Bodo Sperlein elevates accessories and lighting to cult status—and gives us the scoop on the London scene
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Bodo Sperlein has exerted a major influence on the cult of the object. Sperlein's fine bone china, occasionally sparked with gilt or a touch of color, brings a contemporary attitude to products typically grounded in tradition. Recently, the London designer has expanded his sphere of influence to include interiors consulting and his materials palette to embrace leather, glass, and pewter furnishings and accessories as well as lighting. Products, distributed worldwide, are handcrafted yet "batch-made," he explains. Artisanal qualities meet commercial viability. Born in Bavaria, raised in Munich, and trained at London's Camberwell College of Arts, Sperlein is completely besotted with his adopted city as chief muse.
How did you get started in this field?
I came to London 12 years ago because it was the most creative city in Europe, and I wanted to design in an interesting material. Ceramics, I felt, had long been neglected and pooh-poohed. I wanted to push china to new limits.
Tell us about your design process.
The starting point is always the material. For example, with the pewter products I've just done for Mulberry, I knew that pewter was beautiful, but I didn't know very much about it. I went to see manufacturers—the best in the field—to look at what they were doing. I always dissect what is possible and then go back and design. That way, I minimize headaches but still produce something unique.
Who are some of your collaborating manufacturers?
Besides Mulberry, I designed the leather U Turn chair for Alma Home, U.K.—it's also available through Salon Moderne in New York. I was the first contemporary designer to create a collection for Nymphenburg Porzellan in Munich. For 100% Design in September, I've been working on stone furniture for Capital Marble and a fireplace for CVO Firevault.
And your custom projects? Hospitality collaborations would seem natural.
Right now, I'm getting actively involved with hotels. A lot of them don't want to buy off-the-shelf. They need an individual style to give people a reason to stay. I'm also consulting on the banquet hall of a private house outside London. There's a bespoke part to it, with table settings and lighting that combine contemporary design with classic appeal.
Let's talk about London. What do you think catapulted it to the center of the international design scene?
Education is definitely the key. In Britain, art and design are generally strong subjects. I think that England's system is closer to the Bauhaus teaching methods than any other country's.
Can you comment on London's new talent?
Each year, London is full of trade fairs featuring graduating students' work. This includes furniture, fashion, textiles, lighting, and set design. Britain is unique in this way.
What can we anticipate on the London scene?
It used to be that London was edgy, over-the-top, almost uncommercial. Now we're getting clued in to commercial viability. We're going back to traditional skills and aesthetics. But we still produce something that doesn't look like it's on the shelf in masses of shops. We're into objects that are unique, that have longevity. We all want to design a piece for MoMA's collection.
No discussion of London is complete without the all-important insider's view of shopping.
Some of my personal favorites are Past Caring in Islington, Places and Spaces in Clapham, and John Oliver, which is a custom paint shop in Notting Hill. In Exmouth Market, I like Applied Arts Agency. Of course, there are the auction houses. Marylebone High Street is wonderful, too.
What about London inspires you?
The amazing galleries, the art museums, and the design resources.
Nature, taking holidays, and reading a book. Food and good wine are important. And I adore traveling—particularly in Italy.
What's the one thing you'd really like to design?
A new, different take on train interiors, especially since I think people are returning to rail travel.
What's tired and over?
Injection-molded plastic monstrosities. I'm not against the technique, but I'd do something different with the products.
If you hadn't become a designer?
I think I would have been a historian. I love research.