Milan 2022 | Design Highlights from Obumex and When Objects Work

  • We catch up with UK designer John Pawson and Belgian architect Nicolas Schuybroek to chat about the fruits of their collaboration with Obumex and When Objects Work presented in Milan this year.

    Milan Design Week 2022 marked the world premiere of the Nicolas Schuybroek signature kitchen for Obumex – their first contemporary kitchen to use tin. With the material’s softness contrasting the solid kitchen forms, tin captured the idea of patina – where ‘imperfection becomes a strength’. The perfect complement to his new kitchen was Nicolas’ latest pieces for When Objects Work; german limestone and walnut vases and tin bookends.

    At the same time, John Pawson’s timeless signature kitchen for Obumex – one of their world-famous collaborations – reminded the audience of the idea that a kitchen is composed of furniture elements. The signature kitchen provided a stage for his enduring objects, conceptualised together with When Objects Work.

    Meeting with Nicolas Schuybroek and John Pawson at Milan this year, Karen McCartney uncovers how they’ve taken their widely-appreciated design sensibility to these cutting-edge collaborations.

    Explore more Milan highlights from Karen McCartney and David Harrison inside the latest issue of est magazine, ‘Sense of Place‘.


    Stay tuned for est’s extensive coverage of Milan Design Week 2023, currently scheduled for 18-23 April.

     Nicolas Schuybroek for Obumex

    Nicolas Schuybroek is a Belgian architect with a restrained, intelligent sensibility in everything he does, from a vessel to a kitchen to a building. On show at Salone was his sculptural kitchen island for Obumex. “For the kitchen, I was finding a way to play around with blocks and volumes shifting in a very specific way. And when you see our architectural projects, that’s what I’m trying to do there as well,” he says.

    Working exclusively in tin, a material that has been in use for centuries, he admires its properties. “ We’ve been wanting to work with this material for quite some time. Because there’s something absolutely incredible about it. It has this slightly pitted quality, a light texture and it is much warmer and stainless steel.” He is also a believer in the materials that change with use and time. “The surface will become patinaed so that each kitchen island ends up completely unique,” he adds.

    With a desire not to overcomplicate things, the form is monolithically enhanced by the singular use of the material –  but it still relates to human activity. “Sometimes I refer to religious terms and see it almost as an altar for daily rituals; breakfast, preparing lunch, or just drink with friends,” he says.

    John Pawson for Obumex and When Object Work

    British architect John Pawson has been designing pieces for Obumex and When Objects Work for so long that he can’t quite recall when it all began. Showing in Milan was his original Signature Kitchen  – an elemental piece of pure design that stands the test of time, alongside a number of enduring objects he has designed over the years. His philosophy is clear. “It’s just what you need and nothing else, and so in a way, it can be timeless,” he says, like the Neuendorf  House in Mallorca – a project from 32 years ago that refuses to date.

    How does he find that elusive line between simple and dull? “I think that’s probably at the basis of it all: you reach the point when you can’t add, or subtract, leaving it in this sort of ideal state,” he says. This judgement he applies to all he does; hence the pieces he has designed for When Objects Work continue to do just that, and in the whirlwind of the new at Salone, to see his work is something of a palette cleanser. He acknowledges this is easier with an object. “You’ve got the thing there to assess. With a building, you can go on site every day, but something can happen in the afternoon after you left, and there’s still a surprise.”

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