Always searching for new challenges, the name of designer Michael Sodeau’s latest collection for Japanese company Suikosha, Anything, is particularly apropros to his own career. From egg cups and lamps to branding, furniture, ceramics and interiors, the Central St Martins’ trained designer tells Jamie Mitchell he is creative director again of designjunction, and he’s still on the look out for more
When designer Michael Sodeau created a range of desktop accessories - including scissors, a stapler and an alarm clock - for Japanese company Suikosha, he decided to call it Anything. The name came partly from the unusual nature of the project brief: all Suikosha asked was that Sodeau come up with a range of design-led products; other than that he was free to do anything he wanted.
But the word 'anything' also seems appropriate when it comes discussing Sodeau's career. Since founding his Londonbased practice, Michael Sodeau Partnership with partner Lisa Giuliani in 1997, Sodeau has been up for anything, rarely turning down a commission, taking on everything from sofas and chairs for Modus to coat stands for Gervasoni, and designing each with a mix of precision and panache that has become his hallmark.
'Our approach is really driven by this sense of controlling everything,' says Sodeau. When the practice designs a restaurant interior, for example, it tends to design the entire space, including the furniture and sometimes even the menus, website and corporate identity. 'We'll give our opinion on the food too,' he says.
For the Anything range, which launched in Milan last year, Sodeau decided on desktop accessories because, he says, it was an area that had 'largely been neglected by designers'. 'We thought of the desk as a landscape and we came up with the idea of table-top architecture,' he says. Lined up, the pieces in black, white, orange and yellow create striking silhouettes. The scissors, which have been the most popular item to date, stand upright with the handles resembling two leaves and the long, thin stand looking like a vase. They are too beautiful to put in a drawer and, hopefully, too precious to misplace.
The range went on to win the Red Dot Best of the Best award in 2009.
Born in London in 1969, Sodeau grew up in Brighton and studied product design at Central Saint Martins. He remembers the course fondly - 'There was a core of us who worked into the evening until they came to kick us out at nine o'clock' - and says that the ritual of intense, day-long 'crits' taught him to have faith in his ideas. When he graduated in 1994 he co-founded Inflate, a company that made inflatable reinterpretations of traditional products, everything from egg cups to lamps.
There is no shortage of talented designers out there, but Sodeau clearly has a head for business too, and he was wary of his name becoming synonymous with a single style or material.
'Inflate was a way of making massproduced items at affordable prices,' he says. 'There was freedom, but there was also the constraint of using a single material. Lots of designers make their names with one idea and then they are stuck having to repeat it over and over.' He left after three years to start his own practice.
Michael Sodeau Partnership launched its first collection of furniture, lighting and ceramics in 1997 through London retailer twentytwentyone. Projects with Modus, SCP, Wedgewood and MSP followed.
In 2011, Sodeau and Modus were looking for space at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan where they were launching their latest collection, a range of stools called Noughts and Crosses. 'Obviously Milan is very expensive, and actually the economies of scale meant that we'd be better off with a much larger space,' says Sodeau. 'We couldn't fill it ourselves, so we decided to put together a collective exhibition.' The show, which they called designjunction, was a great success.
'People said it would be great to translate this to London and this was at a time when there were some shows in London but there wasn't anything very exciting,' says Sodeau. designjunction made its UK debut as part of last year's London Design Festival with Sodeau as creative director. Taking over Victoria House in Bloomsbury it offered a more intimate experience than the more staid shows that had dominated the scene for years.
This year designjunction (running 19-23 September) takes over the vast former Royal Mail sorting office in High Holborn, a rough, industrial space built in the Sixties and which will provide some 11,150 sq m of exhibition space, two restaurants and a pop-up cinema. 'It's not your typical trade show,' says Sodeau. 'That's something we're really conscious of and something we want to retain.'
As well as more than a hundred exhibitors, including big names such as Cappellini, Thonet and Modus, designjunction promises smaller, cutting-edge labels, design shops, large-scale installations, and working 'flash factories' where visitors can watch furniture being made. This year's designjunction show will also incorporate Tramshed, another design show that made its debut at the London Design Festival two years ago.
Alongside his role as creative director of designjunction, Sodeau is as busy as ever with his own work. The practice has just completed the interior of a private house in Portugal where, true to form, it designed all the furniture and lighting specially for the project. One of the pieces, a Modus sofa is due to go into production and will be launched at this year's designjunction.
Sodeau is also doing more work with Sienave, the Portuguese producer, exporter and importer of decorative stone, with which he has already produced a range of furniture called +STONE that combines stone with wood and other natural materials. So what's left to do? 'Buildings,' he answers without hesitation.
'We're looking at doing a resort in Sweden that would have cabins semi-isolated by surrounding woodland. For me the design of the exterior is very much a progression of the interior. In a way that's the other way round to the way an architect would usually look at a space and I think that's quite a nice approach.'
If you haven't already guessed, Michael Sodeau is not one to rest on his laurels and he says that he'll carry on looking for bigger and more challenging projects.
'Every project is an opportunity,' he says, 'and I like the idea of going to work every day and it being different.'
This article was first published in fx Magazine.