Kostas Metaxas is an award-winning designer [BHP Design Awards] of Hi End Audio Amplification [www.metaxas.com since 1981] , as well as a Luxury-Lifestyle Magazine Editor/Publisher [1986-1998] and more recently a Film-maker/Broadcast TV producer [www.ikon.tv - over 700 interviews covering fashion, design, gastronomy and the arts].
He has consulted for Paspaley Pearls, Robert Mouawad, Laurence Graff, BHP Billiton amongst others, and has been exposed to the cutting edge of design throughout his 30 year career.
01. Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
My art/design background started in my teens when an uncle who was not that much older than me, showed me some art magazines with images from old master painters - I didn't know why, but I was drawn to the shapes, textures. Then he introduced me to a friend who was a crazy Hi Fi nutter - Luxman Valve amplifiers, horn speakers. That was it. I was lost in the art and more importantly, the music. Music is my core. I see art and design as "visual music".
02. Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
My "design" background started very early when I left university and set up my first company to produce very serious Hi Fi equipment. As a teenager, I couldn't afford to buy expensive Hi Fi, so I taught myself electrical engineering [you could do that in those days by just attending lectures at uni in the different campus]. So my hobby turned to my business. But even then, I felt that it was important not to be a "superficial" designer - to really know what goes on under the hood. So I pick things up very quickly. I do believe in form follows function, but within reason. The Hi Fi was a big success so I decided to start a magazine business as well - to be able to bother [with interviews] the heavyweights of art and design worldwide. To really learn by asking questions and exposing myself to great design. I've also consulted along the way. The magazine experience was converted into Broadcast in early 2000. I like to think that I've absorbed the creative energy of a lot of very interesting people. Most of my clients are mid-sized to very large luxury companies.
03. What is "design" for you?
The late jeweller Stefan Hafner would say, design is the ability to make a straight line sing. Architect Glenn Murcutt would say that design is a process, a journey. When asked, Andre Putmann told me she was an explorer. I think it's a combination of those things.
04. What kinds of works do you like designing most?
I've designed a lot of things over the years, but what really tickles me the most are objects which are supposed to be design, but can easily be mistaken for art.
05. What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
My favourite thing is always the next thing I'm working on...
06. What was the first thing you designed for a company?
Hi Fi equipment for my first company. I was lucky enough to win a BHP Design Award for it.
07. What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
I love working with most materials - metal, glass, ceramic, plastics, whether casting them, CNC machining them, milling them. Also, I love subverting technology - using dental techniques to make jewellery or watches. I'm a real tech-head. I love 3D rapid prototyping. At my age, I'm old enough to know traditional forms of manufacturing [virtually anything] but also the absolute latest software. I applaud Frank Gehry's use of CATIA!
08. When do you feel the most creative?
After snorkelling through the shallows and rocks on a Greek Island.
09. Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
Big picture first, then the detail. The Italians say God is in the details. The Germans say the Devil is in the details.
10. What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
Euphoria...like when you're listening to Sviatoslav Richter playing Brahms with the Chicago Symphony recorded by Lewis Leyton. Or Joni Mitchell's "The Sire of Sorrow".Or Emma Matthews singing julius Caesar's V'adoro Pupille"...
11. What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
Like the birth of a child. You wonder how they will be received and interact in the real world.
12. What makes a design successful?
When it resonates. When you can't explain why you're drawn to it.
13. When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
It's resonance and relevance. How it will be considered in 50 or 100 years.
14. From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
It's like asking a musician to be a politician. It's enough if they make great music. Having said that, I do feel a designer has to be environmentally friendly.
15. How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
The design field is changing similar to music, video and other creative fields where there are incredible pressures to innovate, but at the same time to be mindful of the divides between creative nations and manufacturing nations and the respect of a designer's IP. There will always be a need for great design to inspire.
The enabler - as always, is technology. It's no coincidence that the best designers [and artists] are always at the cutting edge of their craft.
17. Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. But mostly it's the mind slowly weaving through past ideas until they become interesting enough to become present ideas. I feed my creativity by talking to extremely creative people - like Romeo Gigli the fashion designer once told me, every designer has peaks of creative energy, which quickly [through media] stimulate/challenge their peers. They are then re-energized when their peers come up with something even more spectacular. It's like intellectual ping-pong.
Sources - art, music, movies...exhibitions. Fashion Week, Venice Biennale, Baselworld, ARS Electronica...Maastricht TEFAF.
18. How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
Despite my obvious Greek name, my ideas are far more "northern" [Strict Australian upbringing with a sprinkle of German education] - Bauhaus. I like it when there is an organic backbone to something which can then be upset by chaos. The fight between chaos and control. There has to be substance - I hate "frou frou" or chicky-micky as the Germans say. Also, I like honesty and neutrality. Not too much theatre [the Greek], but not ultra-utility. It's always a balance with a twist.
19. Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I live in Europe. I spend as much of my time as I can on a Greek Island or in a Berlin Cafe with my laptop. I've always felt like a stranger everywhere I go - which is not a bad thing. It helps me see the differences in things. Then I pick up things I like from one culture and ignore the things I don't like. My upbringing in Australia was very multicultural. The "old world" [Europe] has depth & tradition, but also the baggage of history. The "new world" - Australia & US [etc] has more freedom because it doesn't carry this baggage, but also has no depth.
20. How do you work with companies?
Different ways. Many companies I work with are still family run - so you need to become part of the family. In larger companies, you work well with the artistic director, are on the same page. I always try to put myself in my clients shoes [but never lingerie!].
