The nomadic architects behind Matter of Stuff are bringing their pop-up design and research gallery to King’s Cross this summer. Author Jesse Loncraine and filmmaker Flannery Miller meet them to find out more about their unconventional style.
Simona Auteri and Sofia Steffenoni, whose Matter of Stuff pop-up gallery opens in King’s Cross in July and runs through October, approach design with a passionate curiosity for the potential of raw materials. Through their cutting-edge research in manufacturing techniques and work with international artists, design students, and craftsmen, they push the limits of what’s possible with, say, marble from the mountains of Carrara, Italy.
“You have to touch it,” says Steffenoni, “no matter what machines you use, it always comes back to human hands.”
If there is one consistent theme to the objects born of this ethos, it is in their unexpectedness. From Atelier Crestani’s 200-kilogram marble slab supported on a few glass rods (“glass gets stronger with pressure,” says Auteri) to a seamlessly blended surface of wood and brushed bronze, the designs featured by Matter of Stuff each have a story to tell; there is poetry behind the aesthetics. However, the objects are just the beginning; essentially showcasing their research, these fine pieces are a jumping off point for larger, more ambitious interior and architectural projects, with clients that include Kering Group, Universal Design Studio, and Acme.
Matter of Stuff describe themselves as design ambassadors, translating for the world the knowledge of traditional craftsmen and contemporary innovators alike. To that end, they run a series of artist residencies open to both emerging and established designers. Where they once sought out collaborators, they now find themselves in the fortunate position of being approached. “Artists come to us,” says Steffenoni, “they want to know if we can help them achieve their ideas.” The answer is almost always the same: “Let’s try.” That openness and willingness to pursue new ideas and concepts is what drew their nomadic company (they intentionally have no fixed offices) to King’s Cross for their latest exhibition. They regard the area as an exciting combination of London’s corporate and creative entities.
The exhibition will be housed in the gallery in Fenman House on Handyside Street, an open-plan, industrial-style space with seemingly endless windows. In order to give each aspect of the exhibition the solitude and attention it deserves, Matter of Stuff enlisted the help of design studio Raw Edges to subdivide the space through a series of individually suspended wooden rods, creating pathways that guide visitors through the gallery whilst maintaining the abundance of natural light. There is something forest-like about this use of space, with what feels like naturally occurring groves inhabiting one uninterrupted expanse. Beyond the exhibition, Matter of Stuff will open its doors to the community, hosting artist talks and workshops.
Once Matter of Stuff move on, Fenman House will transform to serve the KX community in other ways (there have been rumours of a new restaurant). Where they go next will be as natural as the materials driving their work. Wherever they end up, the company is enthusiastic (bordering on insistent) that its clients travel with them. Rather than cloak their manufacturing processes in secrecy, they encourage clients to visit the factories, workshops and even mountains where they source their stunning marble. “It’s life-changing,” says Steffenoni. “We hire a Jeep and take you inside the mountain.” This connection to the earth is consistent with Matter of Stuff’s commitment to sustainability and minimising waste. When marble is carved out of the mountain in Carrara, a sample is drilled out to assess the quality of the ore. Normally this marble apple core is simply thrown away. Matter of Stuff worked with two of their resident artists, Arturo Soto and Natalie Pichler, to utilise those off-trims in the Deskcape stationery organiser. Respect for materials runs throughout their work, from fine objects to elaborate interiors. In this sense, they achieve a rare blend of supreme modernity and revived traditionalism; they look into the future of design in search of the purity of the past.
The Matter of Stuff gallery opens in Fenman House, 9 Handyside St. in September and runs until end of October.
This article first appeared in the summer 2018 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.