David / Nicolas
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. David and Nicolas met at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, where they both studied for a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design, going on to undertake Masters degrees at the Scuola Politecnica Di Design in Milan. After graduating, both undertook internships with international design studios, Nicolas going on to freelance for a year in Beirut while David worked as a designer at Fabrica, in Treviso, Italy.
Since 2011, david/nicolas has staged several exhibitions and collaborated with established international brands. The duo’s “retro-futuristic” aesthetic is rooted in a wide range of influences, from Oriental geometry, to antique furniture, to robots, space travel and the music of Daft Punk. The duo’s breakout year came in 2014. At Milan Design Week they launched the bespoke “Artichoke” safe with Agresti for Wallpaper* Handmade, as well as their collection “Dualita” for Nina Yashar’s Nilufar Gallery. They were selected as one of the design week’s three breakout stars by The New York Times. Later the same year, they held their first solo show in Beirut, “Loulou/Hoda” at Art Factum Gallery, exhibiting pieces inspired by their grandmothers that combined Oriental and Western and antique and contemporary influences. In the same year, the studio introduced its first industrial project at Maison & Objet, the “Orquestra” tableware collection for Vista Alegre, which was awarded the Red Dot Design Award and the Wallpaper* Award. They were also included on a list of 20 influential Lebanese figures by newspaper L’Orient Le Jour.
In 2015, the duo was selected by Wallpaper* Magazine for their POWER 200, as part of their pick of “20 designers under 40.”
david/nicolas was also highlighted among the 86 designers of the year 2015 by AD magazine in France.
Can you recall how or why you became designers, and what brought you two together?
N. Why I wanted to become a designer? Well, initially I did not want to become a designer I wanted to become a physicist. Then I switched to architecture, where I discovered product design. It is then, and I think David would agree, that I became more intrigued with the details of how objects are actually made and stemming from this curiosity I gravitated towards products. To me it was the impulse to look closer and closer and understand how things work, where mechanics came together with aesthetics.
D. I was always drawn to the process of creation. Originally I aspired to become a car designer, it might sound a bit banal but I love beautiful things, especially creating them. My passion for objects comes from appreciating correct proportions and quality materials. Growing up in Paris, whenever I would visit Beirut and see its torn-up landscape, I felt that I could somehow change it for the better, but instead of becoming an architect I became a designer.
N. Our duo was never truly planned, it was more of a natural continuum, it was never even said out loud. We used to help each other out with projects in university and we have been working together ever since.
Your personal relationship is quite definitive of your practice; can you please talk about this aspect and how it reflects on your process.
N. We work very differently. When we create a concept, I essentially write while David sketches at the same time. There is no sympathy between us, I constantly hack at his sketches, revising them, changing one aspect or another.
D. It goes both ways, this form of continuous interruption builds up a conversation that becomes something promising in the long run. That is how concepts become designs.
You have a myriad of influences, which do you feel are more prevalent in your body of work?
D. We are influenced by the past.
N. We don’t even look for it. We believe that ideas travel and sometimes transcend time and resonate in very unexpected ways.
D. For example the triangular forms you see in the ‘Loulou/Hoda’ collection are the details reminiscent of the crusaders. There’s almost a circularity in how these ideas where reflected in our work, it’s a pattern that reoccurs over time.
N. And of course our most important source of inspiration is music. It’s consistently present in our environment, noisy and electric. It’s the guiding strand through all our projects.
D. Music sets a scenario in our minds, its helps us to communicate and understand the logic that is presents in the evolution of our work.
Would you say your design studio is on the crossroad between Beirut and Milan? What do you acquire from each location?
N. Milan for us is like a neighbourhood that you know very well, its efficient. It’s our headquarters in Europe.
D. As a studio we represent ourselves as designers first and then we talk about our origins, as is clearly evident in the ‘Loulou/Hoda’ collection. While we thrive off the energy in Beirut we always look out into the world and to ourselves as individuals. Our goal today is to create a new aesthetic that redefines Lebanese or oriental design but at the same time speaks to the elegance and beauty of its culture.
Which materials do you find most rewarding/challenging to work with?
N. Wood in both ways, the challenge is understanding the physics behind it. It’s a truly rich material that is alive. Unlike stone or steel or brass it is something that has a life of its own and will change with time. It is a hell of a challenge to be able to grasp this.
What are the biggest difficulties you are facing today?
N. The challenge is to keep up, specifically time management. Time is so complicated.
D. As our studio has grown so have our responsibilities. The responsibility to deliver quality work to our clients.
Your studio is growing; can you expand on the new interiors direction?
D. So this is another branch of our studio that we are developing. Our goal was always to work on more public spaces. When we take one this category of projects we design everything, from chairs to the walls to the last detail. Besides this we also work on private residential spaces where we create a sort of larger scale product.
N. It’s not strictly interior design or architecture, it’s really working on an object of a different scale. The most rewarding part of working on interiors for us is to see how our image, detailing and guidelines can be translated into this field. It’s a natural extension of our products.
What has been your biggest revelation since the inception of your studio?
N. Everything happens for a reason.
D. And we are saying this very seriously. Now we truly believe that if one project doesn’t work out that means something else was bound to happen that will match better.
N. Every time we felt down for not getting something that we wanted, something better came along. Not necessarily bigger but it fit better and when it fits perfectly it is bound to succeed.
What have you noticed as the biggest shifts or evolutions in your field since 2011 till now?
N. Personally speaking, from 2011 till now you see a recess of industry or let’s say brands and progress in the gallery field. And today the companies that persevered have a very different approach, they treasure what they have, their essence. It is no longer about overproduction.
D. I have a feeling that people are more interested in valuable pieces, not necessarily strictly gallery material but unique works, people need a story. There is a demand for a customisable personal approach. The client now also values the field of interior design more and is more aware. Actually, I know the answer, it’s Instagram and social media. For me this is what changed everything. Today this is what creates awareness and makes design more accessible.