Israelis design beauty
Albi Serfaty with the Lucky Lamp. (photo from Aqua Creations)
When Renee Switzer launched the SwitzerCultCreative showroom in 2016, she was adamant that they include pieces by Israeli furniture and lighting designers, giving them a Canadian stage exclusive to Vancouver.
“I visited the New York showroom of Aqua Creations in 2015, and their designs completely blew me away,” said Switzer of the Israeli brand. “The same with Hagit’s [Pincovici] furniture, that reflect beautiful craftsmanship made in Italy and have never been seen here before.”
Together with her son, Adam Bellas, and daughter, Jennifer Wosk, the third generation of a legacy begun by their grandfather in the 1960s, Switzer is delving into modern, high-end furniture collections for Vancouver interiors.
It’s impossible to look at Aqua Creations’ lamps, lighting installations and furniture without feeling a sense of wonderment. The urge to curl up in the enveloping Gladis Lounge Chair in the SwitzerCultCreative showroom is overpowering. When co-founder Albi Serfaty heard my confession, he laughed in agreement. “This is what art is all about,” he said, Skyping from his home in Tel Aviv. “There must be this emotional connection, both for me as a designer, because I’m passionate about my work, and hopefully from our pieces as interior décor in a home, a restaurant or hotel.”
What began in 1994 as a small atelier in Tel Aviv is now a global brand with an Aqua Creations showroom in New York and their lighting installations worldwide, including 1 Hotel, Brooklyn; Savoy Hotel, Seychelles; and Hotel Okura Fukuoka, Japan.
As a photographer and designer, Serfaty re-interprets organic forms and abstract sea life into lighting and furniture. Morning Glory Floor Lamps, in silk over metal, when illuminated, seem to take on an otherworldly beauty all their own. Collections since 1994 show a definite evolutionary progression, with current geometric shapes like the Simon Says Yes Pendant, part of Aqua Creations’ Mino Collection. Whether as a singular hanging pendant or grouped together as colourful wall mounts, as shown in the SwitzerCultCreative showroom, they add a sculptural yet functional addition to interiors.
If you can imagine thousands of magnified neurons under a microscope, you will see the genesis of the Mimosa Collection. Composed of laser-cut galvanized metal, sprayed with clear polymer, the hand-sculpted shades transmit a dreamy, calming light.
The Lucky Lamp wall fixtures are Serfaty’s newest iteration, using groundbreaking technology in which each sustainable and dimmable light is controlled by a micro-computer that alters colour, motion and intensity.
“I’d love to collaborate in the future with a fashion designer like Missoni,” confided Serfaty, “and, at some point, build a place that combines home, work and studio in one location.” He added, “I’m like a sheep dog in that way – I like everything together.”
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When Hagit Pincovici was a little girl in her grandparents’ atelier in Tel Aviv, she remembers the exhilaration of playing with and running between colourful sheets of Plexiglass that would eventually be moulded into trays, frames and furniture by her artisan grandparents.
“When my grandfather left Romania for Israel, he brought the recipe for making Plexiglass and I remember it was a kind of paradise looking through all the colourful pieces,” said Pincovici, now third-generation maker, in a Skype interview while she was visiting Tel Aviv.
It’s not entirely coincidental, then, that her multi-hued Art Deco-inspired furniture evokes a modern twist on a bygone era. Pincovici’s From Above Coffee Table from the Eclipse Collection is a geometric Carrara marble “moon” integrated into an abstract path of black shadow and coral sun in lacquered wood on a brushed brass base. Flamingo Storage Side Table, also from the Eclipse Collection, is a stunning sculptural platform perched atop stilt-like legs inspired by its namesake; a secret compartment rotates out to store jewelry, if placed in a bedroom, or becomes a handy bar for drinks, sure to spark conversation in the living room. The Metaphysics Sideboard is Pincovici’s take on elegance. The blue and black lacquered geometric wood console designed at multiple heights is mounted on brushed brass and immediately recalls the glamour of the 1920s and ’30s. “I love the thin minimalist lines just bordering on the decorative,” she explained.
After working her way up as head of product development for Aqua Creations in Israel and organizing their exhibition at the annual Salone del Mobile, in Milan, Pincovici decided to relocate to Italy, “where I fell in love with the Italian spirit of creativity,” not to mention her husband, Fabrizio Checchi.
She opened her own design studio in the furniture district of Brianza in 2014, where she sketches her designs by hand. The furniture is made with traditional craftsmanship and sold internationally. When not working on her first collection of lighting, Pincovici is also an instructor at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti) in Milan.
“You know, we [Israeli] designers are like chameleons,” said Pincovici. “I don’t think we share a common style but we do share that drive to create and, in Italy, they really appreciate that approach.”
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London-born Eli Chissick of Chissick Design is waxing poetic about wood. Skyping from his home-studio near Tel Aviv, the award-winning designer is concerned about the environment, recycling and products that will increase the mobility of people with disabilities.
Unlike the vast forests found in Canada, trees are not harvested for the lumber industry in Israel and wood is usually imported. That forces the industrial and product designer to be ingenious about scavenging off-cuts and repurposed wood from carpentry floors. “It’s a magical transformation when I sort what is usually thrown out, then press it into large sheets from which I create my furniture,” said Chissick.
The results are as sculptural as they are utilitarian. Mosaica, from Chissick’s Wood-Con-Fusion series, is a coffee table (or bench) composed of more than 2,000 intricate puzzle pieces of multi-coloured wood. The Marmelade coffee table is a mouth-watering compote of wood with inlaid lime-, raspberry- and white-striped Formica laminate. It’s built on wheels for easy manoeuvring in any space.
“I’m really excited about working with Renee at SwitzerCultCreative because I’m now able to send my furniture designs created on the computer to her and then have many pieces handmade in British Columbia with the same quality as in Israel,” said Chissick.
Those pieces include the Gradient Cocktail Table, handcrafted from eight types of veneer juxtaposed from light to dark in wenge, imbuia, American walnut, teak, African walnut, anigre, white oak and maple. Mirror 2012, from Chissick’s Wood-Con-Fusion series, is set in a painted and lacquered salvaged wood frame and can be customized in various colours. (It was a 2015 platinum winner at the U.S. ADEX Awards for Product and Project Design.)
He’s also a proponent of TOMS (Tikkun Olam Makers), a global movement of makers who donate their specialties to create solutions for people struggling with a debilitating problem. Over three days, 100 designers, engineers and techies meet with potential users personally then brainstorm in small groups and set to work making prototypes. Chissick has participated in these “Makeathons” in both Tel Aviv and San Francisco, resulting in a walker that allows a person to navigate stairs, a door opener for someone who has quadriplegia, and a digital hand and a high-tech go-cart for a child with disabilities, to name only a few.
Switzer, who has visited Israel several times, is planning a scouting trip there in 2018. “It gives me tremendous personal gratification to showcase such talented makers,” she said.
For more information, visit switzercultcreative.com or call 604-736-3020.
Laura Goldstein (lauragoldsteinwriter.com) was an arts publicist and writer in Toronto for 22 years before moving to Vancouver. She’s a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail’s design section, Westcoast Homes & Design, Canadian House & Home and Destination BC, among many others. A highlight of her career was covering the Royal Tour in Vancouver last year.