An Oslo native, Hallgeir Homstvedt holds a BA of Industrial Design and honours from Newcastle University in Australia. After completing his degree in 2006, Hallgeir went on to work for design studio Norway Says before opening his own studio in 2009, operating out of a nineteenth century factory building in the centre of Oslo and focusing on interior and product design. Having designed for producers include Hem, MENU, Muuto, and Hjelle, his works aims to to simplify as much as possible in order to get to the essence of a product. And with this philosophy in mind, he has successfully created a remarkable portfolio that draws on minimal, simple, and Nordic sensibilities. We spoke to Hallgeir to discuss his journey into design, some of his outstanding works, and what he considers to be great design.
When I am working on new concepts I always sketch by hand until I reach a point that needs to be further explored in the form of a mock-up or a CAD model. When I have reached a point where things are looking promising I might start a 3D print before I go home so I have fresh eyes on it in the morning.
Tell us a bit about life in Norway and in particular Oslo. A place I’ve always wanted to visit. How have you been influenced by this city? Does it impact your creativity?
I think everyone is shaped by the place they live and the unique opportunities that place has to offer, I know Oslo has been influential for me in terms of career path and lifestyle. The thing I like most about living in Oslo is the proximity to the forest and water, in the winter I can jump on the subway and ride it all the way up the ski slopes or in the summer I can ride my bike to the waterfront to cool off. I try to do this a few times a week to recharge, I find it helps give a new perspective on things. The city also grown a lot in commercial diversity the last decade or so, which in turn let me down the path of furniture and product design.
Can you talk a little about your upbringing? Did your family influence the way you thought about design? What led you into this field?
I grew up further north in the city of Trondheim before the whole family moved to Seattle Washington, through my dads entrepreneurship. I spent four years there and got to experience life at high school, a life that I had only seen on film and TV. When I moved back to Norway we relocated to Oslo where I live now and where the most of my extended family live. Getting to experience a new culture and a new continent at such a young age has definitely expanded my horizon and made me more curious about other cultures. I spent over nine years abroad, mostly in the US and Australia, for work and studies. At the same time these experiences has also given me a renewed appreciation of where I’m from and what is unique about life here.
I am the youngest of three siblings who all work in the creative field, my brother is an artist working with sculptures and oil painting and my sister a graphic designer. I decided that I wanted a more secure profession and studied to be an engineer like my dad, but I soon realised that I had to follow my passion and switched to Industrial Design. My parents are very practical people and have always enjoyed making things, from building cabins, fixing anything that is broken, knitting sweaters, cooking or sewing party costumes. I have always wanted to make and design things myself, it just took me a while to realise that I could actually do this for a living.
What does a typical day look like?
These days I get up around 6–7 (depending on the baby) then its breakfast, delivery at the kindergarten before biking or catching the tram to the Studio around 9–10. When I get to the studio I spend 10 min going through my “to-do” list while I drink a cup of coffee. I find that I am most creative before lunch, I have more energy and might have ideas that I have been thinking about over night. When I am working on new concepts I always sketch by hand until I reach a point that needs to be further explored in the form of a mock-up or a CAD model. When I have reached a point where things are looking promising I might start a 3D print before I go home so I have fresh eyes on it in the morning.
Your work certainly communicates simplicity and to a degree, minimalism. To you, what does it mean to simplify a product?
This depends a bit on the category that I am working on, but in general I try to let the manufacturing process drive the design to a large degree. I feel this brings some aesthetic logic and consistency to my projects. I try to boil the design down to its essence, focusing on the unique details and without sacrificing functionality. That’s my take on simplicity.
You’ve worked extensively with fellow designer Jonah Takagi, producing several furniture and lighting products. Can you explain how this collaboration came about and what you each bring to the creative process?
We first met when we both where exhibiting at the Salone Satellite in Milano 2011 and kept bumping into each other at various events and exhibition for the coming years. Jonah and I have always gotten along well and have had a mutual admiration of each others work. I think we where out for drinks one night at Bar Basso (designer hotspot during the Milan fair) when we first discussed the idea of collaborating on some projects together, using our joint network to get a bigger reach. In 2016 we got the opportunity to be part of an exhibition organised by Sight Unseen called Norway X NewYork. Although these projects did not have a commercial focus, it showed that we worked well together and managed to do so across different time zones.
The past 3–4 years we have allocated 1–3 days a week on common projects under the name TakagiHomstvedt. It’s hard to say exactly who brings what to the table. I think the most important thing is that neither one of us has a huge ego that needs to shine through, so this makes it easy to share ideas and sketch on each others’ concepts. Since we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic and live fairly different lives, we naturally bring a different perspective to each brief.
The GLOW clock, which you first presented in Milan back in 2011 and has since been produced by Lexon, exemplifies minimalism in design. What was the inspiration?
Yeah this project was definitely an exercise in reduction. I wanted to see how much you can strip away from a clock and still have a functional time piece. The driving concept for this product was the glowing effect a strong colour has when placed close to a white surface. This realisation is something I can remember from being a kid, and playing in the snow with my red mittens (all cross-country ski mittens where red or blue back in the days). The original prototype of the clock that I showed in Milan was even more minimal than the production version, it was milled from a solid block of white Corian and had no marking of any kind, just a neon-pink reflection from the minute hand and a neon-green glow from the hour hand.
Looking further into your prolific portfolio of work, I am also struck by the Bergen chair for Offecct. Can you explain the process of how you arrived at the final design?
The Bergen chair was originally designed for a competition organised by the University of Bergen and was chosen as the winning design. The brief was to design a highly functional stacking chair to furnish the historic and newly remodelled University Aula in Oslo.
The large arching windows in the room were important source of inspiration and the shapes are reflected in the square back and the circular seat. The chair’s character lies in the meeting between these two surfaces, giving an impression of the seat floating in the air, with only a small concealed point of attachment. This gives the chair a minimalist and slender character, with good stacking capacity.
You’ve clearly explored a wide range of product design topics throughout your career. Are there any areas that you hope to experiment with at some point in the future?
One of my favourite parts of this job is to learn about new production processes or tackle new design categories, so I’m always eager to learn more. I'd like to visit a metal casting factory or do a project in extruded aluminium. I would also like to work more with glass, perhaps for an exhibition or something where I can be more hands on in the process.
What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I saw a recent project by Max Lamb where he designed some 3D ceramic tiles for the Japanese brand Tajimi Custom Tiles. I thought this was a novel approach to a normally 2D product.
Walking Assembly by Matter Design is a project that surprised me with its simplicity and playfulness. It’s a collection of huge and massive concrete blocks shaped in such a manner that they can be moved and assembled by hand. I think it’s a great example of process driven design that is both innovative and aesthetically pleasing.
Another designer that always does innovative stuff is Stefan Diez, and he recently launched a light for Vibia called Guise. Here, he uses a lighting technique commonly used on exit signs to reinvent the pendent lamp.
What music do you listen to while designing?
It depends on what I am doing. If I am in the production phase of a project (CAD or technical drawings) I like upbeat music like electronic, deep house, etc. If I am problem solving or sketching I like Ambient, Folk, or Indie music.
What are 3 things you value most in design?
What are 3 things you value most in life?
- Nature. Preserving nature so the next generation can experience old growth forests, powder snow, and coral reefs.