After international acclaim received on his latest collection of lighting for Flos and on the back of a sojourn to Milan, we caught up with Michael Anastassiades, founder of London-based design practice Michael Anastassiades Studio.
Creative Michael Anastassiades was already gaining momentum in the design community when he was awarded Maison&Objet Designer of the Year in 2020. With an unconventional career spanning more than 20 years, Michael’s practice encompasses product design, spatial and experimental works and lighting.
Drawing inspiration from nature to archaic references of his native Cyprus, art and everyday life, Michael transforms his inspiration into a timeless dialogue of form and structure. His lighting is often described as a balancing act between fine art, design and mathematical precision.
His unique interpretation of geometric minimalism, innovation and artisanal honesty earned him a ‘spotlight moment’ in 2011 after his studio presented designs at the Salone del Mobile in Milan and caught the attention of Piero Gandini then-CEO of prolific Italian lighting brand Flos. Forging the beginning of a creative collaboration that has endured for more than a decade and delivered cult classic designs including the String Lights, Copycat and the IC Lights, Michael’s latest collection titled ‘Coordinates’ with Flos is destined for good things.
Speaking exclusively with est from his studio in North London, Michael talks through his design evolution, process, the inspiration behind his latest collection, and long-standing partnership with Flos.
You are considered one of the world’s preeminent lighting designers. Where did your passion for lighting originally stem from?
Michael Anastassiades: It’s something that started quite early on for me. I’ve always thought that the way light exists in nature is both magical and unpredictable. My attraction started from studying how natural light compares to how we create artificial lighting. Obviously, the two behave completely differently due to different levels of unpredictability in how we experience it.
Natural light can’t be replicated, but if we can understand its qualities and that experience, I believe it’s possible to try and capture it. This objective is what first attracted me to lighting. I created a few experimental lamps before I started my brand in 2007 and received such a positive response from people that I thought, OK, this is my moment to start producing my own ideas and making them available to others, so I decided to focus on lighting.
Last Order by Michael Anastassiades
Coordinates Lighting Collection by Michael Anastassiades
How has your experience in designing spaces, furniture and objects lent itself to working with lighting? Did you find there was a natural cross over in principles?
Michael Anastassiades: I think lighting is unique in its own way because the experience of a light fixture as an object exists in two very different ways; one when it’s off and one when it’s turned on. The object is off most of the time, which means it needs to function sculpturally as an object in the space. The rest of the time, when it’s on, something very different happens in that experience as we interact with the illumination and what this does to the space around it.
What do you consider to be the most important element in lighting design?
Michael Anastassiades: The element of illumination is the most important thing. ‘The glow’, as I refer to it, is where all the magic starts.
Maintaining the integrity of materiality in your designs has played an important role in each of your collections. Can you talk more about why this honesty of materials is important in your lighting collections?
Michael Anastassiades: Materiality is very important because it’s something that you experience physically. A light fixture is something that you live with, so it’s pivotal that you understand the honesty of the materials it is crafted from.
I don’t like materials that are trying to be something they’re not, such as plastics that are sprayed in finishes and made to look like metals. When you touch them, the temperature is different, and you can tell straight away that being disguised. For me, I believe you need to truly appreciate the honesty of an object which needs to be made of materials to last.
Coordinates Lighting Collection by Michael Anastassiades
You have a long-standing collaboration with Flos, which has led to several iconic lighting fixtures. How did this collaboration come about?
Our collaboration started organically in 2011, directly with the owner and CEO of Flos at the time, Piero Gambini. Piero and I formed a relationship founded on an appreciation of one another’s activities. I’ve always admired Flos’s history with so many amazing collections of iconic lamps, many of which I grew up with as a child.
Piero came to my very first presentation in Milan in 2011 and was intrigued. He was keen to meet in London during his next visit a few months later, and during that meeting, we both talked a lot about our mutual ideas. The foundation of our relationship is anchored in communication, respect and appreciation for each other’s contribution – it’s a rare thing. What Flos could do for me and what I could do for Flos has always been equally important in our ongoing relationship.
When developing a new fixture with Flos, what is your design process with their team?
None of the collections I’ve designed for Flos came from a brief that they set, which is quite rare in an industry where most companies are looking for something specific. As a studio, we always start with researching a project as an overarching idea.
The String Light was one of my first projects, which developed from looking at human activity and how people move lamps around a space to highlight a certain activity in their life. I liked the idea that when people want to celebrate something, they just put four posts in a village square and hang a string of lights from one pole to the next. This became my sketching starting point, and I became so excited that I wanted to see this concept physically, so we made a little model.
Using a long string of thread with a ball at the end, we started tying it from one pole to the next and creating all these incredible configurations to understand how it divided the space and how flexible it was. Then we photographed every scale of this box and used this to develop the String Light you see today. We referred to these photographs and sketches throughout the production process, and String Light really does look the same as the model!
Many of my other collections, including my most recent Coordinates lighting, have all followed the same process and principles. I see each of my collections for Flos as concepts that allow for endless possibilities to exist.
Is there a lighting piece that you’re most proud of or that represents your design approach best?
Michael Anastassiades: It has to be the String Light that became my first gesture of passing creativity back to the user. I love the idea that String allows people to create an individual configuration by giving them this lamp with an endless string that they could attach to different parts of their architecture.
What is the inspiration behind Coordinates, your latest his latest collection for Flos?
Michael Anastassiades: Coordinates took shape after investigating the intensity of light in an interior space. We wanted to know whether it could be controlled without simply dimming it, and I liked the idea of playing with illumination and density in one space. Immediately a sense of linear illumination and grid formation appeared to me. I’ve always been obsessed with linear tubes, long before LED existed. I love how poetically Eileen Gray used them in the 1930s, and so when technology made it much easier to play with a linear source of light, it made other ideas possible.
The concept of Coordinates grid formation came after I was commissioned by ESA, Wayne Field architects in Brazil, to design the lighting for the new Four Seasons restaurant in New York. I was asked to address the lighting scheme, especially in the main dining space, where things were different volumes and needed to be dynamic to incorporate different light intensity areas.
We developed a series of modules that we could make available commercially to create the same effect – either as singular modules or as a combination of modules where you could create much more complex structures.