Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi run a studio and a family together. So how do they find time and energy to get inspired and to play? Mark Isitt finds out in the following interview.



Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi run a studio and a family together. So how do they find time and energy to get inspired and to play? Mark Isitt finds out in the following interview.

Mark Isitt: This is Østerbro in the eastern part of Copenhagen. And in that enormous building, GamFratesi have their studio. Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi run their studio together. Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi run a family together. Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi do everything together, it seems. And I'm wondering, what's the trick? Where do they find their inspiration? Looking at their portfolio, they do things for HAY, Gubi, Louis Poulsen, De Padova and Poltrona Frau. They're very good at mixing business with pleasure. How do they manage to remember to play?

MI: What's the importance of playing?

Enrico Fratesi: I think it's always very important to play. Or at least it is important to remember to play.

MI: Is it easy to forget to play?

EF: It is!

Stine Gam: Yeah, of course it is. So it's something that you have to keep doing, somehow. And that can seem odd because it's something that's very natural in the beginning of life and then maybe you get too serious and you have to keep moments of play. But of course, it has to be accompanied by a lot of other things like discipline, a lot of skills and a lot of things. It's a lot of problem solving. And then you still have to remember to play in work and also in life.

MI: Why is it important?

EF: When you play, maybe the best part of you is coming out. You forget about problems and then suddenly you are enjoying things. Then you can find a solution unexpectedly. So it's definitely something you have to remember to do.

MI: And the more successful you become and the bigger the assignments, the more difficult it is to remember to play?

EF: It is definitely more difficult now than before. When you are very young, you're quite naive in the way of working, you know, so you don't think too much and you enjoy a lot and you are not worried about consequences.

SG: And you don't have any deadlines because no one is waiting for you.

EF: Which is also a good point! And then suddenly, when you're working in a very professional way, there is a lot of expectation. From yourself, first of all. You always want to do your best. The companies expect more and then you are aware about many things, you know, technical details, problems in general with the design, etc. I wouldn't say this stops creativity but it stops the way you play. It becomes more complicated.

MI: When you look at the stuff you have in front of you here, what part of the process do they represent? Are they at an early stage of the process where you just sit around a table?

EF: There are different stages. Usually the first stage is talking and I love that part. You know, when we actually have a conversation about what we want to do and in that moment, everything seems possible.

SG: So easy. And that's the playful moment.

EF: That's very playful. And suddenly when you take the pencil and start to draw, immediately you have a discussion or a connection and the details are not completely solved. And then the tension begins.

SG: Then you become an optimist.

EF: Yes, that's true. When you move to a computer the problems are coming and then it's good to have this back and forth discussion where you still have the freedom of your hand to keep the direction of where you want to go - then to the right proportion in the details with the computer drawing. Some of the things here are a little bit in between. Some are more early stage and some are more late stage. But we do a lot of back and forth on projects to remember where we want to go. It's a very interesting part because Stine and I are very different in many ways: culturally, our background, our personality. But when we approach a project together, we know exactly where we want to go. We have two different ways of going there, right?

SG: Yeah, exactly. It's different process. So we can have a lot of clashes on the way because we have a lot of contrasts, but it's also a source of inspiration for us. We can't take anything as a given because it's like the other one would always question what you think is normal and so on. Even in life and also in work processes. And I think it's kind of been our driver. Luckily we've never had to discuss anything once we've arrived somewhere. We can just feel it and then it's OK. That's kind of our signature and also our way of working.

MI: What do you mean?

EF: When it's time to stop. Because in design, you know, who knows when it is the end. You could push forever, you know? And so there is a moment when we both look at that and then we kind of feel OK.

SG: But there are many moments when we could think, now we're there. And then I would come and say something really annoying that turns everything upside down. And then we have to start over.

EF: The double confirmation.

MI: Is it an advantage to be husband and wife in this, or is that a disadvantage?

EF: It's a big advantage. There are good things and bad things but of course, since we are so intimate with each other, we talk about all the boundaries and we are into what we want to say and what we want to do. That means that it can be very hard between us many times because, of course, if you are just a colleague, I cannot react as if you are my partner, but we know that we are cutting all the filters. It's good and bad.

MI: But you cut to the chase.

EF: Yes. So we can be quite mean sometimes, but in the other way we know that of course, there is a lot of respect between each other. So it's not that we need to formulate always in a very formal way. It goes straight to the point. So we are very effective and very honest.

SG: Maybe it can also be frustrating to work with someone like us, because everything is kind of between the lines. So it can even be that I say half a phrase and he knows the rest and that's annoying for people from outside, of course. But this is maybe how it works. And then also it's been many years now. But it is actually still like - one of us can steal the pencil from the other and then continue.

EF: So we are not sure every time who did what, but this is also another thing that probably when you're a couple, it doesn't matter. I mean, because we are really so much a single unit. So if she made it or I made it, I don't care! Our success is our success. You know, so you don't need to have your personality come out. We just want to get the best out of us. And that's very unique when you are a couple.

MI: How do you divide the work? Who does what? Do you both work on the same drawing for example?

SG: Yeah, we can easily do that.

EF: Maybe I'm more technical or more, you know, able to coordinate things in a different way. She's very sensible and, you know, taking more time to reflect and understanding more details of the project.

SG: He is maybe much more dynamic and also maybe fast. I would be more silent and slow and need to think longer. And so I think we are very different in that sense.

EF: But we make a good combination through this diversity, somehow. But we still love to stay on the same project. We have never had a moment where you say, OK, I run this project and you follow this company. Not really. And that's maybe because we are used to that and we like that. We'll probably keep it.

MI: Can one play too much, can one become too playful?

SG: I think so. Definitely. It has to be controlled by a lot of discipline. I think sometimes "playful" can be misunderstood as "humorous" or "fun". And that's not the meaning. I think with being playful, it's more like having a certain approach to the process where you're curious. And I think it's also about...

EF: ...bringing some good feeling into a project. To the people having it. So it's about bringing good behaviours. It doesn't mean to have "fun".

SG: We've always been very obsessed with the feeling. Even the final product needs to have a good feel. We worked a lot with being gentle because it has to go to people, what we do. And if you can create something that makes a good feel - even embraces people, creates comfort and intimacy. Those words are all very positive words I think that everybody needs. But if you can use it in a playful way, it's also having something which is very human.

MI: What is that mask you're sitting with?

EF: This is an example of something which has something playful in it, but it was very difficult and technical and somehow we had to express it for a collection for Kvadrat. So we tried to think of a new way to show the textile so that people can actually look at the textile in a different way with playfulness. And the mask was an object that, of course, has personality. It was bended which means that the textile will get some curved lines. So it's almost like making an upholstery, but you focus completely on the textile. To make this idea, we have to go to engineering, and making tools for pressing. So behind the smile that you have when you're looking at the textile, there is a lot of hard work.


SG: Design is a collaboration. I mean, you don't do anything by yourself. It's a long chain of people that have to give something to the process. You can't play all the way because you have to pass some knowledge or information all the time to other people that have to carry on. You have a lot of responsibility and you can get good surprises and bad surprises during the process. But it's not like an artist where you can actually from the start to the end do something and it's all yours.

EF: And sometimes we are a bit jealous of that - that we are not able to do something completely ourselves. We always depend on this big orchestra of people which at the end, if the result is good, you feel extremely proud to be a little bit the director of this. But I think on the other hand sometimes it's frustrating that you cannot just express completely what you have in mind because you need, of course, support. So there are good things and bad things. But it takes a lot of coordination when sharing design.

SG: It can actually take a lot of years from your first playful thought until the end result. It can be like average two years. We have products that take one year and some are four years under way. Like this from Royal Copenhagen. It looks maybe quite simple, but it was four years in development. That's maybe hard to imagine when you see it.

EF: When you see the Royal Creatures from Royal Copenhagen, it's a good example of a product which started with a playful approach. Royal Copenhagen always had the interest in botanic drawings and animal drawings but in a very naturalistic way. And we also started with a naturalistic approach. But ended up making something very different by using their element in a very essential way, in a very contemporary way. It was an unexpected surprise, right?

SG: I think so, because this was, like, a good example of playing because we were actually supposed to do something else and this just came out by playing with all the elements that are very traditional and recognisable for Royal Copenhagen. We just started to see other things - like the flowers became eyes, and it got this personality.

EF: It was very much that we saw into their tradition. Basically you don't have any doubt that you are having a plate from Royal Copenhagen, but in a completely different setting using their elements. So this is also when you look at things with an open eye. But also there was the time - there was not the stress of a briefing or of a deadline. We were in for a completely different thing, and then this one came out and then they were very amazed. So basically their request was "can we do a big collection with this?"

SG: And think it could never happen the other way around. It would not come to mind to ask for something like this. I think that has to come out of playfulness. With some things the only way is to play.

EF: Another good example was this small model. We did a very big installation for Hermes' windows display in Japan when they launched the Apple Watch. So we are dealing with these two incredible companies, Apple and Hermes, and we had these huge windows, you know, they were very big. And we had only four watches to display. But we still wanted the focus to be on the product. At the time Hermes was also playing with naturalistic drawings. And we tried to translate it into these iconic animals. In the eye we put the watches which was making the content moving. So you had a completely black and white display and then you have colour with the leather straps form Hermes and the content from Apple. And then you go through this street in Tokyo, Japan and then you suddenly see these big windows with these big faces in wire and the eyes - super catching and playful! When you see the reaction of people just stopping for a moment and then you see this little smile but very delicate. It's not like humour. It's a super sweet, super soft approach. Then you're very happy. Then it means that you made it the way you really wanted to.

SG: It's about the balance, right? You don't exaggerate some expressions, and you still have to keep it subtle, but you still want that small smile or to can see that people get somehow immediately in a relationship with something you did. That's amazing. If you can just reach that balance point, I think.

MI: I get the impression that "balance" is a key word in your relationship?

SG: I think it is something that we kind of realised that we are always searching for the balance in each product, project and in life. I mean, I don't think you ever find it overall, but it's good to search for it. It's like between many parameters. I mean, in a product, it's between proportions, materials, the playfulness, the seriousness, the comfort, all these things, so many things. It's also about tradition and recognisable stories and then the surprise, and all these small things that has to be in each project.

EF: I mean, a beautiful product will be the product that has the best balance between functionality, materiality and expression. You know, when everything is just in the perfect equilibrium - harmony - then you will love it, you know, and that's the same in life. I mean, if you find a balance, I guess this is maybe one of the most difficult things, but it will make you a person who is enjoying life, enjoying friendship, enjoying work, you know, everything, but it is very hard. And these days it is even more difficult, I guess, to find the balance.

SG: It takes nothing at all to take you out of balance.

EF: For example a wrong message, a bad email and bad news. Immediately your day is changed. We are completely bombarded by information. So it's very easy to get your balance going in the other way. So it's very important to remember to find that, and that it is very difficult, I guess. I try to find it every day.

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"When you play, maybe the best part of you is coming out. You forget about problems and then suddenly you are enjoying things. Then you can find a solution unexpectedly. So it's definitely something that you have to remember to do."
Enrico Fratesi

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