«It’s all down to simplicity»

Raphael Rossel • 14.10.2016

The products that Tomas Kral designs are suitable for everyday use. This doesn’t mean that they themselves are everyday or mundane, though – far from it, in fact.

In connection with the Design Days 2016 in Renens, we took the opportunity to visit Slovak designer Tomas Kral in his Lausanne workshop. We talked about how he manages to take apparently everyday things and turn them into objects that you just want to touch because they speak to you on an emotional level.

Loud noises are something that he shirks. Though he seems almost shy as he receives guests in his workshop, there is nothing reserved about his heartfelt welcome. Originally from Slovakia, he now works in a converted car repair shop on the outskirts of Lausanne. He has set up his office where the spraying room used to be. Right next door is a carpenter’s shop with windows on three sides. He has finished for the day, and it’s quiet. The last few rays of the evening sun are visible in the stillness. His workshop lies high above the city, a world away from the stress of everyday life and with a view of the Savoy Alps. After an action-packed afternoon at the Design Days in Renens, you suddenly find yourself somewhere that gives you inspiration because the quiet isolation gives it the necessary space.

He looks for the pure and the simple, he says. «I’m interested in the art of simplification, of formal abstraction – and for that you need a certain detachment.» Having independence and being able to work for small labels enabled him early on to develop a distinctive stylistic idiom built around straight lines. This individuality and autonomy is not merely confined to his work, but is also reflected in where he chose to have his workshop. On some days he is in the thick of the action as a lecturer at ECAL in Lausanne. By contrast, his workshop seems to be a kind of refuge where he can use his isolation to focus on what is fundamental.

Although it may sound contradictory, it actually makes perfect sense:  rather than coming across as cold or faraway, the products and everyday objects that he designs cry out to be touched. Soft edges, gentle shapes, masses that have grown organically. Through his design, he manages to give the apparently mundane an aura that turns a simple product into an object that evokes a sense of delight and trust. You can see this effect in the ‹Terracotta› lamp, for instance, which he made from clay for the Spanish furniture manufacturer PCM. Its gentle lines, shaped from his soft source material of clay, reflect what he is trying to get across:  the object is intended to seduce the observer and speak to their emotions.

However, it would be a mistake to think his work was just about simplicity, clarity and sobriety. His objects are not merely functional – there is also much playfulness that goes into them. «Touching something always means playing with it too,» he says, describing one of his design principles. Even when he was little, he reveals, he was interested in all manner of different things because he wanted to know how they all worked. An early craving that sharpened the gift for observation that he now plays with in order to provide a humorous and surprising commentary on his own designs. And it is this talent in particular that probably explains why he keeps on succeeding in giving what are essentially completely trivial everyday objects an unexpected, refreshing and humorous slant.

Photographer: Tomas Kral