Running on empty

Ingegerd Råman believes that glass is ‘a magic material’. Seeing her first collection for Orrefors, Ruby Henderson finds herself under the spell

Swedish designer Ingegerd RÃ¥man only ever creates objects that can be used in everyday life. “I don’t like having too many things around me, other than the ones that I use,” she explains. “I like emptiness; I think it is important.”

In true Scandinavian style, RÃ¥man has devoted her 30-year career as a ceramicist and glass designer to perfecting the marriage of form and function, producing pieces that are both breathtakingly simple and surprisingly sensual. Ever since the 1960s, when she designed a clear carafe with a tumbler that doubles as a lid (a piece so sleek that it could have been designed yesterday), she has concentrated on drawing beauty from practical objects – such as vases, bowls, tumblers or carafes.

RÃ¥man has only ever worked with clear glass, explaining that “transparent pieces colour themselves. When you put flowers in a vase, or liquid in a carafe, the glass takes on the colours. Sometimes I will sandblast the glass, but I do that just to define the clear parts.” Hence her transparent oil bottle with a matt spherical stopper that subtly accentuates the design’s delicate rim.

While RÃ¥man is a household name with our Nordic cousins, over here she isn’t widely known. But with the launch at London’s Skandium of her first collection for classy company, Orrefors, all that looks set to change.

With endearing warmth, she compares her arrival at the Swedish glass giant to “a child walking into a huge toy store. It was really thrilling. I had to explain what I wanted to all these new workers, which meant explaining it all to myself first. It was a real learning process,” she says.

Creating her first three ranges for Orrefors – Skyline, Slowfox and Tanteralla – also meant the chance to tap into new skills. “For my Skyline vases, I found a man who was very clever at etching lines in the glass. It was wonderful to use these different techniques,” says RÃ¥man. The thin cuts run vertically up the vase, emphasising the proportions of the piece, together with the inherent fragility of the material.

RÃ¥man has more than once drawn parallels between the chilly climate she lives in and her passion for glass. This is perhaps most evident in Slowfox, a range of cylindrical vases and bowls that have been sandblasted with lines (“I don’t call this pattern, I call it surface,” RÃ¥man emphasises), which give the glass a frosty, almost ethereal light.

But for me, her true pièce de résistance is Tanteralla, an utterly simple, utterly gorgeous carafe for sherry or liqueur. Perhaps the most feminine of RÃ¥man’s works, the carafe flares out at the base, and this shape is perfectly echoed in a beaker which also serves as a lid for the vessel. “This piece brings back the best memories of a friend,” she laughs. “I used to meet her at 3pm every Sunday, when we’d join a group of ladies to drink sherry. It wasn’t something I’d normally do, but it was hilarious, seeing all these ladies drinking lots of sherry. The design is very joyful like two skirts dancing.”

An exhibition of Ingegerd RÃ¥man’s first collection for Orrefors runs from 22 February to 8 March at Skandium, 72 Wigmore Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7935 2077

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