Behind the Design: Lars Beller Fjetland

Norwegian designer Lars Beller Fjetland is a man who enjoys getting his hands dirty. Whether it’s spending time in the workshop or in the factories where his designs take shape, Lars’ approach to his craft is the honest, hands-on kind. Lars grew up on the west coast of Norway, enjoying a fascination with nature and a curiosity to explore. Today, his work is a thoughtful combination of natural materials, form and function.

In many ways, Lars is a no-nonsense designer and craftsman. He seeks to understand how things work and believes in good design without embellishment, living in harmony with its surroundings. Right now, Lars has a keen eye on the American market, where he is gaining a deeper understanding of technology, manufacturing and mass production. He is a part of Norway’s evolving design ambitions, moving beyond the country’s more traditional forms of craftsmanship, to think about design in a future-focused way.

Gessato gets behind the design with Lars Beller Fjetland.

Describe yourself in five words.

Curious. Self-critical. Passionate. Pragmatic. Impatient.

You consider yourself to be ‘driven by curiosity [and] guided by nature’. What are you especially curious about?

I have always felt a strong urge to understand how things work, and I guess this is what I mean by being curious. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in factories and I really couldn’t be happier. There is something magical about seeing raw materials turned into finished products.

I imagine nature plays a large part in your life, growing up as you did on the west coast of Norway. What do you look for in nature when thinking about your work?

Something that I’ve been contemplating lately is how nothing looks out of place in nature. It is perhaps easy to brush this off as an obvious and banal observation. However, if you look at the complexity and diversity found in nature, it’s interesting to note how any scene is a perfect and complete composition. Every little growth or organism has a purpose, and coexists with others as a finely tuned entity.

I see this as a state that I want to strive towards: creating designs that are able to coexist with architecture, objects and nature in a harmonious way. I believe the time where everyone and everything screams for attention is coming to an end.

It seems you’ve been quiet lately. Are you working on any new projects you can tell us about?

(Lars agrees that he has been quiet, due in part to a conscious decision to eschew social media, preferring to protect his privacy).

I have in fact moved away from the more fashion-driven part of the design industry, focusing instead on larger projects involving patents, new technologies and mass production. I felt the need for newer and bigger challenges, as I’m easily bored when things become too predicable or superficial.

My future plans revolve mainly around US companies. The American market for furniture and design wares is in really good shape, and there’s a great culture for investing in innovative products and ideas. I’m increasingly interested in learning more about technology, manufacturing and mass production, and believe I have an opportunity to pursue this in the US.

2016 was a great year for me: I won two major awards for the Beller collection of cork tiles that I designed for American company Spinneybeck. We also have a patent pending—a first for me. The collection was launched during NeoCon 2016 at Knoll’s Chicago showroom and the reception has been phenomenal.

I am currently working on a larger project—a full collection with many pieces—but can’t say much more. You’ll just have to be patient I guess.

What are your thoughts on the shape of Norwegian design today?

I believe we are finally getting there. We are about to move past the naive phase of Norwegian design characterised by soft and pleasant shapes—crafted in wood and glass—into more complex shapes and concepts. (That said, this writer is a big fan of Lars’ Turned birds).

Norwegian designers such as Daniel Rybakken and Andreas Engesvik are at the vanguard of this new direction, their designs elegant and refined. This novel, innovative and more intelligent evolution of Norwegian design will be better equipped to handle rapidly changing future trends. ‘Smart’ never goes out of fashion.

What advice do you have for other young Norwegian designers (and designers generally) who are just beginning the journey you embarked on several years back?

Something that I said back in 2014 comes to mind… “It is not enough to work hard; you also need to work smart. A good product or a good idea is the essence of what we do, the rest is just smoke and mirrors. Find inspiration ‘offline’ in places where others haven’t even thought of looking. Don’t mimic the current: create tomorrow.”

As a designer, what are you most proud of to date?

I am especially proud of the fact that I dared to pursue this career path in the first place. It was a big decision at the time. Everything that has happened since, came from that one defining moment.

What is your biggest design pet peeve (annoyance)?

I’m not a fan of designers who rip-off work by other designers. It is fine to be influenced by existing work (everyone is, myself included), but it’s another thing entirely to copy a design. Perhaps some of the blame for the extent of this phenomenon can be directed at the media: you rarely see a magazine or blog criticising a designer or company for selling and promoting designs that are evidently imitations. If there is no-one policing morals, then who will catch the thieves?

What quality is most attractive to you (in a design or in other people)?

Honesty.

When or where are you most happy and content?

I would say that I’m at my happiest when I’m able to work on a small side project in the workshop on a Saturday morning. No stress, the radio on, coffee in the mug, and the unmistakable smell of fresh sawdust.

Gerard McGuickin

I’m a design writer, lover and aficionado, living in a modish neighbourhood in south Belfast. My writing is studied and yet uninhibited, and my perspective on design is typically punctilious and urbane. My thinking is often guided by Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design. I have an educational background in psychology (MSc + BSc) and believe in the potential for design to improve our daily quality of life. And without affectation, I value that which is aesthetically pleasing and inspiring (great design excites my imagination). Find out more at Walnut Grey Design.