An Honest Fusion: A Conversation with Architect Duo GamFratesi
Italian-Danish architect duo Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi talked with Liviani Putri about embodying two cultures into their design, including for their harmonious collaboration with Minotti
GamFratesi, a design studio named after its founders Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi, was established in 2006 in Copenhagen. Although born from two different design cultures, GamFratesi is rooted deeply in a perfect fusion of tradition and innovation, craftmanship and technology, rigour and poetry. Based on a deep respect for the Scandinavian masters of the past, their work showcases a unique quality of craftsmanship and materials combined with a functional and honest design. At the same time, GamFratesi displays a high level of admiration to the Italian masters for their intellectual approach to design. “We draw on the Danish furniture and craft tradition,” the duo expresses, “as well as the classic Italian conceptual approach.”
Taking decisions and sharing responsibilities together, the couple share plenty of similarities as well as differences. Stine is known for her free spirit, while Enrico is more methodical and structured. But both of them share a similar passion for perfectionism, convictions and emotions. They also find joy in working within large spaces, so the GamFratesi studio is nested in a beautiful industrial building in the centre of Copenhagen with five-meter-high ceilings and abundant natural light.
Throughout their journey in the world of design, GamFratesi has produced a number of notable works through collaboration with luxury furniture and lifestyle brands, including their latest with Italian furniture company Minotti, which it can be found in Indonesia at Minotti Jakarta by Moie. Excerpts from an interview with Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi:
The two of you represent two different, but equally strong, design traditions: Italian and Danish. How do you combine these two into your own style?
It is difficult to literally divide the two parts of our work between Italian and Danish. The product is an honest fusion of two cultures and a work process that leads to a hybrid and interesting result. We do not define if a project is closer to the Scandinavian or Italian universe, but it spontaneously takes shape between our two personalities.
I’m sure you get this question a lot, but what is it like working together as a couple? Especially today as you hear about so many couples having to relearn what it means to spend most days together at home…
We must honestly say that in this period the way of working has definitely changed, especially without the possibility of travelling and meeting the companies we work with. But in everyday life, the intimate way of working between us is the same. Ours has never been an eight-hour office job, but a continuous dialogue in the studio, at home and on the road. This continuous intimacy has obviously remained, and in this period, we have always worked closely together as usual and this is really the way we like it, since our work is also our passion and part of the family and everyday life.
We’ve noticed that many designers across multiple industries – from fashion to even watchmaking – have taken into account how people live under today’s “new normal” in their designs. Is this something that also applies to your more recent works and how has your creative process changed?
We have not worked in an artistic way. Sometimes some pieces have become iconic and characteristic, but this has been a consequence, whereas at the beginning it has always been important to consider functionality and comfort. We think that the values we had before the pandemic are definitely the same that people are looking for at this moment and that is why our language and principles have remained the same.
Speaking about ideas, there are no boundaries because it can arise from a conversation, a vision, pen and paper. However, the production and prototyping phases need a company as well as a physical comparison on the piece. This is why it was important to work with companies we know and to have the ability to work together even in a moment where the whole process we used to go through has changed and new work and collaboration dynamics have taken over.
Speaking about your collaborative works, can you also tell us about your partnership with Minotti? In particular, what was it that sparked this collaboration?
The 2020 Collection is the second Minotti collection we worked on, and it is a sincere pleasure for us to be able to enter more deeply into the company and better understand the unique Minotti style: a code that starts from a family, extremely passionate and dedicated, capable of materializing an idea of design, style and elegance with an uncompromising sartorial quality. For us, it was essential to bring our minimal language, full of stories related to Nordic traditions, to be reinterpreted within a universe that clearly expressed a “Made in Italy” value. The result is a sober and balanced project, but also unique and personal, creating a product that embodies that timeless elegance that distinguishes the company.
Every time we meet, there is really a lot of energy around the table with everyone. Everything is in development where we are taking the traditional language but bringing it to an intense level of comfort, as major ability of the Minotti craftsmanship. We try to really develop together the original idea but without limitations, being very open until the last part of the project.
One important aspect is that it’s never just focusing on the product itself, it’s very much a discussion about how people should live with it and all the behaviours around the product, which is very interesting.
“For us, creating quality products with materials that resist over time or are able to ‘age’ in a beautiful way is a correct way to respond to sustainability”
Are there any particular reasons that you chose to work a lot on chairs and seating systems? And can you tell us about the inspiration behind your creations with Minotti? Particularly the Fynn family of seats, as well as the Shelley and Angie family of seats?
Seating has always been one of our main passions in furniture design and we love to work on this topic. They are very close to the body and intimate in the way to use them and relate with them. In our latest design, Fynn, which is part of Minotti’s 2020 Collection, the curved armrest is centre of the project and it has become the clear and defined sign to tell a story. Wood as a source material evokes the Scandinavian tradition. The structure, which usually requires numerous elements and connections to ensure stability, is challenged and developed in the project with advanced elements and connections, allowing a few lines to gently support the seat without compromising the construction. The product is declinable in numerous typologies, with different dimensions and areas of use, and we really appreciate the ability of the chair to fit different contexts. For the project, we created a soft and welcoming version, a version with a tailored padding in saddle-hide to maintain a more graphic and decisive line and, finally, an outdoor version to break the boundaries of the space and connect these two areas in a single living project.
For Shelley and Angie, they were designed for Minotti’s 2019 Collection. The starting point was the saddle-hide, which was studied and approached in two different ways, enhancing the characteristics of the material: on one hand its structural property, while on the other its mouldable capacity. The Shelley armchair is based on a light metal structure connected by three parts in saddle-hide creating a large basket to accommodate cushions. On the other hand, the Angie armchair is characterized by a saddle-hide element with a characteristic rounded wing shape around the armchair. The defined shape is opposed to the softness of the front and seat of the chair, while the back remains sculptural and rigid.
You’re also known for your collaborative works with luxury lifestyle brands, from the plant-filled interior for harlan + holden’s Glasshouse Café in Manila, the Apple Watch Hermès and more. Can you walk us through your creative process when working on displays like these? How do you find the meeting point between your own aesthetics and the key messages of each brand you work with?
The message must be in perfect harmony and must take into account what we want to communicate and what the company’s DNA is. Working with luxury brands is not only a pleasure for the specific brand but also because their identity is well defined and it is interesting to seek new directions and possibilities while respecting their image and history.
Tell us about your policy on sustainability. What are some of the steps that are you taking to become more sustainable?
For us, creating quality products with materials that resist over time or are able to “age” in a beautiful way is a correct way to respond to sustainability. A design that manages to maintain its physical and aesthetic qualities over time, merging function and contemporary classicism, and creating products not as a temporary trend phenomenon but as an intimate and personal object to be experienced and transmitted in the future.
For our last question, can you share with us how you personally pick and choose furniture pieces for your own home?
The Fynn armchair arrived and immediately found its place in our living room. It is nice to finally try out the products that have been in the pipeline for a long time. There is also a group of Danish vintage pieces from our private collection together with the various seats that we have created in these years of work.