Sabine Marcelis & Henrik Most

April 3, 2023

Sabine Marcelis has launched her latest range of lighting and accessories in a collaboration with Ikea. Varmblixt is a range that features decorative lighting prominently, as well as glassware, tables, rugs and accessories.

Henrik Most, Creative Leader at Ikea, and Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis give darc further insight into the new collection and their collaboration.

Most has been working with Ikea since 2010 but has a rich past in the design world. After completing a master’s in Art in Design from Copenhagen University, he went on to work as a design curator and lecturer in design. He also has experience working as a cultural journalist and theatre dramaturge.

As Creative Leader at Ikea, Most works on the design, development, and collaborations for the brand. “I am inspired by contemporary art and design and connecting with people through new mediums. I have led previous collaborations including the Art Event, the launch of Markerad with the late Virgil Abloh, and the most recent collection with Marimekko, Bastua,” he says.

“I love contemporary art that has a strong link to what’s going on in our world, particularly regarding important cultural and social topics that touch and affect people. I’m curious about art that discusses these questions in an open and interactive manner. Modern design and architecture are major inspirations for me.

“I was inspired by the Ikea brand’s strong social vision, which really wants to make things better and fundamentally improve people’s lives, so that a better life– no matter who they are, where they live, and how they want to live – is attainable.”

Every day is different in Most’s field of work. “It’s a great aspect of working for a dynamic brand like Ikea. My days range between meetings with colleagues, to looking at prototypes for upcoming product launches, and everything in-between,” he explains.

When asked about Ikea’s designer collaborations, Most describes Ikea as a “curious company”. “[Being] open to new ideas and siding with different people in collaborations is a way to learn, develop and make things better for the everyday life at home,” he says. “When we collaborate, it always starts with a topic, something we are curious about, a challenge or a problem we want to solve. Then, we look at who we could explore this with. We expect these collaborations to be a journey of new learnings, sharing knowledge, exploring together and that in the end, we come up with something new and useful, which responds to people’s needs.”

Marcelis first worked with Ikea as part of the Art Event Collection. This event saw Ikea invite five visionaries working across art and design to create works of art that double-up as useful household objects.

“From our initial collaboration, I learned a lot about her style expression and form language,” says Most. “At the same time, we were looking to make some shifts in the lighting range to make products more emotionally in-tune with our spaces. From there, we were inspired to continue working with Sabine to explore the possibilities in creating the Varmblixt collection.

“We have an entire business area at Ikea of Sweden (Global headquarters responsible for design and development) that is responsible for the lighting. Anna Granath, who is the Range and Design Manager for Lighting, was heavily involved alongside her entire team of talented product developers and engineers.”

When Marcelis was first approached by Most to collaborate, her initial response was one of hesitation. “I got a phone call one day from Henrik asking if we can work together on this collection. At first, I was wondering whether this was a good idea. Do I really have something to bring to this kind of project? In the end, the reason I really dove in was because it was such a nice opportunity to broaden the availability of my design,” she explains. “At the end of the day, my limited-edition pieces are very expensive because they take so much time, and the materials and the processes I use. I really wanted to explore what happens on the reverse side of that, in the more mass-production world of Ikea, without losing any of the quality.”

The collection took two years in total to go from design sketches to prototypes, to products on shelves in Ikea stores. For Marcelis, who is known for creating collectable design pieces that are limited edition, unique, and site-specific, this was a new challenge in order to translate that into products that can be placed in multiple homes.

“That was definitely a big thing for me, to create objects – not only lighting – that are really stripped back to the essence and void of any decorative elements. It’s very much about letting the light be the hero of these pieces and using very minimal materials but with maximum effect,” she says. “[They are] items that have my design language or signature on them, but at the same time, they’re anonymous enough that they can be at home in many types of interiors, which have different aesthetics and scales.

“For the lighting pieces, I normally get to work with materials that are very lush with their own characteristics like cast resins and layered glass. But these materials don’t make sense to use in a mass-production. It was clear from the very beginning that these items wouldn’t have the luxury of relying on the lusciousness of the material to carry the object. So, all the lighting is either made from glass or metal.”

Most adds to this: “From a sustainability point of view, it was not solely to rely on the lusciousness of materiality, but to strip everything back to essentials and with a singular gesture to make it gain its desirability.

“Sustainability is a pillar within the democratic design philosophy at Ikea. It is part of looking at the entire value chain to ensure we design to fit an optimised production process from when products are created, shipped and available at the retail touchpoints.”

One of the things Marcelis was really looking forward to was the interpretations of her pieces in peoples’ homes. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how people will apply these designs in their homes. It was really important for me to also empower the customer to be creative with these objects.”

