Patricia Urquiola crafts sensations in leather designs.
From innovative product design to immersive architectural experiences, Milan-based creative Patricia Urquiola crafts with the intention to emotionally connect with anyone who interacts with her work.
Evoking feelings of comfort, whimsy, and free-spiritedness by capturing the emotional connotations within the mundane, Urquiola doesn't take the design process lightly.
Each project is approached with a heavily researched, objective-based mindset, and no element of design is taken for granted. Matching aesthetic with functionality with a seemingly effortless creative eye, Urquiola remains hyper-focused on everything from color, material, and texture to light — constantly in-tune with how each choice will impact her audience.
The careful choice of materials means that the designer often chooses leather to convey her aesthetic and functional message of connection with environments. Creations such as Lilo, Mathilda, Klara, Gender, and several others are eternalized in the timelessness built by Urquiola.
We unpacked the role mental comfort plays in all realms of design with Urquiola herself. Scroll down to learn how she achieves her distinctly soothing spaces in our exclusive chat.
When aiming to evoke mental comfort in your work, what is more important: the visual aesthetic or emotional functionality?
In creating visually appealing objects that evoke emotional connections, one completes the other. I'm always looking for ways to connect design with emotional memory; I like to connect people to their spaces.
There are three components for a successful design: transparency in the process, research, and continuous renewal in their formal qualities. It's the affinity value that emerges, the synergy between a product and who uses it. I always try to create empathy in my design.
How do you translate someone’s essence and perspective into a design or space without losing your own style?
I don’t have any style or line, every creative path is one of a kind. My design process is to respect each client's identity and elevate it further. Every project is a different journey where we start from scratch — the common element is research.
We like to do intense, deep research on materials, technology, and production, as well as the DNA of the client: their identity, values, history, vision, aspiration. Additionally, we ask what the needs of the users are, how they're evolving, what’s missing, what's unresolved, unanswered.
Then comes the design process, which must be rigorous, pragmatic, professional. We think not only about the project but also the consequences — how to communicate its narrative, its lifespan, its place in the world. The important thing is that the final result needs to be coherent with the identity of the client, otherwise it's not a good result for me.
How do you approach the process of creating a piece that’s meant to bring comfort and peace of mind to the user? How do the material, form, texture, etc. play a role in it?
I'd say it's the empathetic approach that I like to create with the final user. Achille Castiglioni taught me to always establish the “fundamental element” in a project in order to capture the heart, the sense of it. It's the starting point for each of my projects, building this connection with the user.
I try to understand the relations — I observe the society, then I interpret it to be translated into a project.
The palette, the materials, the textures are all part of the project. Perhaps it is the shape — the concept determines the choice of the material and the palette, both fundamental parts of the process. For me and my team at the studio, color, matter, texture, and light are key elements that interact with each other. We’re really interested in their meeting point.
Could you name a few of your all-time favorite projects and tell us about the sensations and mental energies they were intended to evoke?
All my projects are my favorites! But here are a few among the latest: For Cassina, we have created an outdoor collection called Trampoline inspired by the real trampolines I saw outside people’s houses during a trip to Greenland. This joyful image stayed in my mind — they were kind of unexpected yet very pleasant. In the collection, I wanted to reproduce this feeling of coziness, carefreeness, freedom, and the joy of spending time outdoors.
Also with the Italian company, Urquiola presented designs such as the Back Wing leather armchair, welcoming design with innovative shapes that express the mastery of superior craftwork. At Cassina, the Gender armchair is also available. More than a leather seat, it's a design with multiple personalities.
At the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial 2020, in partnership with GAN, we created an installation called Recycled Woolen Island. It uses leftover materials and aims to discover a new idea of beauty that starts from waste.
The starting concept of the project was the spontaneous simple gesture of leaving socks on the floor, as it happens perhaps in every household. When looking at the installation, visitors will recognize them immediately and maybe wonder why they are placed in the hall — then immediately realize that these hyper-socks are there to be enjoyed.
For the Brazilian brand ETEL, we developed upcycled materials, again to create the sensation of finding beauty from waste, encased in bold tactile furniture — capturing the beauty of the Amazonian wood used and transmitting the craftsmanship ability of the brand to its final user.
In a sentence or two, can you tell us what mental comfort in a space means to you?
My house is where I find my mental comfort the most.
It's a place where many of the studio’s prototypes end up and vice versa. Things that come home tend to be part of a project, they come in — they come out. It does not mean throwing away but creating circularity.
My house is very practical, I’m not a collector, I don’t stock up on things except for perhaps books — I have lots of books as I’m constantly doing research.
That’s where I find my mental comfort, where I'm always learning something, always moving forward.
If the power of art is to cause sensations, the power of design is to bring those sensations to the real world with works like Urquiola's.
Next up: tap here to discover Overgaard & Dyrman's artisanal furn approach.