Suzanne Trocmé Breaks Down the Science of Design

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
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Suzanne Trocme
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When designing a furniture piece or decorating an interior space, it all comes down to science according to British designer, author and curator Suzanne Trocmé.

Trocmé was invited to speak on “The Science of Design” at the recent FURNITEX Industry Seminar Series challenging colour theory, discussing perception and the mathematical attributes that are key to design.

“In architecture and design we really need to think about location and what happens to the frequency of a colour and designing it in a different location and ambience,” explained Trocmé.

The designer chooses not to apply strict colour or Feng shui principles to her creations, believing design begins instead with a “grid or pattern.”

She also explores the mathematical field of chaos theory, also known as the butterfly effect, as an interesting design principle. At The Science of Design, she reminded the professional audience “not to create too much visual information,” citing her 2009 “Allee Chair” as an example. The chair was designed for Bernhardt Design’s Global Edition and looks quite simple, but is quite angular and multifaceted.

“I’m a reductionist, not a minimalist,” said Trocmé, who always designs her chairs in profile first.

Alle Chair by Suzanne Trocmé

Alle Chair by Suzanne Trocmé

Designed for the American marketplace meant the Allee Chair needed to be two inches wider than other chairs. This challenged the design prototype, as Trocmé needed the chair to be the right size without it looking overgrown.

“I use mathematics to try to determine how to visually reduce pieces,” she said. “The back and its ‘ears’ have been cut off. By curving and cutting around the back, I produced a char that wasn’t visually noisy on any level.”

Trocmé explored colour theory, looking to source the perfect red from 12 different shades for the Allee Chair. During this process, she found that as the light dimmed, the reds disappeared at different stages according to where they stood on the colour spectrum.

Trocmé referenced spaces that encompass all the shades of one colour like Nancy Lancaster’s famous ‘yellow room.’ The London drawing room, which she designed with John Fowler in the 1950s, explores different yellow hues, an interesting yet difficult approach to interior design.

Nancy Lancaster Yellow Room

Nancy Lancaster Yellow Room

“Within an interior, if you want to make something pop, then you need to create a colour because how we see and how we perceive can be two very different things,” she explained.

With perception in mind, Trocmé believes a designed product must have balance, form and structure, and should not avoid its space.

“While design starts with structure, mathematics and how we see, the fact is that we are essentially designed by nature biologically so it’s still important to develop a sense of whimsy and a sense of humour with your products,” she said.

Trocmé cites the success of American designer Jonathan Adler, whose inspirations come from 1950s modernism but still manage to hold a contemporary look.

“His products demonstrate classical balance, symmetry and are very, very distinctive… he has confidence with his vision,” she said.

Fibonnaci Series in Design

Fibonnaci Series in Design

As with formulated furniture design, Trocmé referred to another mathematical application that can also be applied to interior design and decoration – understanding the Fibonacci sequence and again exercising a very balanced approach to design.

“Whether you do this in a rustic manner, have uniformity in a slightly more casual way or through collecting pieces,” she explained. “A successful interior is built up from a belief, from understanding composition and then a personality added to the top of it.”

“Design does start with science and we need to see, perceive, look to the future and wonder what is going to happen next,” said Trocmé, who personally predicts a resurface of post modernism.

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