We talk shop with designer and creative powerhouse, Michael Anastassiades
I’m hoping Michael Anastassiades will be happy to take a trip down memory lane when we meet in B&B Italia’s showroom in London’s Brompton Cross, where Coordinates, his new design for Flos, was launched during the London Design Festival. Fortunately, he’s game for that. The Cypriot-born, London-based designer is mainly feted for his highly individual, polished, technically accomplished lighting combining elegantly minimal metal fixtures with simple shades, and I’m curious to find out how he arrived at making them. He is also fond of opulent materials but not gratuitously – he frequently uses brass for his lighting because its glowing surface enhances the light, he says.
Anastassiades also designs furniture. Examples include his Ordinal table of 2018 for Cassina and the recently launched Half a Square table for Molteni&C/ Dada, which, though pared-down, is made of eucalyptus wood and a green marble as dark as the ocean.
His pieces are often wittily, aptly named, giving them an almost anthropomorphic quality. Take his Tip of the Tongue light of 2013, which features a pearl-like opaline orb that looks about to topple off its brass pedestal. A recurring theme of his work is equilibrium – and a sense that this could easily be lost. His asymmetric IC light – inspired by a short film he once saw of a juggler effortlessly rolling balls up his arms – also conveys this.
Another design, Arrangements, of 2018, departs from the cool, linear look of much of his work. This comparatively theatrical, ceiling-hung, modular piece consists of connecting links in a variety of shapes, such as hoops, teardrops and diamonds – which surreally resembles a super-sized necklace. Coordinates is similarly modular, comprising grids of interlocking horizontal and vertical strip lights. But, like much of his earlier work, it is linear. Made of aluminium with an anodised, champagne-coloured finish and white diffusers incorporating LEDs, it was originally conceived as a bespoke piece for the restaurant at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel. Coordinates was manufactured by Flos’s custom division, and the company later adapted it as a collection that forms complex configurations or takes the shape of simpler chandeliers to hang above a dining table or floor lamps.
Anastassiades’ interest in design stretches back to his childhood in Cyprus. ‘There was a store in Nicosia that stocked classic designs by major brands,’ he recalls. ‘I was fascinated by them.’ Moving to London, he studied civil engineering at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, then did an MA in industrial design at the Royal College of Art. He founded his studio in 1994.
Has his training in engineering influenced his approach to design? ‘No, I ran away from engineering,’ he replies jovially. ‘But I have a practical side.’ Indeed, his Mobile Chandelier has a more engineered quality. This playful, skeletal pendant light counterbalances straight or curved arms and spherical glass shades, and comes in several permutations. His work brings to mind Alexander Calder’s sculptures and the kinetic lighting of French industrial designer Serge Mouille.
I can’t design solely in a virtual way
Anastassiades’ career took off in 2011 when Flos’s then CEO admired his work at the Euroluce lighting fair at the Salone del Mobile. So began a fruitful – ongoing – collaboration, kicking off with his super-minimal 2014 String light.
What drew to him to lighting? ‘I haven’t met anyone who isn’t attracted to it, I think. Everyone is fascinated by the moon and fire their magical qualities.’ But he adds that there was a practical reason for specialising in lighting: ‘It was more manageable – I couldn’t be a Tom Dixon, designing everything. That was too scary.’
Although his lighting makes a strong statement, its main focus, he says, is on light rather than the fixtures. He mentions that he has designed chandeliers for the Greek Orthodox Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in west London and that, when a friend who’d been there told him he hadn’t noticed them, Anastassiades took this as a compliment.
As these reminiscences bring us to the present, he tells me he is thrilled to have been recently awarded the highly coveted Compasso d’Oro design prize, established in 1954, for Arrangements. By contrast, this year, like many businesses, he has faced the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. How has his business fared? ‘Well, like many designers, it’s made me question the need to jump on a plane to see clients when so much can be resolved online. Luckily, I’m in the luxurious position of companies shipping prototypes to me. I need to see these physically – for me whether a piece works or not depends on its proportion and scale, its ability to relate to the human scale.’
His studio in Camden, where he works with three other designers, is back in operation – by the sound of it, a necessity for him: ‘I can’t design solely in a virtual way,’ he says. ‘I always start by sketching my designs. I like to make a lot of models. I need to feel materials. I’m very hands-on.’