Image courtesy of Porsche Archive
British furniture designer Matthew Hilton on modernist design
Long-established as one of the UK’s most respected furniture designers, Matthew Hilton’s early (and continued) collaboration with SCP produced pieces like the Bow shelves and Balzac armchair. He has also designed for Ercol, Driade, Habitat and Case and his work is on display in the Design Museum. Four years ago he set up Matthew Hilton Limited to produce his own collection in collaboration with Portuguese manufacturer De La Espada.
Matthew Hilton reveals to MidCentury magazine his top three pieces of 20th century design…
Matthew Hilton on Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou Centre
Completed in 1977, the iconic mid century design of the Pompidou Centre in Paris was the work of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, who won the project as part of an International Design competition in 1971. It was influenced by Archigram, the radical mid century architectural movement that was born in the early 1970s and had huge influence on buildings of the following decades. Archigram is still an important influence on later generations of architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid.
“The Pompidou Centre was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen when I went to Paris in 1979 to photograph it. The building appears to be inside out, with its guts hung on the façade. Originally intended to have screens and facilities for projecting films and as a backdrop for the city’s theatre, the façade was rather compromised during the development process, but still remains an amazing modernist statement.”
Matthew Hilton on the Porsche 911
The archetypal yuppie car of the mid 1980s, the Porsche 911 was originally designed and produced in 1963 and the roots of the car can be traced back to sketches drawn by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche in 1959. It is a mid century icon of great beauty and stripped down efficiency. Since its introduction, it has undergone continuous development, but the basic concept has hardly changed.
“You can see its roots in the utilitarian VW Beetle, but the shape of the Porsche is sleek and refined; it’s low and beautiful. I feel you need to look past the unfortunate brash ’80s associations and see the car for what it is: an efficient, reliable piece of elegant engineering that does supremely well what you would expect it to do. This is one of few ‘super cars’ that you can use for every-day transport. In my opinion, the model has recently become overweight and too bulbous, but the early ones are gorgeous.”
Matthew Hilton on Richard Sapper’s Alessi Espresso Maker 9090
In 1978, Alessi commissioned the first in a series of products from designer Richard Sapper, the 9090 stove-top espresso maker. It was the first espresso machine made by Alessi and gained the prestigious industrial design award, the Compasso d’Oro, in 1979. It is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“I first became aware of the Alessi espresso maker 9090 when a friend bought one – I wanted one immediately. It’s made with heavy gauge high-grade stainless steel and although my one is a little scratched and discoloured around the base from the heat, it works exactly as it always did and looks far better than when it was new”.
“The mid century ergonomics are faultless, the base flares out to absorb as much heat as possible and the handle unclips to allow access to the coffee chamber rather than having to unscrew it as you would with most metal coffee pots. Unscrewing a hot coffee pot is not an easy thing when you want to make a second pot soon after the first!”
“I bought mine in 1989 so I’ve owned it for 22 years. I think it cost around £50 – a perfect example of how buying quality can save money in the long term; it’s quietly beautiful and it just keeps on going.”
Useful Links and Information
Check out the interview with Matthew Hilton in MidCentury issue 02 Designer’s Eye