BEIRUT: “Oh no, it’s in 3-D? Why is everything these days in 3-D?” product designer Karim Chaya says laughing, as he looks at a set of film tickets. It’s a Saturday afternoon and he’s about to take his two sons to see “The Lego Movie,” complete with ubiquitous three-dimensional graphics. Speaking to The Daily Star before his play date, the co-founder of architectural firm ACID and designer of his own product line called Spock Design has something less technologically advanced on his mind: candles.
He’s designed a range of lighting fixtures highlighting the humble candle as part of an exhibition commissioned by Beirut’s Art Factum Gallery for Design Days Dubai, which will exhibit a range of international designers in mid-March. Art Factum’s exhibit at Design Days will also feature Lebanese designer lighting by Marc Baroud, Marc Dibeh and Carlo Massoud.
All four designers were asked to respond to the word “spectrum,” and naturally, Chaya says, they all gravitated to the concept of light.
“Light has lost its beauty through evolution,” he says, “from flame to incandescent, to florescent and finally to LED. This design was intended to take a step back.”
“The quality of the flame gives out an amazing light,” Chaya adds.
His designs all feature matte bronze candleholders with a leaf-shaped attachment extending from the base to frame the underside of the taper. Some are affixed to polished stainless steel plates that mirror the light back into the room, while others shoot up from marble cylinders. On sconces and larger wall-mounted rectangles, rising from sturdy bases and hanging from a chandelier, the overall shape is similar to that of a peace lily, with the candle serving as the stamen.
“Usually, it is just one spark, an idea about an item,” Chaya says of his designs.
“I couldn’t tell you where it started or where it went, though it’s definitely reminiscent of a bird of paradise or some other flower.”
In this case, though, the idea was actually about the use of the candle, “how do you hold it or how do you not hold it.”
“I was reacting to the general laziness in design. It bothers us to interact with an object these days,” Chaya says.
To this end, the brass holders are affixed or hang at an angle that, aside from making the candles burn more quickly, gives the taper a casual air as if it just happened to be placed that way.
“There’s an exchange with the object, from when you light it till when you extinguish it or it burns out. There’s a definitive beginning and end, it’s an event.”
But despite this spontaneous appearance, it took Chaya many attempts before he got the tilt just right. And that’s just as he would have it, as his design work for Spock is all about trial and error for him.
“Spock is a place to play with design. There’s an ability to construct and deconstruct then to construct again there.”
“I don’t mind that for every 10 mistakes, you get one hit because you can then reuse what you learned from the nine mistakes,” he says of the process of designing at Spock.
While Chaya’s work at ACID, the larger industrial design firm that he co-founded with Raed Abillama in 1997, has helped shape the way he approaches his more creative projects at Spock, it is his intricate knowledge of the design resources in Lebanon that inspires all this experimentation.
In such a small country, you often see results immediately when you approach various craftsmen with designs, Chaya says.
In contrast to his day job managing ACID, which has projects all over the world, “Spock is about how do we push the boundaries; let’s see how far we can push local artisans, local industry, local reception.”
Chaya sees a parallel between the design culture in Beirut and that at Design Days Dubai, which he says will highlight work from a diverse array of artists.
“It’s bridging cultures, not unlike Lebanon. It’s very well curated, there’s an honesty about Dubai.”
However, he says he was hesitant when Art Factum approached him about the group showcase and told him there would be a theme, particularly one with such technical design connotations as “spectrum.”
But when the four designers unveiled their finished products in December for a pre-Dubai show held at the gallery in December, he saw that he had had nothing to fear.
“We got together before and discussed ideas but we didn’t see each other’s work till the show,” he says. “It was very enriching, to see the sparks of the other designers. It became very engaging, very interesting.”
And what did he think of Baroud, Dibeh and Massoud’s work?
“Well, I’ve already bought several pieces from the show, I’ll say that,” he says with a smile.