The Great Frame-up
Picture frames or metal chains—they're all fodder for visionary Luis Pons
Joann Biondi -- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Even for those with a strong sense of self, rejection is often disheartening. But it can also rouse a dogged determination to persevere with a passion, and that's exactly what happened to Luis Pons. After a client rejected a custom dresser for his bedroom, he coincidentally stumbled upon a pile of moldings in a frame shop—and got an idea. He would transform the dresser, he says, into “something touchable and sensual and unique” by applying mass-produced moldings to its entire surface, minus the top. Some were brushed silver or gold. Others were black-lacquered, stainless steel, copper, oak, cherry, or walnut.
The result became the prototype for his Frame collection, exhibited with great success at Milan's Salone Internazionale del Mobile. And that wasn't all he brought to the fair. Displayed alongside were prototypes for his Sandscape screens, with their movable glass panels encasing sand and water, and his Metal Rain pendant fixtures, dripping with nickel-plated steel-bead chains that support a magnetic housing for a light source.
Whether Pons is designing furnishings, interiors, exteriors, or jewelry, he exhibits a childlike lightheartedness about his work—and his life. There's not a stuffy thingabout him. Born and raised in Venezuela, he relocated to Miami in 2002 and founded the firm that's now called Luis Pons D-Lab in 2003. Two years later, he made a splash during Art Basel Miami Beach by setting his Inflatable Villa afloat in Biscayne Bay. He describes this white plastic mock-Palladian creation as the “antidote to the overhyped, overdesigned real-estate market of recent years.”
The Frame collection continues to expand as Pons scours Florida junk stores for furniture from the 1950's and '60's: bureaus, armoires, and tables that are well constructed but nevertheless undervalued. After gathering loose lengths of mass-produced moldings, he glues and nails them in bands to the furniture for an effect that's rationalyet highly baroque. Each piece is a one-off and, at the first glance, confusing to the eye—it takes a few seconds to grasp the concept. Here, he explains.
Explain the concept behind the Sandscape dividers.
When I was a boy, my father had a toy on his desk that I played with for hours. It was filled withsand and, if you turned it upside down, it changed appearance. When a client who lived in an oceanfront high-rise in Miami Beach asked me to create something playful, I used that idea for the panels of a screen—it's very interactive. After I installed them, I told him, “Now you can be the designer.”
Why the picture frames?
When you frame a piece of art, it appears to be more valuable. Framing is a form of validation, and that's basically what I did with the old furniture.
What was it like, taking the prototypes to Milan?
At first I was very frightened and intimidated by the experience. Compared to most of the other designs there, my work had absolutely no reference to anything. Yet, in the end, I did not have to explain it. People loved it and were fascinated by it. They understood the irony, the freshness, the juxtaposition of traditional elements. I came home from Milan very happy.
What does having a Latin aesthetic mean to you?
In Latin America, we are very low-tech. We have always borrowed from everyone else in the world. We don't have much historical baggage or memory, so we are ambiguous, soft. We are also very over-the-top. As a Latin designer, I couldn't be a minimalist—even if I wanted to be.
The Frame collection seems to reject preconceived notions.
I try not to repeat the opinions of other people—not to conform to someone else's reality or be seduced by it. That's why I don't read newspapers or watch television. I'd rather experiment and create my own aesthetic reality, one that's open-minded and playful.
Speaking of play, what about your new blocks?
The blocks are constructed of three or four layers of molding cut out in the center, so you see what's inside. It's a chance to play with the contrast between the raw material of the interior and the sophisticated finishes of the exterior.
Are the recycled frames an environmental statement?
No, I can't take any credit for that. It's not about recycling for the sake of the environment. It's about recycling because I love finding objects that already exist, thanks to someone else's commercial technology. Then I take those objects and give them new meaning.