The materials speak for themselves

Interview from Ole Mathiesen Magazine vol. 23

The courage to be boring. Perhaps that is the recipe for crafting a design icon. At least if you ask 47-year-old Danish Designer Cecilie Manz, who has created a long line of design classics. Take, for example, the Caravaggio lamp from 2005, which quickly found a place above dinning tables in the homes of Danes. Or B&O´s portable speaker, Beolit 17. Or its little brother, A1.

“I want things to last. Quality is important to me. It would be a nightmare if, in a couple of years, people thought: That chair design is so 00´s. I want that chair to be just as attractive and useful in 50 years” 

“It is about making something that will function and have enough character to outlive its own era. The design must always have its identity, while not overly standing out”

Designer Cecilie Manz

She is sitting in her studio in downtown Copenhagen and pointing to a chair she designed for the Danish company, Muuto. It is a slender chair with finely curved lines in the back and square legs. In front of her, her designs for B&O sit on a shelf. “I was a little suprised when I started my collaboration with B&O and they said that they did not expect the speakers to be on the market for more than a couple of years, because everything in the world of electronics goes so fast. But it has been eight years now and the speakers have been updated and continue to sell.” says Cecilie Manz. She sits surrounded by much of the design she has created over the more than 20 years since founding her design studio: tables, benches, a partition, porcelain, cups, glasses, and soon a full tableware set for 1616/ arita Japan. Cecilie Manz continues:” When you feel that way, it is about making something that will function and have enough character to outlive its own era. The design must always have its own identity, while not overly standing out.” Realizing this vision is a matter of balance between stillness and movement, she says:” Sometimes i am the one who is pushing to bring about a change compared to the status quo. Other times, I stand still. And you should not be afraid of standing still once in a while. You must have the courage to be boring, if that is the right solution. So I would say that my design is recognizable but seen with different eyes.”

As a Danish designer, Cecilie Manz is carrying on a Scandinavian tradition of understated minimalism and fine artisan-ship:” Many other countries also have an appreciation of artisan-ship, but if you are talking about Danish design, the materials are extremely important. The right material intentionally showed the screws in his furniture, and in Denmark there is almost a tradition that the underside of a chair should also be attractive,” says Cecilie Manz as she lifts up a wooden chair she designed for Fredericia Furniture. She turns the chair over and the fine woodworking craftsmanship is plain to see. ” The degree of- and attention to- detail in the design is usually boiled down to a minimum so that the materials can speak for themselves,” she says. Design is also about finding aesthetic solutions to practical challenges. According to Manz, there must be a purpose in your decisions as a designer. “I often encounter the view that limitations are undesirable. It should be free and unrestrained! But it does not have to be. Limitations can be useful. Perhaps the manufacturer says that the chair must only be made of wood. Then I only consider that material,” says Cecilie Manz continuing:” It is important as a designer that you do not forget functionality. If i add a leather strap to a shelf, for example, it is because it has a purpose right there. If you do not keep functionality in mind, you can call anything “design” just to sell stuff. Unfortunately, I think there is far too much business in the word design these days. In the supermarket, for instance, you can buy designer toothbrushes or designer cookies, so the concept of design gets watered down.” As long as there are designers like Cecilie Manz, however, it will be a long time before the concept of designs gets watered down. Maybe because she has the courage to stand still.