The rebellious design duo translates hidden symbols and philosophies into sculptural, unsettling furniture.
Located on the invisible line that divides the East Village and Gramercy is the home and studio of Lauren Larson and Christian
Swafford, the two young artists behind provocative design firm, Material Lust. Upon
entering the loft, visitors are immediately confronted by one of Swafford's
photography experiments—a series of quick snaps taken after shocking some
supportive friends with a small taser. Darkly humorous and visually intriguing,
these portraits set an ambience that is only enhanced by the small table in the
foyer that's garnished with a couple of customized Material Lust brass knuckles
that the duo decided to make for fun. "We were going to bring a set for
Lauren's brother, but we decided it wasn't something we couldn't pack in our
carry-on," explains Swafford.
Almost entirely monochromatic, the vaulted apartment operates as a living mood board for the designers. Experiments of
scale models dot the room, hinting at the couple's obsessive—almost
scientific—process. Eerily organized, the towering shelves of books and
supplies make one acutely aware of the requisite duality of the space and its
furniture, serving as both a sanctuary and a workshop. Hostile details, like
the two black nooses that hang from an exposed pipe seem to illustrate
perfectly the designers' sinister aesthetic. The entire spectacle is
reminiscent of a white cube gallery, and one can't help but feel like there's
something missing. Larson and Swafford, clad in black, are the last piece of
Two of a kind, Larson and Swafford share a creative spirit thanks in part to their artist mothers, who fed them a steady
diet of gallery openings, documentaries and art history; and in part because of
their training at Parsons The New School of Design where they both studied
design. Brought together after graduating, the two developed their own
aesthetic language derived from their fine art backgrounds and rebellious
attitudes. "The reason we look at artists instead of designers, is we feel
like when you talk about trends, artists are always ten steps ahead of what is coming.
It goes art, then fashion—because a fashion designer may put out a collection
that is very 'on trend' but they always know what the trend is going to be two
or three years down that road," explains Swafford. "We feel like
artists don't knowingly do this but they really set the trends. The fashion
designers are looking to them, and then once it happens in fashion, the
furniture designers get it."
"For example there is such a big Memphis trend right now, and everyone is regurgitating the same thing," interjects
Larson, who works as Design Director at Grey Area.
"We try to steer away from looking at other designers, because we don't
ever want to be influenced by something and then accidentally copy it. So,
whenever we are doing something we try to insulate ourselves before we go out
and check it against our peers." Forging their own path away from the
hand-crafted monikers of the Brooklyn makers, the pair translates their
reactionary philosophies into striking, high-end furniture.
Almost weapon-like, the foreboding angles of the duo's latest invention, the Alchemy Table,
illustrate perfectly the uncomfortable minimalism and hidden symbolism that
characterizes their work. Constructed from the triangular symbols that the
alchemists used to depict the major elements, the table is the third piece in
their "Geometry is God" series. "We are fascinated by Pagan
symbolism and all those ancient geometries and the way they would represent
different elements and nature. It's artwork before art was even thought of as
art," explains Swafford. "With this series, we have been exploring
how we can reinterpret these markings without losing the potency of their
primitive aesthetic. How do you make a chair that is symbolically dense? We try
to do that."
Polished and stark, the cast collection feels more sculptural than functional, however the scaling makes one second guess
themselves. Like the alacritous compositions of the Futurists in the context of
the careful Impressionists, there is something extremist about Material Lust's
forms, and it is this unsettling effect that the designers seem to covet most.
"People either love our work or are immediately uncomfortable, but that's
okay because we want to cause a reaction. We never want to design a chair that
someone just says, 'Oh that's pretty,'" says Larson. "Like any
artist, we want our pieces to feel unlike anything else out there."