If imitation is really the most sincere form of flattery, designer Michael Anastassiades should be chuffed. Since he launched his own brand more than a decade ago and recently signed with the Italian lighting giant Flos, he has consistently produced trendsetting collections. Three key components of his very special vocabulary – brass, spherical spheres, and carefully balanced mobile phones – have sprung from all over the world.
The lighting designs of the Anglo-Cypriot people were so influential that in 2015 he felt compelled to launch a table lamp called Copycat to signal to his imitators that he was watching. An impeccable glass sphere attached to a smaller, shiny copper ball, in its moderate imbalance, embodies the designer’s ability to imitate even the most reduced gesture with poetic impact.
And yet Anastassiades, who discusses his design philosophy at the Sydney Museum on 19 October, remains modest about his profession.
“I do not consider myself an artist or a designer, but just as a creative person,” he says. “Design is a creative proposal to view things, so I invite people to see situations like me.”
Anastassiades sees the world through a fine-cut lens. Adept in unpacking the essence of an object, he conceives apparently simple designs that deny months of extensive calculations. It is what you do not see that makes a difference.
But do not call him a minimalist; it is a term that, according to him, has become meaningless due to misuse.
“My work is more about simplicity, about taking things away, removing information, trying to purify something, distilling it until you have succeeded in achieving the absolute essence.”
That is the logic behind the fluted bronze Fleet drinking fountain that he unveiled last month as part of the London Design Festival, the top of which is carved into a shallow bowl that reflects the face of the user when he or she bends to drill water the sunken font comes.
It is also the reason to design a sexy new loudspeaker for Bang & Olufsen, a reducing aluminum disc that rolls the user over the floor to control the sound. A slight push forward slightly increases the volume, a more dramatic pressure will pump it straight up.
His Arrangements lighting series, launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in April, is a package with strips and loops of frosted glass LED tubes that can be combined to create dramatic chains, chandeliers and hanging screens of light.
“It is a gesture of offering creativity to the customer,” he says. “Not only the freedom to choose a design over another, but to give them the possibility to combine elements in endless configurations and to add or subtract pieces when creating a chandelier of their choice.”
In their simplest way, the lighting elements can be assembled as a simple bar, balanced on the inside edge of a hoop; on the other hand, they can be converted into a cascade curtain of lozenges and disks. Either way and in any form, the Arrangements series has a trend warning written about it.
The son of a Cypriot father and a Greek mother, Anastassiades, moved to London at the end of the eighties to study civil engineering at Imperial College London. But once in the British capital, his more creative drive popped up and he decided to study industrial design at the Royal College of Art after graduating. He graduated in 1993 and set up his studio the following year.
His early work entered a thin line between industry and art. Often strange animating – hollow wooden furniture to hide; “talkative” cups to record voice messages for the next user – his first object designs were very conceptual.
“After only two years of creative training, I found that I needed to keep exploring my ideas and turning those ideas around the consideration of the role that objects have or should have in our lives,” he says. “So those first pieces were deliberately exploratory.
“I did not really know which way I went with my work, but I was determined to explore it, but at the same time I did not want to be a kind of intellectual design, I appreciated the beauty of the everyday.”
His stringed garlands, the first product he designed for Flos and released in 2013, is an ingenious solution to an extremely common problem: someone moves to a new place and the plugs are not at all where they would have stopped. A generous length of industrial flex and single cone or spherical shades equipped with LEDs, the String can be arranged without limit, regardless of the configuration of a room, and creates a sleek, customized lighting installation.
The Captain Flint lamp is a rudimentary cone on a simple bar bent at a right angle. With a simple flip, it converts from reading lamp to up-light. “The concept of balance is prominently present in this luminaire, a pointed resting point at a point in a rotating horizontal metal bar,” says Anastassiades. “The basis is marble and brings an element of preciousness, stability, and presence.”
Preciousness, stability, and presence can be something of a mantra for Anastassiades, who practiced yoga for many years. Now he has started swimming more, but it is the rigor of disciplined exercise – physically at the pool, mentally in the design studio – that is his touchstone.
“When you talk to Michael, you see the incredibly poetic attitude and the very gentle attention he has about the world, and at the same time you realize how much discipline and rigor there are in his product,” says Piero Gandini, chief executive of Flos.
It is this that enables Anastasiades to give his objects a higher level of emotion, despite their seemingly simple forms.