Storytelling through design, Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop learns, is at the heart of Johannes Torpe’s practice.
Johannes Torpe doesn’t shy away from talking about his personal life, especially where it informs his work. The designer says he turned a recent heartbreak into a new sofa for Moroso. “I was doodling broken hearts, feeling sorry for myself. And then I thought, ‘This could make a great sofa.’ So I started to draw more and more, adding details such as the stitching.”
The Heartbreaker sofa, with armrests representing two halves of a heart, can be complemented by Precious chairs – which came about when Torpe attempted to create an engagement ring a year earlier – and both feature a metal base profile running along the frame that, in the case of the sofa, lightens its substantial volume.
“The only thing you have in your life is your own story, and if you dare to share it, you’ll find that it’s very rewarding. You get so much in return. Many people don’t want to share their stories because they fear being pointed out. But what do I have to lose?” the 46-year-old says.
The self-taught designer has had an unusual career path, expressing his creativity in a wide variety of fields, from music and product design to interior design, all the while developing a distinctive aesthetic that combines the clear-cut shapes of his Scandinavian heritage with playfulness.
Raised in a hippy commune in northern Denmark, the designer, the son of a painter mother and a musician father, feels he grew up with a pencil in one hand and a drumstick in the other. He was mostly loosely homeschooled, which encouraged him to create his own universe.
When he was 12, he moved to Copenhagen and quickly got his first job in a drum store to avoid further schooling. By 19, he had founded and sold his first stage light design company, and invested the proceeds in a struggling nightclub that he had bought with three partners. This led to his first major interior design project: the all-white private members club nasa, a futuristic ode to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie that had left a deep impression on Torpe as a child.
From then on, his interests evolved organically, coming to encompass product design, such as the Mormor sofa for hay, for which he received the Danish Design Award in 2007, and a portable laptop table for American office furniture manufacturer Haworth, which became the first laptop table to be sold at the Apple store. He also does spatial design for retailers, offices, restaurants and hotels. Between 2011 and 2015, Torpe even worked as Group Creative Director for Bang & Olufsen, and has been credited with injecting new energy into the high-end consumer electronics brand, developing new products such as the Beoplay headsets and the Beolit 12, which won a coveted Red Dot design award in 2012.
“There is a red thread among all these projects,” he says with a laugh. “It’s always first about telling a story, especially in all the products we do, and creating
He points out that he does not design to sell. “I design to excite and by exciting somebody, he or she will buy it.”
Be it a futuristic nightclub or a sensory retail solution, his Johannes Torpe Studios is on a mission to inspire people to dream, creating spatial designs that transport users to a different universe while bringing people together.
“I believe design should connect people. I think some designers nowadays are thinking too much in terms of how the space is going to photograph and not enough about how it is going to be used. They think in terms of Instagram, not for you and me. Of course, you want the wow factor, but you still have to design for people, otherwise you’re creating what I call a cheating environment: It looks good in the picture, but it’s a terrible space to be in,” Torpe says. “That’s why it’s so important to base your design on the human factor. You have to imagine how it will feel.”
Reflecting this belief, his recent futuristic design for the United Cycling lab & Store, a pro-tour bicycle store in Lynge, Denmark, has plenty of wow factor while still remaining focused on delivering an immersive consumer experience.
The store for passionate riders has bicycles suspended from the ceiling that move up and down, with the action accompanied by a light show across the ceiling. “We were really inspired by churches and wanted to create something almost like a religious room for bicycles,” Torpe says. “This transformable space encourages you to nerd out, but it’s really about offering a unique experience, and providing a sense of community and belonging.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Alastair Philip Wiper (main); Philip Ørneborg (Johannes Torpe); Leonardo Duggento (Precious chairs); Joel Matthias Henry (The Moroso stand)