21. What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
They need to like the designer's style, give a simple brief to at least 3-4 designers and see what they come up with. Pick the designer with the best long-term direction - picking a designer is no different to adding to your family.
22. Can you talk a little about your design process?
It starts with looking at the project and researching what has been done before that's great or breathtaking work. So until my idea reaches and/or exceeds that standard, it has no real reason to exist.
25. Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
Develop your taste/style by viewing/analysing as much great design and architecture as you can. Visual arts [unlike music] needs education since your brain needs to process it much more than music - which is direct.
It's hard to be a great designer from a young age [unless you're Mozart]. I picked up quite a few pearls from legends. Pierre Cardin told me you need to be as good a lawyer, marketer, accountant, press agent as you are a designer, otherwise you won't succeed. These sentiments were echoed by Andre Putman and Willy Bogner who also added that you need to be able to deal with failure. And be able to move on. When I interviewed Frank Gehry in the early 1990's [just before his critical career success], he was seriously thinking about moving to Australia to teach! Thankfully he didn't. In general, you need to be savvy about every aspect of the business. It's not enough to be "just" a good designer. You also need some luck.
26. From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
Positive is you give life to an object which never existed before. Negatives - not being understood in your time.
27. What is your "golden rule" in design?
Do your absolute best. If you're not motivated, don't do it. Picasso simply painted over lesser works or destroyed them. You don't want to be remembered for your half-arsed ideas.
28. What skills are most important for a designer?
Memory and Proportion.
29. Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
3D software. Moleskin notepad, Pen.
INTERVIEW ABOUT Kostas Metaxas & Sins "TOTEM" Furniture
Totem is a new way to store virtually anything. It combines cutting edge materials research, design and sculpture. Unlike conventional storage cabinets, Totem can swivel AND drawer. This allows you to totally change the look of Totem every day. Totem is sculpture. Totem can be made from precious materials, or moulded from plastic. TOTEM is high-tech. It can hold cameras/lenses in foam, house electronic watch winders and can be offered with locking-key security. Totem is modular. You can start with 2-3 levels and add, subtract or re-arrange compartments as your storage needs change.
01. What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
The idea was to create a personal storage space that could be a piece of sculpture that could move. The curves came from the appreciation I have with French Period furniture. The sculpture came from my time spent with artists Sophia Vari Botero and her husband Fernando Botero at their foundry and marble studio in Pietresante, Italy. I thought it would be great to have one of Sophia's sculptures in my home.
02. What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
I wanted to achieve a practical furniture design that could transform into a sculpture. that could be changed, updated, re-arranged and completely personalised to match the personality of the owner or space.
03. What are your future plans for this award winning design?
To develop different styles, sizes, types. And to see how people use it, change it and have fun with it.
04. How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
The idea was rolling around in my head for quite some time. Being a recording engineer, film-maker and photographer, I was used to lugging around equipment in professional foam-lined cases. The decisive moment happened at one film shoot when I lay my pelican cases over each other and slid them around to get to the equipment. I realised that if I could slide compartments, I could get to things faster and easier. Totem was born.
05. Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
It was really an idea that came out of my own necessity that just happened to be practical and overlooked.
06. Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
As a designer with a design studio, I'm looking for manufacturers who would like to license the design.
07. What made you design this particular type of work?
Necessity and the fact that I felt that there wasn't a lot of innovation in cabinetry at a manufacturable level. Of course I've met some spectacular French cabinet makers doing art abjects, but I'm trying to bridge the gap between practicality, art and personality [sort of like interactive New Media].
08. Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
Definitely. The list is a very long one, starting with meeting my luminaries like Frank Gehry [in his early "cardboard chair" days], Hans Hollein, Zaha Hadid and partner Patrik Schumacher...to artists Sophia Vari. I've had the pleasure to meet some of my heroes of design.
09. Who is the target customer for his design?
Stylish consumers, interior designers who wants to "personalise" the look of furnishings of a home or office. It really is a chameleon.
10. What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
That it can move. It's not a uni-dimensional object. It can interact with the room. It can hide in the corner or take centre stage. It's alive.
11. How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
Totem explains what it is. A totem pole is a tribal pole with levels of ancestors. It's an appropriate metaphor for a person's lifestyle of storing objects, clothing and belongings.
12. Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
It started with my moleskin square notebook and pen, and quickly moved on to Solidworks.
13. What is the most unique aspect of your design?
That it is very personal and interactive.
14. Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
I come from a very hands-on background. My father was in the building industry, my brother is an architect, my first gig was manufacturing "ferrari-like" Hi Fi equipment, so I understand working with wood, sheet metal and engineering. Luckily I could figure it out myself. The only tricky bit was the nylon bearings which enable it to swivel.
15. What is the role of technology in this particular design?
The technology of supporting and handling weight with movement as well as constructing with various unusual materials [for cabinetry].
16. Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
My only real research was to calculate the size/weight/bearing as well as to see if the idea had been done before. The frictionless/oil-less nylon bearings were important for me to achieve the design.
17. What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
The bearing design - how to keep it simple. Not to allow unrestricted movement. How to make it modular, stackable, lockable...
18. How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
I felt that it was novel and interesting enough to submit from the feedback I got from some of my peers.
19. What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
There is a certain euphoria you get when you have a monastic approach to developing an object. It's like a piece of your personality. Totem is crazy, but reserved and doesn't show all it's drawers...
20. Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?