More Complexity

In making his work less manufacturable, a young American designer creates his strongest furniture collection.

Max Lipsey


The typical trajectory of a young industrial designer just launching a career goes something like this: First, design limited-edition pieces that you produce yourself. Then, attract the interest of a manufacturer who agrees to mass-produce your idea. Finally, work with the manufacturer to translate your one-off design into something that can be efficiently (and affordably) factory made on a large scale.

Max Lipsey, a 28-year-old American designer working in Eindhoven, Netherlands, recently found himself in the opposite position—taking limited-edition furnishings, and, at the encouragement of a New York retailer, making them more complicated and less manufacturable. “I didn’t think about ease of production for these,” Lipsey says of his Acciaio Stage 2 collection, which debuted in Berlin last November.

“I had a feeling that I wanted to push the aesthetic.”That aesthetic dates back to 2010, when Lipsey launched a collection of three lightweight seats inspired by classic Italian racing bicycles. Called Acciaio (Italian for “steel”), the series was exhibited at several international furniture fairs, and was later picked up by the New York design store Matter. Then, late last year, Matter invited Lipsey to exhibit new work during Berlin’s Qubique fair. “We had a short time frame, so I said, ‘Well, I’d like to expand a bit on what I learned from the chairs,’” Lipsey says.

He expanded more than a bit. Where the original pieces are fairly simple interpretations of the speed, lightness, and elegance of Italian racing bikes, the Stage 2 editions are borderline bizarre, with complicated, off-kilter geometry and a more explicitly industrial aesthetic. “They’re kind of weird pieces,” Lipsey admits. And yet they work; the Stage 2 collection feels like a breakthrough. Often, when young designers have to adapt their concepts for manufacturing, the required compromises ultimately make for a more rigorously thought-out and streamlined product. But in Lipsey’s case, greater complexity ended up being a good thing.

To be fair, Lipsey is confident that even the most complicated pieces in the Stage 2 collection could be adapted for mass production. And like any young designer, he is willing to make adjustments for a mass run. But he would also be happy to keep the items as expensive one-offs. “My dream is also that, maybe, someone says, ‘I’d like to have a custom one for my house,’ and you just make one of them, and you get to do something really cool,” he says. “They’re both really cool directions to go in. They’re both interesting challenges.”

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