When did you visit Bulgaria for the first time and what was the occasion?
Marianne Hagberg: That was maybe 20 or 15 years ago.
Knut Hagberg: We had made sketches for a new chair with one of our colleagues. It was for a chair with only one screw. Because for the customer sometimes it takes a lot of time to assemble a chair, and our idea was to have only one screw to assemble all the parts of the chair. We did not succeed to pass the filter and get it in the range, but it was a really nice prototype and remained an experiment. We went through Roumania on our way to a factory in Rousse and there was a very tough border control. We had to give the customs officer cigarettes and what not to have a fast track to Bulgaria.
Having witnessed the transition in Bulgaria (from Communist to Democratic society) in terms of industrial power and skills, what’s your impression – is there a significant change?
K: You cannot compare. Back then, it was maybe 10 years ago on our second visit, we worked with a big metal factory, which was producing train tracks. We wanted to experiment on the production of a kitchen door but it was very complicated.
So the first two projects in Bulgaria failed. Today the production force is more apt. But the people have always been fantastic – so hospitable.
M: When we came two years ago for the VASSAD collection when we entered for the first time in a new factory the people greeted us with a special bread and they dipped it in honey. We have only good memories from Bulgaria.
K: Also, the factories we have been to – they are of different scale of industrial power (small or big), but because of rigorous competition, they are quick and flexible and invest in new equipment and machinery if they don’t have it.
What was the process behind the VASSAD collection?
К: We had some quick sketches, some initial ideas. But our main purpose was to work on the factory floor. This is the most interesting part for a designer.
М: We also wanted to work with mixed materials. Because it is not always easy to find a factory working with plastic, wood and metal.
K: And that is Bonana – they have collaborated with IKEA in the past. It’s a very nice company as they have the technical means to work with various materials and their organization is attuned to IKEA requirements. And when we came first we had a tour around the factory, we saw the facility and its possibilities and so on. And we knew we should do an industrial collection with visible fittings and screws.
M: We also wanted to have a rough surface so that you can feel the wood.
K: And when we were walking around the factory, we saw these plastic crates. We use them on the markets – for fish, fruit, everything. We immediately thought that these are fantastic and we have to do something around the idea of implementing them in the collection. That’s how we came up with the shelving system.
M: You can have it in the kitchen, in the entrance room, or the office, wherever you want.
What were some of the challenges during the process?
K: For example, the table and the bench – they should be of a very stable construction and we had some problems at the very beginning – the supplier had to find the right dimension in terms of proportion. And in its first version, specially the table was quite heavy, heavy like hell. But we managed to balance it in style, stability and lifting. And we found another item that has been in the Bonana range in the past, which we really liked – the boxes, which we just turned into more colors. And then, as it is Christmas, we had to have a chandelier. But the Bonana factory already had one galvanised from their production line in the 1980’s. They gave us them and we just updated the item in another color.
VASSAD is industrially stylish and minimal, but in the same way kind of cozy and homey – how did you achieve this mix?
M: Well, the idea from the start was to mix the metal and the fittings with more cozy materials. One day, when we were standing on the Bonana factory floor, a very special light came through these big rectangular factory windows. And we saw the shadow passing through them and making a pattern on the floor.
K: And we said – “we must make a carpet out of this shadow”. And what is interesting – you have two carpets in one.
M: You get another carpet when you turn it around.
And that’s how you turned to another Bulgarian factory working with textile?
K: Yes, the factory is in another part of the country – to the South. They are a small production facility, but have very nice machinery for weaving. And there we started our experiments with textiles. This is Dreams Company.
M: If you feel the blanket, for example, it is very fluffy and this is pure wool. And when you look at the patterns, these are interpreted by us typical Rhodopi blankets.
K: We heard the story that more or less all Bulgarians have this blanket for life.
The blankets remind one of the colors of the Rhodopi blanket but the VASSAD ones are more stylized.
M: We wanted them to correspond to the carpet. And keep the patterns very graphic and simple. We designed everything.
K: We made the drawings for them. It has been a lot of going back and forth between us and the factory, but they have been very responsive, to be honest.
Were there other items you wanted to include in the VASSAD range but were not able?
K: Yes, yes. We couldn’t though, because first of all we can only include a limited selection of items. And second of all, there was a limited period of time. We had to prepare everything for Christmas 2017. So we had a long double this size bench, and we had another shelve, and there was one more carpet in different colors, but the production would not have it done in so many quantities on time. You see, it is better to have a few objects and have them ready and perfect, instead of a good idea coming late.
Traveling and visiting the factory is quite an important part of your job. How do you communicate with local manufacturers, as not everybody speaks english?
M: As a designer you don’t have to speak the language. You have another language – you have the drawing. We have been traveling a lot, but we also have found the way to point on the drawing and communicate our ideas perfectly.
K: When we first had to go to Asia – it was back in 1981, and since then more or less we have been there two times per year, we have witnessed the whole development of chinese culture and scene. It is amazing what a trip we have done, i can tell you. The very first time there was no cars, only the political figures could indulge one. The taxi was a used car from Hong Kong and it was crap. There was no asphalt on the street – no infrastructure, to be honest.
M: And everybody was vegetarian.
K: As soon as we enter China, we saw these meat pieces laying on the streets mosquitoes, dogs and cats… We became vegetarians.
M: And that was just outside of Hong Kong (Shenzhen) and everybody went to the toilet in Hong Kong. And now – you cannot recognize the place.
K: But to go back to the question: the best way for us is to work with the factories – one to one and have samples for us to build the ideas on.
M: And if you cannot explain – you can always find it in the factory as an example.
And VASSAD is a limited collection. So, none of these items will be repeated?
M: You never know with these items. Some of them might go into the main range. It depends on how people react to them.
You have been designing for over 38 years. How do you know what will stand the test of time?
K: I really hope from the VASSAD collection that the chair, the table, the blankets and the bench – that they will stay in the IKEA range. I hope for that because we don’t have similar ones in the current range.
M: And we also have extremely nice quality.
This interview appeared in Bravacasa Magazine in its October issue. Knut and Marianne Hagberg are in Sofia on the 6th of October 2017 for a talk with Studio Komplekt in Generator. More info – here.