If you’re a fan of contemporary furniture, you’ll be familiar with the work of Ramón Esteve. He designs for furniture companies including Vondom, Gandía Blasco, Joquer, Inclass and lighting firm Vibia; and his pieces are characterized by their knack of perfectly suiting the brand in question.
Asked about why he has established such enduring relationships with his clients, he suggests it’s because he’s ‘capable of designing pieces that are discreet, long-lasting and which integrate easily into architectural spaces.’
With his furniture/lighting designer hat on, Esteve says it’s not the case that he waits for the phone to ring to be asked to design a sofa shaped like this or a light of these dimensions. ‘On lots of occasions, new pieces are born from necessity from architectural projects, or perhaps I have an intuition that I turn into a proposal.
‘I always look to establish a dialogue with the company I’m working with to be clear about what roads we can go down, so to speak. And I need to feel empathy and sympathy with it. So I don’t produce a design by being given a strict briefing. I need to understand the brand quite profoundly if I’m to design for it.’
Esteve says he likes designing ‘anything and everything that related to architecture’, so contract and residential furniture, outdoor furniture and lighting all offer interesting challenges.
And with modern outdoor furniture brand Vondom, which works with rotation-moulded polyethylene, Esteve says it’s fun to be pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with this material, as well as working to define the ‘artistic’ thrust of the company.
He likes companies that keep moving, and cites Vibia as a lighting company that isn’t afraid of experimenting – it has produced his Link and Origami lights.
As to whether he considers designing a building harder than designing a chair, he says not. ‘In the history of architecture and design, it’s as difficult to find examples of good chairs as of good houses.’
Esteve says while times change and people change with them, he strives not to let trends or fashions impinge on his work. ‘One of the constants in my work has been to strive for timelessness. I always work with forms and solutions that can work universally.
‘A professor friend of mine told me that my design is no design. And I liked this, because what I like to do in my work is to make the essential materialize. An example is the Na Xemena outdoor furniture range I designed for Gandía Blasco… I designed it 15 years ago and it’s still selling well.’
Esteve’s architecture, particularly private houses, uses a lot of natural materials, such as wood and local stone.
He says sustainability has always been important to him but he feels the environmental bandwagon can lead to projects and products that are mediocre.
For example, a blanket rejection of plastics is, in his view, silly. ‘A plastic product may well be more eco-friendly than a wooden one. We need to be clear about the parameters, which in my view are: longevity, origin of materials, how many miles have to be traveled to get them to factories, conditions for workers, and how easily a product can be recycled.’
Esteve - who graduated as an architect from the Superior Technical School of Madrid in 1990 - believes the global economic crisis is, in some ways, having a positive effect on Spain and on Spanish attitudes.
And he thinks the impression given in the media that Spain is an economic basket case is wrong: ‘In the first instance, I don’t accept that Spain is on its knees. I think we were perhaps a bit relaxed in our ways, but now we’re putting it right.
‘I think we’re a strong economy, we have great creativity and we’re making good progress in getting out of our difficulties. And I do think that Spanish design, the quality and differentiation of our products, is a big part of our economy that can help us recover.
‘Spanish people are used to working all over the world, and this global crisis is giving us a more global vision. So we do see that exports are crucial and we need to be competitive.’
Esteve’s work is always juggling projects, with product design sitting alongside his architecture work, which is often to design public buildings, with perhaps a couple of commissions a year for private houses.
He says he likes designing blocks of flats, whether large or small, and he loves staircases. ‘I like moving around using staircases, which I think should be distinctive. A lot of times, architects forget about them and then just put in a small staircase. One of the advantages of my designs is that I think about staircases in the context of an architectural space.’
Needless to say, Esteve, who lectures in architecture at the University of Valencia, has won many awards and accolades during his career. These include success at the European Hotel Design Awards in 2011, and a DELTA award also in 2011.