Little houses, little boxes - the Mad Lab world of wood

Little houses, little boxes - the Mad Lab world of wood

Mad Lab likes to think small. Choose from Useful or Soul objects, all hand-made from sustainable woods

By Sophie Barritt
Keep your desk tidy with Mad Lab storage boxes and pen holders

Mad Lab puts its efforts into designing on the small scale, because it's the little things that come to mean a lot. Pictured above: Keep your desk tidy with pieces from the Useful range. Find products in the online shop.

When we talk about design studios, we tend to imagine product designers in the interiors sector hard at work on, well, large things, such as sofas or chairs, or very useful things, say kitchen utensils or water-saving taps. We don't associate them so much with little things, and certainly not decorative things.
 
But Mad Lab is an independent contemporary design studio in Madrid that's all about beautiful hand-made little wooden objects, some useful, some purely decorative. So the product offer is divided into Useful and Soul objects, with the former offering small storage boxes, desk-tidies and homewares such as trivets, while the latter offers collections of little wooden houses and buildings which reflect architectural styles from around the world. They are utterly charming and are perfect for the collector - and young children no doubt love to get their hands on them too. 
 
Oh, and these objects are the work of leading industrial designers, who've been delighted to collaborate with Mad Lab: Hector Serrano, Borja Garcia and Mario Ruiz, as well as Antonio Serrano, co-founder of the business.
 
The houses are lovely and perfect for collectors
A tidy desk is a productive desk..
Houses are made in different styles inspired by architecture around the world
Collections are colourful - and all pieces are made in Spain
Trivets for tables and worktops - very useful
Tiny houses for an alternative Christmas 'tree' - one that sits on the wall
Serrano explains that Mad-Lab was born in 2012, when Spain was suffering the worst effects of the global economic recession: 'It was a time when many design businesses and shops were closing – and yet paradoxically, there was also a resurgence of respect for design and the creative industries. 
 
'So we felt it was the moment to start our adventure in producing pieces that had design value, roots in the things of daily life that surround us, that were artisanal, sustainable, beautiful, durable and could be passed down the generations.'
 
'Our pieces have a singularity about them which makes them appealing, they're made from sustainable wood and they're affordable. And of course the logistics of making and transporting products of this size are so much easier than dealing with large scale product.'
 
Modes of transport in wood - miniatures by Borja Garcia
The wooden pieces are beautifully made and will last for many years
We've been living through a period that's been about divesting ourselves of 'stuff', where 'less is more'. So do people really want to spend their money on decorative pieces that take up space on shelves lots of them won't have? 
 
Serrano, who runs the studio with co-founder Mar López, thinks the urge to collect is part of the human condition and it's never gone away. 'It's always been important for us to have in our lives objects that are meaningful or become meaningful – things we develop an emotional connection to because they remind us of a time, or a place or a person. Think about talismans or lucky charms, or how we fetishize something... objects can become powerful.'
 
He says for Mad Lab, soul and usefulness are the two constant guiding words, while design in the widest sense is a toolbox that 'creates objects that meet a need and provoke emotions'. And for Serrano, if you buy something that pleases you, there is an unbreakable bond between the you the owner, and the designer and the maker.
 
If that sounds quite philosophical, Mad-Lab is firmly rooted in the commercial world because if you don't make products that sell, you don't have a business. And to make products that people want to buy, you do, of course, have to know your customer.
 
Serrano says Mad-Lab customers don't buy for the sake of it but are happy to spend money on things of beauty, that have an integrity about them, that they know will last and have a potential to become meaningful. They're people who like to support small businesses against the power of the mass producer. 
 
Architecture in mini form
 
Mad Lab's Soul objects are essentially small wooden buildings made in different styles – so neat houses or New York-style skyscrapers, or European factories. They made in families, in different colours and they're pieces to collect over time. But why the focus on buildings, and not, say, animals or figurines?
 
'I think for us, buildings represent the idea of a refuge,' says Serrano. 'And what's associated with refuge is home, a place to be yourself, a place to live.'
 
The house is Mad-Lab's emblem and all the designers we work with put their interpretation on it..which they do with great aplomb.'
 
Ask if he feels the Mad-Lab products are aimed more at men than women, Serrano says the question never occurred to him: 'We don't see them as masculine or feminine.' 
 
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