Talking to Perry King about lighting is like trying to engage an olympic decathlete in conversation solely about the shot put. A few sentences in and you realise you can’t easily isolate an aspect of work which is part of the entire philosophy of King Miranda Associati.
British-born King and his Spanish partner Santiago Miranda work from a studio in Milan on projects ranging from products and graphics to interiors. Truly European in spirit, Italian is the language spoken in the studio. And this penchant for the unexpected underpins the way the two approach design.
The link between jobs, if there is one, is that each one is considered on its own, says King. There is no house style. He and Miranda work together on every project – unusual in a design partnership – and both are as keen on the technology behind the product and the manufacturing process as they are about the styling. It’s a case of total design, total dedication. That’s the only real constant.
So as I probe about lighting when King and I meet in London, the discussion strays inevitably on to other things. A new desking system for Italian manufacturer MarcatrÃ©; a clutch of furniture showrooms for the same company (including the new one in London’s Great Portland Street); and an exhibition system called Palo Alto that tries to get away from what King describes as traditional “trellis” forms – the list goes on. There’s office equipment for Olivetti stemming from King’s early days with Italian master Ettore Sottsass; projects such as the Casa di Barcelona for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; and a host of other jobs. Indeed, King is as keen to talk about his studio’s new air conditioning designs as he is to discuss lighting.
Yet lighting is a key element in the 20-year history of King Miranda. Light merits a whole chapter in the book of the consultancy – The Poetry of the Machine by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, published in 1991 – and King Miranda merits a chapter in a forthcoming book on lighting by Jeremy Myerson.
What appeals is the “poetry” of light and the “technological” challenge – both elements to which King and Miranda respond, and words which crop up constantly in reference to all their work. King recalls little of school, he says, but remembers the excitement of learning the basic principles of light.”It’s a fundamental thing,” he says, adding “but we’re careful to ensure that it doesn’t dominate our work.”
It all started “way back in the Seventies”, says King, when Italian lighting manufacturer Flos (now owner of Arteluce) asked King and Miranda to think about a new collection. Two products resulted: El and Jill. And it was the success of Jill that laid the foundation for a client/designer relationship which was to last almost 20 years, yielding classics such as the Donald task lamp (1978/9), the Aurora ceiling fitting (1982) and the innovative Halley track system (1979). “Jill made a fortune and coloured a relationship that was extremely interesting and intellectually rewarding,” says King. “It was a challenge working closely with Flos/Arteluce and the whole factory. It wasn’t a marketing brief. We ‘lived’ so closely with them that we were able to propose solutions before the need had been recognised.”
King explains that Flos – now owner of Arteluce – was run by Sergio Gandini and Marco Pezzolo, and the relationship was really based on a marriage of minds. But, as is often the case with this kind of enlightened patronage, when the people changed so did the sentiment behind the deal. When Gandini handed over the decorative side of the business to his son, the magic came to an end for King and Miranda.
They went on working on the technical side with the young Gandini’s uncle Pezzolo, notably completing the award-winning Aris fluorescent fitting for Arteluce subsidiary Flight, but eventually Gandini Jnr and his uncle parted company and the relationship with King Miranda ended.
Enter Sirrah, a small Italian lighting firm wanting to boost its image by launching a collection of domestic lighting. King Miranda was brought in to create designs for Milan’s Euroluce light show two years ago, and an adventurous range of ten models and four lines was created at low cost. King and Miranda took the opportunity to do something special with the collection, working with a graphic designer to create a great catalogue for the range. However, with the day of the launch came news of Sirrah’s takeover by Italian technical lighting giant I Guzzini.
What seemed a blow to the duo has proved a fantastic opening. They get on well with Sirrah’s new proprietor, and the results of this relatively new collaboration, aided by the investment I Guzzini has put into Sirrah, appeared at Euroluce last week and Hanover’s light show this week in the form of five collections for domestic or contract use.
Tam Tam is a range of glass lamps in white, blue and amber for table, wall- or ceiling-mounting, while Smile wall or ceiling fittings in blown glass has circular and oval models. Both ranges use incandescent lamps. Sandia dyecast aluminium wall lights offer alternative light sources – halogen or HQI – as does the Figloo moulded glass and dyecast aluminium range. Completing the set are the Celtica moulded glass wall or ceiling fittings, which take fluorescent or halogen lamps.
The difference between these and earlier Sirrah projects is in the use of materials, says King. The materials are now more traditional, but I Guzzini’s strong investment shows.
Sirrah is unlikely to be the only outlet for King Miranda’s lighting designs. There’s no exclusivity deal, says King, and he and Miranda are already working for Danish company Louis Poulsen on an outdoor fitting.
Nor, despite their love of the factory floor, is mass production the only route for King Miranda’s lighting designs. Bigger, environmental jobs have provided scope for often sculptural fittings. The most prestigious lighting job to date is probably the exterior scheme for the Seville Expo in 1992, which yielded fantastically elegant, modern designs. But then there’s the confection involving reflective fabric and “wired” Velcro strips devised for the Barcelona Olympics project. Small light sources backed with Velcro could be “thrown” at the fabric to create a drape of random light, says King. And, of course, there is lighting created for numerous
MarcatrÃ© showrooms, which began with the Rome outlet in 1981.
King recalls the first Far Eastern interior – for the Sogno A disco in Tokyo in 1984, a job he and Miranda owe to their reputation for lighting. From that have come Japanese office projects and even a scheme for a floating building, which is currently shelved, but a whole building nonetheless.
But getting back to lighting. What’s the next challenge for King and Miranda? For King, there’s the personal goal of working with a British manufacturer – something he’s somehow never managed to crack. This, he thinks, is possibly because UK manufacturers are reluctant to take on royalties deals with designers – a method of working King Miranda prefers.
He talks also of security lighting, so governed by regulations that it doesn’t always look good, when it quite easily could, he maintains. And he sees the cheaper end of the market as having great untapped potential for design.
And finally, we touch upon the “ecology” of light, described by King as not just to do with energy efficiency, but also with how lighting is used. There’s a long way to go before we get anywhere close to that, he suggests, looking through the window on a grey March day in
London. “It’s so soft, so beautiful,” he says, and we’re back to the poetry again. But it’s clear that through the beauty of the light, King is also seeing a tremendous technical challenge.