Sitting Pretty

Est Journal talks to Felix de Pass to find out more about how this Established & Sons icon came into being and what it means to be part of the brand’s growing family of innovative designers.
A BENCH Felix de Pass London Design Festival 09 c2018 Establishedand Sons c James Champion 72dpi A Bench by Felix de Pass 2018 © Established & Sons - Photography by James Champion

The A-Bench by east London-based Felix de Pass is one of Established & Sons’ most enduring, versatile and hardworking designs. The deceptively simple design is made by mirroring the components, with the angles creating a strong base and comfortable seat while also expressing the manufacturing process involved in making the folded metal structure.

Now reimagined with a new, powder-coated surface rarely seen in furniture production, with a distinctive flecked-paint effect, the design is as fresh today as it was in 2011 when it first launched, just two years after de Pass graduated from the Royal College of Art.

EST: How did your relationship with Established & Sons first start?
De Pass:
I got to know the founding directors in 2006 when I moved back to London after my degree in Manchester. We had conversations about doing a project after I left the RCA and then in 2011 we launched A-Bench along with several other products.

EST: Established & Sons has an ‘open brief’. Could you elaborate on what this artistic freedom means to you as a designer?
De Pass:
Some companies can be overly prescriptive and this can really stifle the creative process and innovation. But an open brief can be both a good and a bad thing! When designing an industrial product, constraints are always there, they are required. But the artistic freedom Established & Sons encourages is critical too. There’s an openness to the design process and a willingness for experimentation. I really appreciate the way Established & Sons are open to ideas they might not know they need yet.

EST: What inspired the design of the A-Bench?
De Pass:
There are two main inspirations, which I suppose informed each other. A few years earlier I had come across an ancient wooden stool in a museum in Brazil which had two inverted, angled seat parts. I had this image somewhere in my head while I was designing. Another source of inspiration came from the manufacturing process itself of folding sheet metal. Ultimately the bench’s form is derived from working with this manufacturing process to achieve both the truncated bases and function of comfort right along the length of the angled top.

EST: Can you talk us through the stages of your design process for the bench?
De Pass:
The process of designing A-Bench started with analysing seating archetypes. I usually do this by studying the reference photographs I have taken and collected for years. Hand sketching is a really important part of what I do, for working through ideas and details and playing with how materials can be formed. We always also make models which physicalise the design and let us consider proportion, ergonomics, scale, etc. With A-Bench, once I’d identified the manufacturing process I wanted to use of folding sheet metal, the question was how to create a solid form from a flat sheet.
All my work is developed through working closely with the manufacturer or maker; whether it be a saucepan, or exhibition, or furniture project. As a result, over the years, I have developed very close links with manufacturers and a deep understanding of specific industrial processes and materials. The process of working with the person/people who actually make the product is such an important, creative part of every one of my projects. It’s a bit of a cliché but the design and development really does continue on the factory floor.

A BENCH Felix de Pass c2011 Establishedand Sons c James Champion Insitu 01 72dpi A Bench by Felix de Pass 2011 © Established & Sons - Photography by James Champion

EST: How did you envisage the piece being used? Has the response to the design brought any surprises?
De Pass:
I always envisaged this bench to be a comfortable, versatile piece of furniture suitable for indoor and outdoor, public and private, formal and more informal settings and I think that it has fulfilled these aims. It’s always great to see your work out there in the world, having a life of its own.

EST: Designs often develop over time. What parts of the design do you feel will remain fixed? Are there any elements that you plan to revisit and change?
De Pass:
The key language of the bench consists of the repeated base element, and the inverted seat, these are the more ‘fixed’ elements, if you like. The changing elements on the other hand, so far, have been the bench top materials, the paint finish, the length of the bench. So far this has been the case, but in the future who knows! The physical language and form are strong so could always be translated into another manufacturing process or could lead to other product types, for example a table.

EST: What for you is the secret behind innovating, pushing the boundaries of design forward?
De Pass: One of the secrets is allowing time to work through an idea. But equally, it’s important too to be bold and push up against and challenge norms. Established & Sons have never been scared to take products in unexpected directions. They are always up for trying new things, alongside valuing the time needed to develop the product properly.

EST: In the shortest sentence possible describe what you believe the goal of a designer should be?
De Pass:
Responding not only to the constraints, but also the opportunities that are inherent in a problem or in the needs of a client and society.

L007890 A Bench by Felix de Pass 2018 © Established & Sons - Photography by Livia Lauber

Words by Anna Winston

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