David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem have established a global presence since they set up their studio, david/nicolas, in Beirut in 2011. Their innovative approach to contrasting materials, along with their unique way of blending retro, contemporary and futuristic elements, gives their work a timeless aesthetic that translates to a wide range of projects, from furniture design to high-end bespoke interiors.
You work across a wide range of projects, from furniture design to high-end bespoke interiors - what is the signature david/nicolas DNA that is present in all your projects? Whether it is an object or a space, we always have the same approach. We like to use many different materials in what we do and certainly do not believe the law of “maximum 3 materials per object”. Mixing different materials create junctions, space to innovate in a nice connection or detail, at the end, what matters most is the energy the pieces or spaces generate and perhaps that is the one common thing our work constantly has, at least that is how we see it. It is important for us to create what we like to call a “nostalgic future”. To sum it up, we think the DNA of our work is the feeling it will share and not really a specific detail or material.
You met at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, where you both studied for a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design and then both went on to Masters degrees at the ScuolaPolitecnica Di Design - what attracted you to each others approaches? Well to be honest, we first became friends and started helping each other out for our studies. Nicolas used to take David’s drawings during drawing classes and just scan and retrace them! Probably during our formation years, we started working a little bit with each other on some projects at university and shared the same vision. We knew we were going to end up opening our own practice; we knew that during our masters, we were already collaborating on our final project and we believe our friendship led us to take that chance and support each other. In 2011, after our masters we started working on some things together, and that eventually became a full-time studio.
In your first solo show in Beirut you exhibited pieces of work inspired by both your grandmothers - you combined Oriental/Western, Antique/ Contemporary influences - Tell us about this show? We first started our studio in Milan and then moved to Portugal, coming back to Lebanon was a decision we took and it was (naturally) a little bit hard for us. We were looking for purpose. Understanding where we come from has a great deal to do with where we see ourselves going. It’s that time in life where you question everything (our mid-twenties) finding ways to describe your vision, your identity. Lebanon is culturally very diversified; product design was still quite a new profession and there was room for us to explore locally and share new aesthetics. Loulou/Hoda – the exhibition – was a way for us to create the nostalgia of what used to be while looking forward. It was a very emotional exhibition for us and others, we still remember the lady who was crying at the show, saying we brought back so many memories, it was really moving and it somehow gave meaning to all of this.
It can be difficult not to allow edginess to replace familiarity, warmth and nostalgia? How do you know when you have the balance just right? We wouldn’t say we inject future into past, and we don’t see this as a measurable unit. It’s just natural, we don’t really think about it, it’s just there. Probably trusting our gut is the simplest answer! When we are both convinced, we know that it’s just right, it’s all about harmony.
You describe your relationship as one based on mutual encouragement and criticism - describe you process of working together? Our relationship is built around trust. We always push each other forward and that gave us some solid ground. Being 100% transparent, when we work, we say things in the rawest most direct possible way, we don’t carefully pick our words and couldn’t care less if it might seem offensive: if one of us is not convinced, then there is no way of letting it happen. That can be tricky sometimes, we are both very stubborn and we like to fight for what we believe so often we just clash for a couple of minutes and then take a step back in order to find a right balance. Even our creative processes are very different, David tends to sketch a lot, different ideas and Nicolas is more narrative, he prefers to write everything down, even the way the object looks (yes he is a bad sketcher!) it’s both processes that come together and evolve into an object that is over and over revised to reach the point where we are both convinced of every single detail.
The contrasting of materials features as strongly in your work as does influences/ themes. Tell us about some of your unique material combinations. Contrast is essential for the lecture of an object, it creates balance. Material combinations will take that contrast into multiple dimensions, it can be seen, touched and smelled. That is very important to the story an object tells. One combination we had already made was using: white painted steel – rose gold finished brass – laminates in 2 different shades – walnut wood – glass – marble and textiles.
You have established a global presence: you design for major international brands and have been lauded by NYT, Wallpaper, AD, won a Red Dot Award for your tableware collection for Vista Alegre etc... how do you keep all the success from interfering with the creative process? Actually, it doesn’t interfere at all. We do what we have to do, what we want to do, it’s never for recognition nor is it for press, the only thing that changed is that we become much more selective on what we work on and that perhaps is better.
You have an exciting mix of projects ranging from designing for brands to interior design to redesigning a classic car, to your own pieces (such as the "Paume" which was displayed at Nilufar gallery in Milan). Tell us about some of your recent projects... We recently completed a restaurant in Beirut, it opened last April, the restaurant is called Kaléo, it was our first public space, we designed every single piece of furniture as well as the space of course. Later in May we showed our first piece “Monocle” at Tefaf in New York with Carpenters Workshop Gallery with whom we work exclusively on limited edition pieces and one-offs. There are a lot of new things that will be happening in 2018, it is kind of the completion of what we started a couple of years ago.
Beirut specifically and Lebanon generally has emerged as a global pulse in art and design - why do you think this amazing explosion of rich, diverse and thought leading creativity has occurred? Beirut has always been a very rich and diverse city, however it was not always on the international map and that naturally led artists and creators to move to big cities. Lately it has caught international attention, we believe it is the capital of design in the region, it just has all the right elements, from liberty of speech to a very diversified lifestyle. Not only that, the new generation (worldwide) tends to choose what they want to be doing for a living and not just take the safest job or opportunity. That led to a movement of young entrepreneurs from very different backgrounds and in many different sectors to just stop their basic jobs and take the road less traveled.
What projects/ exhibitions have you got coming up that we can look forward to in 2018? We actually have some exciting things going on in 2018, we are planning an exhibition with Carpenters Workshop (dates not confirmed yet), we are currently redesigning the whole flagship store and new stores of a Haute couture and Lingerie brand from Belgium (we can’t say who at the moment) finishing a couple of interiors we have been working on for a while now and preparing a nice exhibition for salone del mobile in Milan, stay tuned!