Best known for his lighting creations and his minimal, utilitarian aesthetic, Cypriot-born designer Michael Anastassiades works for some of the world’s leading architects, including David Chipperfield and John Pawson. An Industrial Design graduate from the Royal College of Art in London, his work is featured in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the FRAC Centre in France, and the V&A Museum in London, and he has designed products in collaboration with furniture company Herman Miller and lighting manufacturers Flos. Dapper Dan’s editor Vassilis Karidis visited Michael at his home and studio in Waterloo, London, where the designer produces his signature collection of lighting, furniture, jewellery and tabletop objects for his own brand.
VASSILIS KARIDIS: You were born in Cyprus and you’ve been working in London for more than 20 years. When did you start your career?
MICHAEL ANASTASSIADES: I graduated in 1993 and I pretty much set my studio up in 1994, so it’s been a while, but effectively my studies didn’t give me a good direction as to what I wanted to do and that’s why it took me so long to really find out how I wanted to evolve as a designer. At the beginning I was very much interested in electronic products and how electronic products can affect your life and develop a psychological dependency between the object and the user. So I was doing a lot of experimental work at the beginning. The first product that I ever did, in 1993, was called the Message Cup. It was a cup for recording messages for people inside the domestic environment. The idea is that each person has their own cup, not for drinking but for recording messages. If you want to leave a message for somebody you pick up their cup, you talk to it, you put it upside down on the table. When this person comes home and sees the cup facing down, they know there is a message for him and they simply turn it up. This was before SMS, before all these kinds of means of communication. This was more like research for me, an exploration into how people communicate and the dependencies between objects and users. Another set of products that I designed later on were the Social and Antisocial Lights. These are living room lights: the Antisocial Light, for example, glows only when there’s absolute silence, so when you talk around it, it dims down. So you have to respect its behaviour in order to get what it is that it’s supposed to do for you.
I did a lot of collaborations with this design duo called Dunne and Raby— we worked together as a team of three. One was called Weeds, Aliens and Other Stories. It was a project exploring the relationship and the obsession many people have with their garden. We were intrigued by the idea of taking care of something, especially when you grow a vegetable garden that you eventually are going to eat. We found that barbaric kind of relationship very interesting. There was a series of products that came out of that and we had an amazing response—we showed it in a lot of museums around the world; but they were more like art pieces, conceptual pieces. They were acquired later by the Victoria and Albert Museum, who bought the whole collection.
VK: How has this early work influenced your lightning and furniture designs?
MA: These came much later on in my career. For many years I was developing all these ideas—it was personal research into design, because my studies were not enough to tell me how to pursue my thoughts as a designer. I was trying to understand what were the qualities that I was after in design and which model to follow as a designer. I realised that I didn’t really belong to any existing models. For many years during this time I was also practising and teaching yoga, so this is how I was making a living. Then, about 20 years ago, I got this place in Waterloo. That was a critical time because I worked on this house, which is a lifetime project. I did it with very limited means and with a friend of mine who is an architect and it helped me with the interior of the space and then I was looking for things to put in my house and I realised that there was nothing that I really wanted that would suit this space, but it was an interesting trigger for me to say, “Okay, I can actually make these things myself, I can design these things, I’m a designer.” I always had a passion for industrial products, products that you leave in the house, not just the research side of things, and that started me putting a collection together until the point that I looked at this collection and I said, “Okay, there’s been an amazing response to these products, I think I should really produce these pieces,” and that’s when I set up the brand.