Amid the chaos and congestion of Milan Design Week 2023, Copenhagen-based furniture brand GUBI—known for releasing classic pieces by famous designers and for a roster of emerging talent—brought attendees to a poolside installation at Bagni Misterosi. It was at this refreshing oasis of design that we caught a glimpse of the MR01 Initial Outdoor Lounge Chair, crafted from iroko wood. Following the design of the original MR01, a meditation chair (in oak or walnut) imagined by Danish designer Mathias Steen Rasmussen, the outdoor lounger employs the same sweeping lines and low center of gravity. The MR01 has been a favorite of ours since its debut, and we spoke to Rasmussen, along with GUBI’s Chief Brand Officer, Marie Kristine Schmidt, to learn about its creation and what we can expect for the future.
“It actually started with me writing to Jacob [Olsen],” Rasmussen says of the brand’s founder. “I wrote to him because back then he was also the creative director. If you had a design proposal, he was the person to get in contact with. I had done this chair, almost as it is now, as a school project when I was studying to become a wood machinist—like becoming a cabinetmaker but for the machining processes of building furniture—and I felt like it had potential beyond me.”
Rasmussen approached a lot of people but Olsen was quick to respond. “He asked me if it what I sent was a render or if I had something I could bring to him in Copenhagen,” Rasmussen continues. “I said ‘I can come by tomorrow. I have two prototypes.’ I brought them on a bike. We had a quick chat, maybe 15 minutes. He walked around the chair in silence. He touched it and he sat in it. And then he set me up with his product developers. From that moment on it was straightforward.”
“For GUBI, this was a little bit of a different approach,” Marie Kristine Schmidt adds. “The thing is that a lot of other designers may have materials that they prefer but Mathias is actually a cabinetmaker. He does the work on the product himself. He’s a very esteemed furniture maker for other private clients and some of the most luxurious brands in the world.” From a design development standpoint, the challenge became translating a product that Rasmussen had made by hand into something that could be produced by a carefully industrialized process—without a loss of quality.
“This chair is very thought-through. It was artisanal and craft-based but on the other side it’s quite technical,” Schmidt continues. “There are very few pieces to be put together. It’s a very optimized process from a manufacturing point of view.” One of Rasmussen’s own prototypes was used to develop the production system. He says he’s satisfied with the results and he doesn’t believe any spirit was lost. “Of course I’m an artist, but an artist can also get machines to do the work,” he says. “Often, they can do a better job and they can do the same thing every time.”
Schmidt says Rasmussen’s success behind the design is due to his clear intention. Before Rasmussen had children, he would meditate an hour in the morning and half-an-hour after work. This informed the chair. “I still get it done,” he says of meditation. “I still close my eyes and draw myself into my heart and I still get drawn to my chair when I do that.”
As for the division of GUBI that acts as a platform for emerging designers, Schmidt says, “We do some of our most successful work in collaboration. We mature together with designers. What we do as a design company and as a design brand, we have the archives that we work with and we have the living designers. It’s our responsibility to tell untold stories, to be part of the pathway where we establish and push ourselves as a brand and also create a platform for new designers to shine.” She notes that their archives aren’t just full of iconic silhouettes but also unknown, lost and forgotten designers.
“Our idea is to have some designers who become integrated into our narrative and we become part of their story. That’s what we dream about with Mathias, that we have a common path into the future,” she adds. Concurrently, Rasmussen’s career is developing. “I have my own studio now,” he says. “I have desk for the first time in my life where I go to answer emails or draw. I have my own woodwork shop with machines that I share with my good friend. I’m building this foundation.”
Schmidt returns to the idea of intent when considering future collaborations with Rasmussen. “You always have an idea about what your intent is for what you are drawing or presenting,” she says. “It’s never just to do a chair. It’s never just to do another table. It’s never just a piece of furniture. You have a clear idea—and for us as a brand, it’s important to make sure that there’s intent behind everything we build. Things have character. What makes us unique is our ability to tell a story. We are a soulful business. And hopefully, we can make people feel something.”
As for the Milan Design Week lounge debut, Schmidt notes that it was based on request. “We needed to evolve the platform of the chair,” she says. “We have a huge outdoor market. Since we introduced the MR01 chair, one of the biggest questions from architects and designers was how could this chair go outside. They wanted that. It was meant to be.”
Images courtesy of GUBI