In tune with nature: designer Martin Azua

In tune with nature: designer Martin Azua

Top designer Martín Azúa talks about nature, craft, going local and his Numbered collection of homewares that he hopes will make daily life better

By Abby Trow
Martin Azua

Based in Barcelona, Martín Azúa is one of Spain's top designers. He's known for his furniture and lighting, but lately has been getting back to nature and working with local craftspeople on limited edition homewares. Pictured above: Azua (centre) likes things to do at least two a wall hook also becomes a picture frame.

Youthful enthusiasm for the unconventional or the avant garde often passes, and the older you get, the more you play safe and conform to the norm. 
This hasn't happened, though, to award-winning designer Martín Azúa. He's been a leading name in the high echelons of design since the '90s, but has never sacrificed his commitment to the experimental or dampened down his idiosyncratic approach to product and space design. 
Azúa's portfolio spans furniture and lighting design (clients include Mobles 114, Arturo Alvarez, Vibia); sanitaryware (for Roca, Porcelanosa, L'Antic Colonial, Cosmic); and rugs (for nanimarquina and shoe brand Camper). However, environmental concerns are occuping him these days and he wants to see design less focused on industrialised manufacturing and more open to working with craftspeople using locally sourced, sustainable materials where possible. 
While he's very happy to design for the big brands, Azua's focused on his own brand, Numbered, which offers useful and lovely pieces of homeware designed by him and made from sustainable materials by talented local craftsmen and women. 
Magma rugs, hand made in Murcia using local esparto grasses. Around £590,
Ceramic vases with raw stones
Move It, rocking stools made from esparto grass, from £280.
Kantir clay water bottles keep water cool without a fridge. Made by potter Marc Vidal. 85 euros or £61-ish
For outdoor use, table top clay fire vase, €260/£187
Tread rug made in Murcia from esparto grass, originally designed for Camper, Approx £537 for rug 200x150cms

Azúa is amused to see that the world is in the grip of an 'artisan-made' trend, but it's not a trend to him, rather it's the future as well as the past and the present.

'Gosh, everything has an 'artisan-made' or 'artisan-inspired' label at the moment,' he says. But he's been collaborating with artisans for the past 15 years, so it's nothing new for him. And while he doesn't like 'trends', he does think keeping ancient crafts and skills alive is a wholly good thing and if he can do his bit to keep small studios in work, then he's happy.

And he's doing just that with his own Numbered collection of products for the home, which are made by craftspeople in and around Barcelona using natural materials such as terracotta, grasses and wood. Some of the products are limited edition – the Kántir terracotta water cooler for example is limited to 250 pieces, while others can be made to order with no limit on numbers. Ideas are charming - the Bread and Love metal rings to make a bread basket, for example, and Wellspring, a piece of porous rock that's hollowed out so you put plants in it and watch a cave-like eco system develop.



Dolce felt rose petal rug for nanimarquina,
Simple, sturdy, comfortable..Luco beech wood stools with iron footrests for Mobles 114
Om Manantial polypropylene chair you can share with plants and animals, £450 ish
Totem Mortem pestle and mortar, walnut wood and marble. 750 units.

'The ethicality/environmental impact of materials has been a side issue for manufacturers for too long'

He's hugely interested sustainability and says manufacturers' choice of material 'is an enormous responsibility'; yet until fairly recently, considerations around the ethicality/environmental impact of materials has been a side issue, 'with the look and feel of a material taking precedence'. 
But it can't be justified to use non-renewable materials, he asserts, 'because there are always other options', and everyone involved in design needs to make choices according to what's beneficial in a global context. 'And we also have to choose materials according to their life cycle,' he says. Which means if a product will almost inevitably have to end up in landfill where it will create methane emissions and take 500 years to decompose, well, think again and choose a material that can be recycled. In short, think cradle-to-cradle.
Azúa says materials he likes to work with include wood, ceramic and plant fibres. 'I like materials that need very little processing,' he says. 'I think we live best in environments where we find texture, colour, warmth and a connection to nature - to things that have always been here.. such as trees.'
Bread and Love  - a perfect wedding gift. Two metal rings when combined with a napkin become a lovely bread basket. 85 euros,
Wellspring 'cave' planter - an piece of sculpture with a purpose.. made from porous rock, fill it with soil and plants and a cave-like eco system will develop. Around £790
'And I do think we can learn a lot from the natural world..its rigour, its economy. Sure flowers can be very ornate and complex but each part of them has a purpose, there's nothing gratuitous or extraneous in their make-up. I do try in my designs to imbue in them a sense of the natural world.'
You see what he means when you look at rugs he's designed for nanimarquina and for Camper. For the former, his Dolce rug is made up of wool felt red rose petals, while for shoe brand Camper he designed Tread rugs, which are woven by craftswomen in the Spanish region of Murcia from locally grown needle (esparto) grass. They comprise individual footprints that resemble the soles of espadrilles, which are sewn together to create area rugs. A simple, fun but clever idea. 
And while he does design with timelessness and longevity in mind, he doesn't care a jot about whether his designs could be headed for 'design classic' status. He thinks too many designers worry about this, when it's rather a pointless preoccupation. 'There are very few objects or products in the history of design that have a life of their own in subsequent decades let alone centuries.'
As to whether there are particular projects he likes to work on, he says what really interests him is 'daily life' and making it better for people. So  whether it's a lamp, a stool or a bread basket, what he enjoys is bringing out 'the poetry and the narrative' of the piece. 
Numbered collection products can be ordered online, shipping costs are additional.