How Coffey Architects and Compac joined forces to design a quartz table
For Wallpaper* Handmade 2018, we challenged Coffey Architects and marble and quartz manufacturer Compac to create a hybrid design inspired by the theme of wellness. Here, we go behind the scenes to find out how the Stepwell table was bought to life
London-based Coffey Architects and Spanish marble and quartz manufacturer Compac teamed up for Wallpaper* Handmade ‘Wellness and Wonder’ to create the Stepwell table, a meditative monument with a window into another world at its base. The stoic form is an art piece, inspired by the Chand Baori in Jaipur, India where hundreds of layered steps lead down to a cool pool of healing water – a respite in the heat and a sculptural edifice in its own right.
For Michael Henriksen, architect at Coffey Architects, the Stepwell table was an opportunity and a challenge. Usually working on residential buildings, Coffey Architects wanted to create a beautiful conceptual object that could also be something practical and useful to the domestic environment. The result was a piece of sturdy craftsmanship, that investigates the properties of light and mass: ‘light is always the starting point,’ says Henriksen of all his work at Coffey Architects.
Wallpaper* teamed Coffey Architects with Compac, a manufacturer based in Spain and Portugal. Henriksen presented eight different designs to the company, each modelled around the theme of ‘Wellness and Wonder’, and after discussions with the Compac designers and craftmen. Henrikson then refined the design of the Stepwell table, and packed the model to take to Compac’s HQ and production site in Valencia.
In Valencia, Compac led the Coffey design team on a workshop tour, and flicked through sketch books together in the open-plan office and its smooth, bright working surfaces. Henriksen describes Paco Sanchis, CEO at Compac, as the ‘Steve Jobs of surfaces’. ‘There was a clear challenge in how the piece would be made, but we could see the Compac team was determined to do it,’ he says.
‘I like the idea of creating space in furniture and questioning how to inhabit something solid’
A white and grey-coloured variation of Calcutta quartz was selected for the main material – a slight mottle to soften the effect of the surface was simple, yet not too expressive, to allow focus to be rested on the stepped nature of the form. At the heart, the ‘pool’ of healing water is represented by a green coloured material, ‘Compac Ice’ that just entered Compac’s production.
To create the design, the thickness of the sheets of quartz had to be tested to see if it could create the desired effect of the delicate steps building up to create the Chand Baori in miniature. From the standard 20mm thickness, Compac refined the material down to just 6mm thickness, to allow light to seep gently through the material. ‘They are artists who have to be really technical,’ says Henriksen of the Compac design team.
‘There’s a mini architecture inside, it draws you in and over to look inside. Carving is an idea we explored a lot with this design, I like the idea of creating space in furniture and questioning how to inhabit something solid.’
The Stepwell table conceals a playful sense of illusion within its form through the layering of sheets of the quartz. While it appears solid (and is certainly heavy, weighing 200kg), light floods through the material from the LED acrylic centre creating an even, calming glow.
Danish-born Henriksen has been working at Coffey for nine years, mainly focusing on residential schemes, although recently projects have been getting bigger, such as a research centre at the Science Museum, and a university library extension. The studio like to try their hand at experimental projects too – they recently created a window display for the Smeg Picadilly Circus store that cast shadows onto the pavement, and also designed a playful concrete and timber doll’s house for a charity auction for disabled children.
‘For a long time I have been keen to explore products. With my Scandinavian background, I’ve looked a lot to midcentury architects like Arne Jacobsen, who designed everything from taps to furniture, not to mention some of the greatest buildings – I like the idea of total design.’§