Big bang: David/Nicolas reach for the stars with their first solo exhibition in the US
In the space of seven years, David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem have evolved from fresh-faced newcomers into the brightest stars of the Lebanese design scene. The duo first met at Beirut’s Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts in 2007 and, finding an instant connection, travelled to Milan together after graduation to study industrial design, then set up their studio, David/Nicolas, in Beirut in 2011. Just three years later, the duo were collaborating with Agresti on a sculptural safe for Wallpaper* Handmade (W*185), exhibiting pieces with Milanese gallery Nilufar, and winning awards. Now, once again, they are on the brink of another defining shift in their careers, with their first solo exhibition in the US, following on from their European debut in 2018.
Called ‘Supernova’, the showcase was developed with Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Paris. The collection features a series of cabinets, rugs and tables – functional items, sure, but the ambitions behind them are cosmic. ‘The death of a star results in either a supernova or a black hole,’ says Moussallem. ‘The supernova is when a star explodes and all its debris is sent out into space, only to fuse again and create new stars. Here, death is just a transformation.’
‘M030’ cabinet, in rosewood, fusion wow marble, glass, parchment and bronze. Photography: Alessandro Furchino Capria
The designers see this celestial cycle as a metaphor for Beirut, where they live and work. According to legend, the city has been built and destroyed seven times during its 5,000-year history. ‘We call it the phoenix city because it always rises from its ashes,’ says Moussallem. In spite of recent troubles, its people remain hopeful. ‘We imagine the future to be linked to the past,’ he says. ‘Everything we do is related to time.’
‘What makes us work well together is honesty, and a common dream.’
The designs for the show embody the ‘retrofuturistic’ concept that the pair have been developing since the early days of their practice. It is not, they point out, the same retro-futurism that fascinated illustrators and filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s, but a more personal approach with recurring themes and tinges of nostalgia. The duo’s industrial design background is barely evident, but it nevertheless informs their work: ‘We have this industrial way of thinking, how to make from one thing a declination of many things, a system,’ says Moussallem. ‘It’s like music: you learn the basis and then you compose your own, which can become anything.’
‘C040’ coffee table, in travertino bronzo, with stainless steel inlays. Photography: Alessandro Furchino Capria
‘Supernova’ comprises two distinct collections. The Monocle series of cabinets, a spin-off from a piece the designers exhibited with Nilufar in 2016, riffs on the ‘equilibrium of masses’ and features a solid wooden base with a lighter, glass vitrine on top. The other series, Constellation, explores how a scientific phenomenon can be translated into objects.
The new pieces conceptually illustrate the transformation of the cosmos: an explosion is reproduced as geometric speckles of metal neatly applied onto a marble surface, a lunar eclipse mimicked by a table with overlapping tops in marble and glass. Raffoul and Moussallem’s work is usually linear and sleek, so working with volume is new territory. ‘[The pieces] look like spaceships or robots,’ says Moussallem. The space theme is also reflected in the choice of materials, which includes glass (derived from sand, a further nod to the supernova trajectory) and travertine, whose porous surface reminds the pair of the surface of the moon.
‘Everything we do is related to time.’
Recurring features include scalloped edges, on marble and wood, the juxtaposition of volumes and combinations of materials. Up to 15 artisans worked on each piece in the exhibition, which was developed across 21 workshops scattered around Treviso, northern Italy. Each element of the design was worked on by a specialist to achieve the best results. The hinges holding the glass part of the Monocle series’ ‘M030’ cabinet, for example, were made by a jewellery workshop. Production of the collections was overseen by Nilufar and managed by Raffoul and Moussallem’s long-term fabricator, Italian company Atelier F.
‘C070’ dining table, in travertino navona with silvered brass. Photography: Alessandro Furchino Capria
While quick to acknowledge Atelier F’s support over the years, the designers add that clients have also been pivotal to their development. ‘Clients are the people who bring you somewhere. They are part of the evolution, they are our inspiration,’ says Raffoul, noting how more over-the-top requests pushed the pair to experiment early on in their careers, and their fabricator, in turn, to create more complex pieces. ‘We bounce ideas off each other, as though we’re playing a game of ping-pong. They have learned a lot with us and we have learned a lot from them,’ says Moussallem.
The duo’s recent projects include a collaboration with Belgian fashion designer Carine Gilson on her Brussels boutique, and an interiors concept for Beirut restaurant Kaléo (W*219). A few years ago, they designed the Parisian apartment of Cherine Magrebi, founder of House of Today, an organisation that promotes Lebanese designers and their work. For both Raffoul and Moussallem, clients and collaborators become family the longer they work together.
It is a system they believe has made their studio stronger, and they would happily continue creating together for the rest of their lives. On their current trajectory, there’s no reason they won’t. ‘What make us work well together is honesty, and a common dream.’ §
As originally featured in the October 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*235)