Designer Charles Kalbakian: I am drawn to the architectural heritage of the Mediterranean and the Caucasus

The French designer Charles Kalbakian (1982), born in Beirut, was showing his Soul collection, in the framework of the Parisian “Maison & Objet” exhibition, when “Madam” contacted him; The collection consists of lighting units made of plaster inspired by Kalbakian from his childhood, in the destroyed city of Beirut after the war… Adding to the collection, the designer talks about the effects of history on him, as well as the regions of the Mediterranean and the Caucasus, and the art of graffiti.

French designer Charles Kalbakian

At a young age, she collaborated with two famous French designers: Christophe Billet and Ora Ito; Are there lessons or tips from this professional stage that you still remember?

From both, I learned the importance of the final look a product will take to blend seamlessly into the architectural space, as well as the importance of graphics and persistence. From the design of watches, bicycles, perfumes and cosmetics to chairs, furniture, interior design and houses, I have been very fortunate to work on a wide range of projects at my agency. The designers, who entrusted me with the conclusion that five minutes is enough to radically change the appearance of the product.

Charles Kalbakian: Light is an abstract sculptural element… and I learned to understand it over time
(Photo by: Vincent THIBERT)

Big brands “lazy”

Contrary to the current trend in the furniture world, of pieces taking on curved shapes, you continue to create designs with straight lines. How do you view contemporary furniture?

I don’t really focus on trends when I start working on any project; This is because every project is linked to its moment and context, as well as to clients and their expectations. On contemporary furniture, I work with brands that allow me to express myself and challenge myself to make the pieces I design collectable. It is true that curved furniture is available in the market today, but the big brands are a bit “lazy” to challenge young designers to make something different, instead it is available from a few independent designers and independent brands. On the consumer side, there are more products on the market than ever before, so I think we’re going through a very creative period.
Tell us more about the old fashions you use in your designs; Do you like to work with noble materials, such as: wood? What about textiles?

I love the process of using traditional techniques, especially when working in wood. In my workshop; I experiment, make prototypes and test new finishes. In terms of textures, touching materials is part of my design process; I have large tables in the “workshop” filled with wonderful textures that inspire me every day. I also spend time visiting the various production workshops with the aim of understanding how each craftsman works; Because no one works in the same way as their colleague, so I have to understand the craftsman first, before working with him. Behind everything you touch with your hand, there is a creative person.

living heritage

One of the hallmarks of your creations is the incorporation of history with urban culture; Do you have a passion for a certain historical period in which architecture was exalted?

I love mixing elements, colors, fonts, references and different techniques together; Note that the cultural and architectural heritage of the Mediterranean and the Caucasus attracts me so much that I can live in all the countries belonging to these two regions, and travel to them all the time without getting bored… The ancient architecture is very strong in the aforementioned geography, in terms of the aesthetic that it expresses The volumes of the large buildings, and note that the builders took care of natural sunlight; This heritage lives on today.
What about the graffiti artists whose work you like?

I loved street art, as it meant moving business and creative practices outside the walls of museums and galleries. Street art lives on the pulse of the city, so it’s powerful. As for artists, there are works by many that attract me, including: JR, Invaders, Jonone, L’Atlas and Mr André. The techniques differ in the practices of each artist, and each work has a different message.

Children’s toy box

I created a children’s toy box called Sam, in collaboration with Joy Mardini Gallery; Describe this design for us?

Sam is my son’s name; The box, designed for Joy Mardini Gallery, was made in Lebanon, by excellent craftsmen. On the outside of the design, I took the Eames Elephant plywood toy as its starting point (in the early 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames spent several years developing and refining a technique to shape the plywood into 3D shapes, and creating a series of pieces Furniture and sculptures from this process. Of the duo’s initial designs, the two-part elephant was the most technically challenging due to its narrow compound curves, the piece never went into series production.) In addition, my design recalls the sharp colors and shapes of the Memphis Design Group (an Italian design and architecture group founded by Ettore Sozzas that operated from 1980 to 1987 and designed postmodern furniture, lighting, fabrics, carpets, ceramics, glass and metal objects. ). Each color in the box is sculptural elements that intertwine to create unity, and note that the ‘Box’ is easy to use and integrate into a child’s room.
Do you especially enjoy designing lighting elements?

From the Soul Collection by designer Kalbakian (Image: @sebastien.baert – Coordination: @sandrineplace)

Light is an abstract sculptural element; And I’ve learned over the years to understand that, and it’s mainly functional because we need it all the time. As part of the design of the lighting units, I work according to the technique of “chiaroscuro” (an artistic term that refers to the optimal use of light and shadows to create the desired character, with high precision in the drawing), while drawing . about the latest techniques to reinterpret specific patterns in the Middle East (the stalactites, for example) These are elements that belong to architecture and decoration in the form of arches that overlap each other), and how the lighting falls on them. ?

The designer’s latest collection was shown at the latest edition of the Paris exhibition “Maison&Objet” (Photo: @sebastien.baert – compiled by: @sandrineplace)

What are your plans for the future, in the field of design?

I am working on designing more large sculptural installations.

Mediterranean light

The designer’s latest collection of lighting fixtures is inspired by Beirut’s civil war (photo credit: @sebastien.baert – curated by: @sandrineplace)

About the Soul Group; Designer Charles Kalbakian says he began working on the project before the Corona pandemic, with a desire to create an “architectural world” that sparks imagination. The project produced six lighting units carved with plaster; The designer drew inspiration from his childhood in the empty city of Beirut after the civil war, when the buildings were without windows and doors, but the light of the Mediterranean changed the whole scene! Kalbakian explains to “Madam” that it was somewhat difficult for him to recall these memories while he was working, but then he began to think and “utopia” and asked: What would Beirut look like if the war had not happened?

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