One of the lighting pieces that demonstrates this flexibility in curation is the “doughnut” lamp. Marcelis clarifies that it is inspired by her love of the shape, and not the food. This lamp can be used as both a table and wall light. “It was quite a task to be able to allow it to be both,” she explains. One of the challenges was ensuring the wall mounting system was not visible when it’s sitting on a table.

Speaking of the doughnut, Marcelis explains her love for the round shape further: “I think it’s just such a beautiful, complete shape. It has an interior curve and an exterior curve. It’s also infinite; there’s no beginning and no end. I love that because of this interesting shape you can really highlight different material qualities. For the Ikea collection, I turned one into a bowl. It’s transparent so you can see through into that interior curve, and because it’s sliced in half, it becomes a vessel. At the same time, the same shape is also a light. I really love to highlight the beauty of materials by repeating form language.”

Another piece that highlights the collection’s versatility is the wall mirror, presenting itself as a usable wall accessory and sculptural light. The mirror lamp consists of a single sheet of glass that has been partially mirrored and tinted in a warm copper-like tone. “The light is placed behind it, which creates this depth when looking through the non-tinted, non-reflective element through the light. At the same time, it’s also interacting with its surroundings because of its reflective front. I love that tension of an object that is extremely simple yet has so many layers because of its materiality,” she says.

Duality is an overall important theme that Marcelis worked into the Varmblixt collection. “I think it’s an absolutely wasted opportunity whenever lighting is designed, which is not really beautiful and sculptural when it’s not in use because you’re going have to have it visible in any case,” she explains. “So, when it’s turned off, it should also be as interesting as when it’s turned on. It’s such a nice opportunity to be creative within that.” Referencing the white circular wall light, Marcelis describes it as a “sculptural element that is activated when the light is turned on”.

“Just like the mirror, it also has a single surface but when you look at them, it has the illusion of a folded surface. That’s purely because there is a difference in colour or a gradient in colour happening on it, which is as if there is light shining on it. So, even the illusion of light still activates the flat surface in that sense.”

Most elaborates on Marcelis’ points, adding: “As part of a long-term goal, Ikea is looking to encourage a shift in the perception of lighting as simply functional to lighting as emotional. It is designed to inspire a new interest in how light can transform the look, feel and atmosphere of our homes.

“Lighting in general is a fundamental aspect of the home and for Ikea, we want to continuously design with purpose. Lighting has always been and will continue to be a core part of the Ikea range.”

During the prototyping phase, Marcelis describes herself as being very “strict” on the Ikea team. “I have to give them so much credit,” she reflects. “We kept prototyping and prototyping until those details were up to standard. I think the design process started in February 2021, and it moved very quickly.”

Marcelis had assumed that from her initial presentation of designs to the Ikea team that approximately 20% would be selected. “That’s not at all what happened. The Ikea team accepted all the ideas that I proposed and now what’s available in the stores is 95% of that presentation. There was a lot of great enthusiastic energy to make those products come to life.” Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of the prototyping journey was completed remotely for Marcelis, with designs and 3D prints being posted back and forth and lots of good communication. Marcelis is, all things considered, “super-proud” of the end results.

“I think all the products are beautiful, with really well-considered details and smart and effortless mounting systems. They’re packaged in a crazy way as well. That’s something I still cannot get my head around. The chandelier, which takes up a significant amount of space when it’s hung on the ceiling, flat packs down into basically the size of two pizza boxes. So, hats off to the packaging team.”

Marcelis’ overall aim for this new collection was for it to be timeless. “I think my worst nightmare would be if looking back at this collection five years from now people think “Oh, that’s so 2022”, or “Let’s get rid of it and re-do the home with something more modern,” she says. “The pieces are super minimalistic, and I hope that these are designs that can fit in a student’s home but continue to work in the home for that same student when they’re an elderly citizen. Maybe the only trend if you will or change of lifestyle [we’ve observed] that we considered [when designing] is the fact that people are spending more time in their home. So, these objects are really there to enhance that experience.”

Trying to answer an impossible question, Marcelis chooses the doughnut lamp as one of her favourites from the Varmblixt collection, as it was one of the most difficult to produce. “It was really tricky to be able to get a nice equal cover of colour that looked great when the piece is not turned on. But when you turn on the light it needs to give a beautiful glow and a good colour. That took a lot of prototyping to get right, so it’s just so satisfying to see it now – I’m so happy that it worked out.

“I cannot wait to see how people incorporate the pieces into their homes. I think that’s going to be the most rewarding part of this whole project. I love it when people tag me if they have a piece in their house. This collection is so open to interpretation.”

For Most, he too is a fan of the doughnut shape, but particularly the green glass bowls. “To put it simply, it is a collection that celebrates art and design,” he says. “My favourite pieces are the signature bowls – I love how the natural light reflects the colours and the overall versatility of the item.

“We’re all excited that Varmblixt has launched and has been embraced by many people, which is a fantastic feeling.”