When Sustainable Designs Capture Midcentury Cool

ART + CULTURE | BY | February 4, 2018
Designer Michael Towey painstakingly folds one of his fixtures for his collection of linen origami lighting in his Costa Mesa studio; hanging above are finished examples. The designer explains that the impulse behind the pieces stemmed from a desire to create efficient yet high-quality lighting.
Designer Michael Towey painstakingly folds one of his fixtures for his collection of linen origami lighting in his Costa Mesa studio; hanging above are finished examples. The designer explains that the impulse behind the pieces stemmed from a desire to create efficient yet high-quality lighting.
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he craft guild is alive and well in Costa Mesa, thanks to designer Michael Towey, whose California Workshop is a modern-day iteration of the medieval concept. Inspired by some of the greatest thinkers in midcentury design, including Soetsu Yanagi and Kaare Klint, Towey has made it his mission to make lighting and furniture in the most sustainable way possible. Soon his playful, hand-folded linen origami lights will be available through Room and Board. Here, we grill him about his process and more.

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

I listen to Radio Nova; The music is great, and I don’t speak French, so the dialogue becomes abstract, and I can imagine a more perfect world.

Tell us about your most treasured work.

I consider my latest version of the commercially impractical 9612 Uber Leggera Chair to be my greatest work to date as a product design engineer and craftsman. I’m still searching for a lighter weight natural-fiber chair anywhere.

My creative process consists of…

Thousands of small forward steps and, hopefully, less backward ones.

What was your last ridiculous Google search?

Searching “Are primates mostly vegetarian?” in a discussion about the modern human diet–the only thing we ever talk about in Los Angeles.

If you could own any piece of furniture from history, what would it be and why?

Kaare Klint’s chair for Gruntvigs Church. This chair draws a straight line from the craftwork of the Shakers to Danish Modernism, which in my opinion remains unsurpassed to this day in its expression of modernist values and sustainability.

Dream dinner party–who’s invited?

Wendy Haworth, Soetsu Yanagi and Charlotte Perriand.

The most interesting thing I’ve read in the past month was probably…

“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan.

The best piece of advice I ever received was…

“Lose your ego,” from Eckhart Tolle. It’s essentially the same as, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken,” from Oscar Wilde.

Do you have a muse?

Interior designer Wendy Haworth has a natural and intuitive way of seeing authenticity and beauty that provides a great filter and compass for my work.

PHOTOS: LOU MORA

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