Little-known until a few years ago, the Spanish-born Patricia Urquiola was the buzz of the Milan Furniture Fair in 2004. Then she was invited (with Dutch designer Hella Jongerius) to create the prestigious "Ideal House of the Future" at the Cologne Furniture Fair in 2005—a commission reserved for the year's hottest talents. Urquiola's work, which is actually stylish and functional, is carried by such swanky stores as De Padova, Moroso, and B&B Italia. We reached her in Italy.
Your designs have been described as both modern and comfortable, two terms that aren't often linked. For me, it's impossible for those things not to go together. My first intention is to communicate with others, but in my own language. But all my work is with products that involve human behavior. They're not free ideas that come uncontaminated through my own lens. At the beginning, I have my own idea, in my language, of a chair, a table, a lamp. But it must also be easy to live with. If my product is very contemporary, very trendy, very communicative, but not useful, I will be an idiot.
Plus, it may not sell. I never think about marketing with my products. I do the things I believe in and that get me excited. There was a chair I did for Moroso about six years ago, and after two years, they said it was nice but not commercial. It then went on to become the best-seller of the company. With design, sometimes you need a bit of time.
One Italian magazine called you a "hurricane." Was that a reference to your stormy Basque personality? They were making fun of me in a sweet way. I didn't open my own studio until I was 40 years old. Then, in a very short time, three years, I did a lot of work. I came out very strong. I'm in the middle of the hurricane, and I only see calm.
Is there a difference between art and design? If you want to express only your own vision, then you must do art, and not design.
But you will have a chair at MoMA. That's a lovely thing that can happen. But they absolutely asked that the chair I send be a product of production—not a specialty. Getting my products into a museum is not my big goal. My goal is a product to use.
"The things Urquiola designs seem brand new," says Paola Antonelli, curator of architecture and design at New York's Museum of Modern Art, which is about to acquire one of Urquiola's chairs. "Armchairs have been around forever. But hers are sensual, innovative, and uplifting—all you could want from design—as well as affordable. Plus, they have a lot of heart."