It’s not easy standing out at Milan’s annual Salone del Mobile, where thousands of exhibiting companies display new furniture prototypes and young designers compete for the attention of the world’s design press. Yet Ben Storms, an emerging Belgian designer who exhibited at Palazzo Litta as part of the A Matter of Perception: Products & Materials showcase did just that with 'In Vein.' The piece, a captivating trestle table that does double-duty as a mirror, transforms marble, a material known for its considerable heft, into a lightweight, poetic structure that successfully fuses innovation, craftsmanship and artistry. We chatted with Storms about his influences and his genesis as a furniture and object designer.
What led to the creation of the 'In Vein' table?
Marble and its characteristics. I summed up different parameters of marble, things that came to my mind like: Heavy, cold, expensive, breaks easily, often kitsch, solid, "impossible to move,” etc. The end result is everything but these typical and well-known characteristics: Lightweight (35kg), 3 mm thick, easy to transport, difficult to break and used in the most humble type of all tables - the trestle table. The trestle table is never used with these kinds of precious materials; mostly we see 2 trestles with a door on top of it. It is also the archetype of a table and has been commonly used since the Middle Ages.
Why do you think it has resonated with people so much?
I believe In Vein gets lots of attention because of a) the aesthetics and b) the astonishment seeing this 3mm [piece] of marble supported by 2 trestles. The aesthetics are a consequence of the materials, construction and form, which makes it even more interesting. Astonishment is the first reaction: "How is this possible?" There is a big advantage in playing with the parameters of materials that are commonly known.
What was the most difficult component to master in its creation?
Probably the most experimental one is the backside of the table, the mirror blown out of a sheet of metal. I use a technique that is not totally possible to control, which results in a unique object each time. After that I combine this blowing - and only partly controlled - technique with a 3mm layer of marble, so everything has to be perfectly straight because there is not 1mm of margin! The mirror is the reason why the marble won't break.
Can you tell us about your route into furniture and object design? Was it a natural evolution?
Looking back to it seems to be a natural evolution. Back in those days I was mostly wandering around [debating] what to do with my life. Design wasn't going to be the first choice. After 8 years, I finished Art History at University. During this period I followed other courses like plastic arts (sculpting), stone cutting and woodworking. And after my Masters thesis on the work of Art Nouveau architect Paul Hankar (who did lots of furniture design) I decided to go for it.
'In Vert,' a mirrored bench placed between two trees, is almost an art piece. How did you conceive it?
The response is great as it has a similar effect like In Vein on people. Looking at it, viewers don't really understand what they are seeing and how it is made. I guess I like to astonish people with my work. This bench is inspired by the work of Anish Kapoor and Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone. I like to find inspiration in arts and I can see that my work is evolving more and more towards the language of sculpting. But I adore the principals of real design at the same time.
What would you like to design in the future?
I would love to design on a bigger scale, somewhere in between furniture and architecture. And I would love to design in a social way, finding creative and long lasting solutions to human problems.
Did you set out for your work to walk the borderline between art and design?
I think it does walk on the borderline between a statue, an image and design. It is not my intention but my world. I like to make beautiful things that find a viewer's attention for 1 minute. For now every piece has a function; I wouldn't be surprised if one day, function will be of minor importance, but I guess it will always stay on the borderline. I sometimes think I involved functionality to give my work the right to exist.
The trestle table, an archetype that has been commonly used since the Middle Ages, is rarely made with precious materials such as marble.
The most challenging element of the table's design was its backside, a mirror blown out of a sheet of metal.
Tom Van Remoortere
Storms' InHale coffee table is an evolution of its trestle predecessor with a marble top resting on a blown glass mirror.
The 'InHale' coffee table is also paradoxical with a monumental 200 kg marble block which appears to float effortlessly on an inflated metal cushion.
Tom Van Remoortere
The 'In Vert' bench was inspired by the work of Anish Kapoor and Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone.