Norwegian interior designers Alessandro D’Orazio and Jannicke Kråkvik are taking the reigns as curators of this year’s Norwegian Presence exhibition at Milan Design Week, with a keen focus on sustainability.
Based in Oslo, Norwegian native Kråkvik and Italian-born D’Orazio combine the former’s Scandinavian appreciation for materials and minimalism with the latter’s architectural background and interest in European art in their interiors. Together, they have championed a style that blends the best of the past with some of the most interesting contemporary product design from the Nordics and beyond, and drawing strong inspiration from Norway’s natural environment.
So it is apt that the theme for this year’s Norwegian Presence exhibition is Join – a title that reflects their interest in collaboration. The show will feature the work of 21 different designers and makers, with a focus on bringing together different disciplines and approaches to sustainability, from the economic to the social, the cyclical and the material.
Here, Kråkvik & D’Orazio – who have been described as “Oslo’s creative royalty” – speak to design writer Anna Winston about the importance of Milan, the idea behind Join and what it means to be a Nordic designer today.
Anna Winston: What does the term Nordic design mean to you?
Kråkvik & D’Orazio: To us, Nordic design is both honest and pure, linked to our cultural history, as well as playful and innovative with regard to the younger generations of designers. The Nordic five [Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden] do have lots of similarities, even though perhaps Iceland and Norway haven’t got the same deign traditions and weight on their shoulders historically, like the Danes and Finns.
We have nature in our backyard and are very much attached to its fantastic, wide selection of materials and range of colours. Most of us naturally feel obliged to take care of it.
AW: Do you think the idea of Nordic design has changed over time?
K&D’O: Yes, it has changed. Both because of the developments in technology, but also because of a desire to take a step back and rethink who we are and where we are heading in the future. This has made us more playful and open to a lot of things, like materials, production and durability.
AW: What are the things you find most exciting in terms of the design scene in Norway at the moment?
K&D’O: We love that designers and craftsmen are collaborating and exploring each other’s fields, and due to this you will find many small scale or limited productions available directly from the artists or even online at selected international shops. Like for instance the design duo Kneip, the ceramist Anette Krogstad or ceramist Lillian Tørlen, and many more. We also have quite a few studios working across fields, with both product design as well as interior architecture/design like Falke Svatun, Hunting Narud, Anderssen & Voll. Most of all we see that there are many young talents with strong voices and bright futures ahead.
AW: What does it mean to be a design studio in Oslo today? Are there any expectations from people outside of Norway that you have to contend with?
K&D’O: Yes, we would absolutely say that there is. Norway has been strong within the design field and in the spotlight over the last few years, and I know that there are many who look forward to seeing the Norwegian Presence exhibitions with quite high expectations – and that’s a good thing. It pushes us even harder to do our best. To us it has always been our passion to be able to work with groups of young talents and I can understand why people expect something great.
AW: What is the concept behind this year’s Norwegian Presence exhibition?
K&D’O: After a year’s hiatus in collaborating on the exhibition and Milano design fair last year – for the first time since we got into the business – we felt eager and ready to be a part of this again. We needed the break to be able to observe everything from a distance and to learn more about the new design generation during the year.
The theme for which the exhibition gets its name, Join, really meant something to us and we knew at once where our focus would lay. Join is a big word with lots of meaning. Join can be a collaboration, an attachment, a connection or a link, and with the focus on sustainability and the environment – it just felt right. Join to us is first of all a collaboration within fields. It’s about learning about techniques and new materials, about bending and challenging the norms, all with environmental challenges in mind.
We are hoping that the visitors will experience Norwegian design for its playfulness, yet conciseness. There are prototypes here that we strongly believe in, crafts that we are literally in love with.
AW: Nordic designers take sustainability very seriously – is this to do with the humanist design ideologies that have been passed down through the generations or is it part of a bigger cultural picture?
K&D’O: Many would say that we should focus more and to get the older generations to see the whole picture. But in general we would say that we are very serious about caring for our environment. With nature on our doorstep, untouched and full of possibilities, we are all educated to care for what surrounds us. That said, we can always do more and think new. And this is what we wanted to highlight this year for Norwegian Presence. Sustainability can be many things, and we wanted to explore what we can do better, whether it is the material, the production, the durability, the recycling or something else.
AW: Why do you think it’s important for Norway to have a strong presence at Milan Design Week?
K&D’O: Milano is the most important platform during the year for young talent. It’s not always necessary to find a producer at once, but to meet with the press and the industry in general, to be seen but also to observe the business.
We go to Italy to be inspired. To get the sense of what is going on right now. To meet with the business, to admire the architecture, the palazzos, the beautiful exhibition designs and the people. The culture and the food… to discover new talents and to refill our minds.
Stockholm [Furniture Fair] is the same, in a smaller scale, but much more important for the Nordic design scene. This is where you get the chance to meet the people behind the brands, perhaps where you can show them a prototype even and perhaps make a deal. This is where we as shop owners, go to buy Nordic design.
AW: As a Norwegian/Italian studio, do you think that there’s still a lot that both cultures can learn from each other?
K&D’O: Absolutely, I guess there will always be. But with what is going in today, with social media making everything available, we are more influenced by each other than ever. We know more about each other and we get inspired from each others cultures, and that makes it both interesting but also challenging. Interesting in the sense of collaborations across borders, inspirations and knowledge. Challenging in that [it’s hard] to come up with something new without being too inspired by something you have seen, but you might not even know by who, for what or where.