radio or classical music while you get your morning coffee. The everyday is both what you produce and experience at work, but more importantly, what you do when not working.
The important small moments that makes your day better or memorable in some way.
OTP Where are you both from?
aa We grew up close to each other a bikeride outside of Copenhagen. We’ve actually known each other since municipal primary school, where we attended two schools not too far from each other.
Rose grew up in a creative family where there are always ongoing projects, whereas Caroline comes from a family where everyone works within the healthcare system.
Both our houses were close to the forest and the sea. Maybe that also plays a role in our approach and respect for nature.
It was somehow always a part of everyday life, whether it was walking the dog in the forest, biking to school or just going for a swim.
OTP What were you like as kids?
aa Besides being children with tons of energy we also both cultivated contemplation and geekiness in our childhood.
Rose plays the cello and has done so since she was a child, and Caroline has always drawn and painted a lot. We probably both have an urge to search into worlds outside the physical and disappear into dissolved atmospheric spaces.
^ Another Nué concept store (2020), concept and interior design by atelier axo.
OTP How important is location to your identity as atelier axo?
aa To us, local production is crucial. Both for the sake of the environmental impact, of course, but also to support our community.
Denmark has a long history of producing talented artisans and craftspeople - and we believe that this is still fully the case - and we would like to do our part to keep it that way.
In addition to this, we place great value in being part of the product / furniture development from a-z and greatly appreciate having a physical dialogue with the manufacturer and not least the materials.
OTP I am really interested in the cemetery design models you produced for the “Between Two Worlds” project - does spirituality play a large role in your work?
aa We have a holistic approach to our practice, so in that sense spirituality and balance are very important to us.
Also, we share an interest in “the world of upside down” or places that cannot be explained or experienced in the real world, which is perfectly represented in cemeteries and ceremonial places.
It is extremely interesting what defines these places. When you enter through a cemetery wall it is another code of practise that is present. The social codes change and so should the architectural design.
For example, imagine having a giant square in a cemetery where all the benches where pointing towards each other so you were forced to look at others sorrow as well as exhibit your own.
^ atelier axo, Model for ARCHITECTONES (2020), MDF and paint, 17 x 22 x 40 cm.
OTP How would you describe your approach to colour?
aa Colour is our best friend and worst enemy.
It is extremely complex to work with colours in spaces, due to light changes during the day and the composition of the materials present in the space.
We like to play around and make a lot of experiments in order to be sure how each colour behaves during the day.
It is known that colours have a huge impact on our perception of a place. You can change the heat of the space or object, and help curate the eyes attention. One single colour can change more or less everything.
Colour is generally a category within architecture and design we have a lot of respect for and would like to dig more into.
OTP Otto and your office plant are often mentioned alongside the documentation of your previous projects - how far does the atelier axo family extend?
aa Since we are friends, friendship and work naturally blend together.
We see this as a great force, as we believe that it gives a great freedom in everyday life to be able to understand each other's worlds.
Our plant has been with us from the start. It started as a small cutting and is now an inexhaustibly large plant.
We often pass on small cuttings to colleagues and friends, so that the plant can travel on to others and grow in a new place.
And of course, Otto. He is our office mascot and comes with us to meetings, buildings sites, for coffee breaks - or a glass of wine at the end of the day sometimes.
To us, he is just as much a part of Atelier Axo as we are.
^ atelier axo office view, 2020.
atelier axo's recent project history includes renovation and design work for Brigade Gallery (Copenhagen) and concept and interior design work for womenswear label Nué (Copenhagen) as well as the silk-specialising fashion label Kokoon (Copenhagen).
See more from atelier axo:
See more from Caroline Sillesen:
See more from Rose Hermansen: