Belgian design team Muller van Severen is a paragon of creative conspiracy. What started out in 2011 as a simple experiment in co-creation between married visual artists Fien Muller and Hannes van Severen resulted in a critically acclaimed collection of furniture that straddles the line between sculpture and functional homeware—though neither Muller nor van Severen were trained furniture designers. “The decision to start making ‘furniture sculptures’ arose very spontaneously,” Muller tells CH. It was the outcome of a combination of circumstances, including the fact that the couple was in the midst of a home renovation when they started working together. With a mutual interest in creating fine art for the everyday and a focus on cultivating their own living space, Muller van Severen was born.
The duo makes their US debut this week, with an exhibition at NYC’s Matter design showroom featuring an overview of Muller van Severen’s first two collections. Their work is a happy medium between Muller’s photographic eye for color and composition and van Severen’s absurdist approach to sculpture; giving each piece the sense of being an interactive artwork. In fact, it’s almost as though the couple is laughing at the idea of furniture, seeing it as a creative challenge for each of their respective mediums and without the conceptual barriers that are so often set when trained within a consumer-based industry.
Though essentialist in form, Muller van Severen pieces erupt with whimsy—a lamp seems to bend inquisitively over its adjoining table-friend; a minimal canvas chaise lounge leans on another, mimicking a head resting on the lap of a lover. The magic of the duo’s relationship shines through in everything they make together.
The marvelous cohesion of Muller van Severen’s work is a testament to their ability to communicate and use each other’s strengths in order to create something wholly new. “Every design emerges and grows differently. Most of the time, one of us comes up with an initial idea, but then we start sketching together and give each other feedback,” Muller explains. The couple stays close to the production process, with most of the work happening at their studio. “We take our ideas to the atelier very quickly to start making the prototypes so we know what materials and proportions we want to work with from the beginning,” Muller says. The couple then brings a welder into their studio to finish the piece before bringing it to any other necessary craftspeople such as leatherworkers for completion.
In this light, their success is a double-edged sword, as higher demand for their pieces has forced Muller van Severen to consider outsourcing production. “It has always been difficult to hand over our work, but we will be doing so more and more in the future,” Muller says. “Production requires a lot of energy from us, and creating new work is often pushed to the background because of it.” Still, the team has plenty to look forward to, with new designs and a number of upcoming exhibitions all over the world, including this year’s Salone del Mobile and Expo 2015. Despite having their hands full already, Muller van Severen are keen to discover what else they can make together; “We are also working on a very cool exhibition with a collaborator in Paris, but we can’t say more about that now,” Muller says. “It’s all very exciting!”
The Muller van Severen collections are on view and available for purchase at Matter (405 Broome St, NYC) through 30 April 2015.