Enrico Fratesi

March 3, 2016

Developing an approach from a fusion of tradition and renewal in an experimental blend of their own backgrounds, Italian architect Enrico Fratesi and wife Stine Gam, a Danish architect, work together in life and craftsmanship to create intelligent and thoughtful designs for comfortable living. Together they founded GamFratesi design studio in 2006. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gam and Fratesi continuously travel between Italy and Denmark for development and research of new projects.

At Danish design supplier Gubi’s Copenhagen store, sipping coffee from GamFratesi’s TS Table, Fratesi tells darc the story of how architecture and design came together for GamFratesi to create a family of products that enrich people’s lives, and led them towards light.

How did this journey of design with your partner begin for you?

We met while we were studying architecture. It was our first love. My partner was interested in craftsmanship and woodwork, and I always thought I would be an architect. So I think we met somewhere in between these two areas. It came in a very natural way and it felt right for us. A focus on design came from an interest in smaller details.

Architecture is very much part of our studio but it is not something you can just produce yourself at the start. There are so many rules, but with lighting and furniture you have so much more freedom in what you make. You can attract people in the way that you communicate through detailed objects. So to us, architecture, furniture, lighting and accessories are all linked. They fill the spaces that architecture creates.

In a combination of our interests and skills, we very quickly found an interesting combination of large and small-scale design. We were very open and curious with each other and our countries. And I think because we were so interested in each other we then became a couple, which was interesting because it then wasn’t just about work and we could be honest in the way that you are with your partner. It’s not just about being formal; it’s about being honest about what you’re making and what you’re doing.

So this opened up the door collaboratively in a much stronger way. It was more intimate than just practically setting up a studio. It was more emotional and poetic than that. This is how we reached our status in design quite early on because we were spending so much time together and we weren’t afraid to talk. It was a very interesting process.

Do your backgrounds play a part in your creativity?

We’re very lucky in that both Italy and Denmark have strong traditions in design; both places are amazing and are each a strong movement in the creative world. So we have brought our backgrounds with us and shared these backgrounds with each other. It became very natural to have our own expression, our own sense of style, not based on any rules where we have to go one way or the other. We started and continue to work with more of a combination of us as people, and our philosophies.

What is it about lighting that interests you and how do you approach it?

Lighting is very close to the cultural philosophy of Denmark. There is a lot of respect for light in the way that it reflects, how it illuminates a room. The lack of direct light has been a main principle in our designs. For me this is very interesting because I come from a culture where light is extremely strong and direct, so for Stine it was more in her background to seek light. We kind of embraced the Danish respect for light in a space.

When we work architecturally, we always try to incorporate a home environment where you have a few small lights rather than one big strong light. This helps to create ambience, and it helps people to find their own space rather than being placed somewhere. Lighting directs people around a room so you can put the lighting where you want people to go. There is a very natural element about the light in a space and where people will be.

What have been some of your most notable lighting projects?

We were very happy about our Cheshire table lamp for FontanaArte. Based on the Alice in Wonderland cat, the idea is that it’s always there for you in your home, like a peaceful cat. It also produces a beautiful quality of light because it’s a combination of screening and diffused light, so around the lamp you get a really nice atmosphere that’s not too strong. The shape is nothing too revolutionary, but it’s very much us. It goes back to tradition and it was actually quite complicated to make.

We also did the Volume table lamp for Lightyears. This was based on the principal of using the lamp as you feel it, rather than just turning it on and off. You can interact with this lamp depending on how you feel by turning the head and dimming the light. Every time your behaviour needs to be adjusted, you need to adjust the quality of light as well. But often the dimmer is put somewhere you’ll never use it, so we wanted to have something that you could really use, something interactive. These two lamps are very different but they’ve both been well received commercially.

What has been a significant moment in your career?

A strong step for us was the first time we were at Stockholm Furniture Fair in 2014. We were the youngest designers to be invited and it really was an honour to be there. I think people were very surprised to see how we based our designs on philosophies that we both have in our backgrounds and ways of work. As well as being an important moment in our careers, this was also a time when we learned to develop a balance between family and work. It can be difficult in artistry to know when to stop working and how much you should do. That was something very important that we settled into around that time.

Also our on-going relationship with Gubi has been really good, with our products still growing in sales. We have also worked with Hermes in Japan on window displays, which was a huge honour. This was an interesting project thinking about how to communicate with people outside the shop to bring them in. Every time you collaborate with someone from a different country you learn to understand how things are made differently through different personal processes.

Do you think you have a signature style?

People say that they can see GamFratesi in our designs. They see something. For us, it is an honest combination between the idea of the natural material, the round shape, and the use of furniture that we have in Scandinavia. We like to use classical Italian materials such as stone and glass but we work with them in a Scandinavian way and I believe you can really see that in different ways.

Are you seeing any trends in lighting design right now?

There is a return to decoration but in a very subtle way. Pure minimalism can be difficult to achieve sometimes. If the decoration is made in a subtle and gentle way, it can really enrich the product. But it’s very difficult to find the balance because if you push it too much, it can easily become vulgar. So you have to find the limit and know where to stop. There is a trend towards minimalism with a small amount of decoration. It’s the relationship with small detail and a craft, and I think this is coming back in lighting.

Any idea what we can expect from you next?

For now we know that we will design one lamp range for Lightyears. It’s going to include a pendant and a floor lamp and we aim to launch it in the summer. With all of our influences, we never know what the next project will be.


Pic: Tuala Hjarnø