Although his products now touch every aspect of our modern lives, we all tend to be agnostics when it comes to Jony Ive. Even as he appears on video during Apple’s developers’ conference to speak with soft-spoken intensity about the design of the latest iPhone or iPad, his personality seems inherently unknowable. Yet it is possible to know Jony Ive. He’s at least one person’s friend.
Granted, that friend, Marc Newson, is a design legend in his own right. For over 15 years, he and Ive have laughed together, talked about cars together (a mutual love), and vacationed together. During that time, they have shared countless conversations about the purity of form, material, and process that drives them both. About designs they like, and designs they don’t like.
So when you look at the (RED) Desk, which will be auctioned off on November 23rd by Sotheby’s to raise money for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, it’s important to see something more than just a collaboration between two of the most influential designers on Earth. It is also the physical embodiment of a friendship.
“When we’re together, Jony and I are always talking about design and making things,” Newson tells me. “We’re great friends, so the idea that this collaboration resulted in a physical object doesn’t mean we haven’t collaborated on a philosophical level hundreds of times before. The big distinction with the (RED) Desk is that instead of just thinking and talking, we pressed the button to actually make it.”
Made of 2,600 pounds of raw aluminum processed into a 420 pound anodized gray slab, the (RED) Desk looks industrial, cubist, and space age, all at once. One-hundred-two-inches long and 38-inches deep, the (RED) Desk’s top is comprised of 185 individually crafted, hand-polished tiles. The edges are chamfered, like the iPhone 5, and taper away into nothingness, like the iMac. On the surface, a minute etching reads in a soft white sans-serif: “Designed By Jony Ive & Marc Newson For (RED) 2013 edition 01/01.” Realized by , who donated their time, materials and craftsmanship to the task of making Ive and Newson’s vision a reality, it is a desk that looks like it would be just as much at home with an iMac sitting on it as it would in a museum, in a geometry textbook or on a spaceship.
Although they called it the (RED) Desk, Ive and Newson didn’t actually set out to design a desk per se. “We call it a desk because it may be the object’s most practical function, if it had one, but we really wanted to just create a beautiful object that had its own particular presence in a space by virtue of the way it was made, and the materials used to make it,” says Newson.
To create this presence, Ive and Newson chose aluminum as the (RED) Desk’s material because it felt “inherently modern” to both of them. “Aluminum has a certain presence, color, and mass that is particularly interesting to us,” explains Newson. “If we had to identify common ground between the both of us as designers using materials, it would be aluminum.” Similarly, the way in which this ton of aluminum was shaped into a desk was by way of CNC machining. It is the same method by which the cases of unibody MacBooks are made, a manufacturing process that Newson says he and Ive are “huge fans of.”
Other than the method and materials by which it was made, though, Newson says that he and Ive had no “great or extraordinary philosophical tendency” when it came to designing the (RED) Desk. Rather, they were primarily interested in designing something that would bring in as much money as possible for the Project (RED) Charity. “We both tend to look at things from a practical perspective,” says Newson. “For the (RED) Auction, the actual objective was to raise funds for charity, and since I had some experience designing furniture at auction in the past, it seemed like a logical place to start.”
Even without Ive’s name attached, Newson’s furniture designs–such as the Lockheed Lounge chair that he designed that sold for $968,000 at Sotheby’s in 2006–are famously high-selling at auction. Newson says he’s “reasonably confident” the (RED) Desk will sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, although that seems modest: Discussing the Leica camera he and Newson also designed for the (RED) Auction, Jony Ive recently told Vanity Fair that he thought it would bring in $6 million or more. The (RED) Desk may very well break some furniture auction records.
But how do you put a price on the embodiment of a friendship, let alone one between two of the world’s most influential designers? “In a way, the (RED) Desk took 15 years to design,” says Newson. “If I had tried to collaborate on this with someone else, it would have been impossible, but I can do it with Jony because we’re such great friends.”
The (RED) Desk, along with Ive and Newson’s Leica camera and a curated collection of more than 40 other items, will be auctioned on November 23 at Sotheby’s in New York.