Michael Anastassiades Coordinates another Lighting sensation
Since founding his eponymous design studio in 2007, Michael Anastassiades has transformed the landscape of lighting in his own image. Among many memorable designs, his brass-and-glass spherical fixtures are such a glowing success story that they have been endlessly copied. (“The sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,” according to Oscar Wilde.) An industrial designer who trained at London’s RCA, Anastassiades doesn’t just do lighting — his ever-expanding portfolio includes beds, tables, shelving, and chairs for the likes of Cassina, Molteni, B&B Italia, GTV, or Herman Miller — but his mastery of light is a defining feature of his practice. Case in point: his new Coordinates collection, recently launched by lighting-design company FLOS. PIN–UP called the Cypriot-born designer in his London workshop to find out more.
Felix Burrichter: I remember seeing Coordinates presented for the first time at Euroluce fair in April 2019 in Milan. It’s always interesting how long it takes in design for a product to actually hit the market.
Michael Anastassiades: Yes. But Coordinates had debuted way earlier. A year and a half before, to be exact, when the architect Isay Weinfeld asked me to design the light fixtures at the new Four Seasons restaurant location in New York. Usually Isay doesn’t work with other designers in lighting. But he came to me with a very open brief and said, “I love your approach. I want you to be the sole designer for all the lights in the space, including table lamps, bar lamps, the main dining space …” I couldn’t say no. Obviously, this was not the old Four Seasons, which was absolutely spectacular. The new location on East 49th Street was heavily architecturally compromised. The ceilings were a bit low in the dining space and it was two spaces connected only with a narrow corridor. I went multiple times and together with Isay we came up with a concept of coordinates — like hatching in three dimensions. We used FLOS Bespoke, which is Lukas Lighting in New York, to have it made. It was quite a complex structure, but it worked as one big massive element in the dining area.
Were you paying homage to the classic Richard Lippold sculpture installed above the bar at the old Four Seasons at the Seagram Building?
Absolutely. But it wasn’t about replicating the old Four Seasons. It just needed to resonate in a meaningful way. I remember asking Isay, “Does it feel like a big burden on you that you’re suddenly designing the new Four Seasons?” He said to me, “Michael, it can never be the Four Seasons. It’s a different space, so how can it be Four Seasons? It’s another restaurant.” This is how he saw it, and he did an incredible job. It was very beautiful. Then the whole place shut down less than a year after it opened. It’s a bit of a sad story, because Isay did an amazing job.
But at least you can now buy the lighting for it…
Yes. (Laughs.) We launched the structure last year with (former FLOS CEO) Piero Gandini in Milan. At the time we also decided to launch the portable and rechargeable table lamps, which will be released now, in September. They’re slightly different from standard table lamps because it’s more luxurious and it plays with light. It will be in solid glass and fluted, like a Greek column.
During the opening of Things That Go Together, your recent exhibition Cyprus, you mentioned the String Lights collection you also did for FLOS, and how people sometimes send you images of how they arranged them. And it’s not always how you imagined it. When I saw that Coordinates could also be customized, I thought, “Hasn’t he learned anything from the String Lights?”
(Laughs.) Well, with String Lights, the user had full control to do whatever they wanted, and then they made these crazy structures. I think that with Coordinates I’m taking back control slowly. The whole idea is moving from the bespoke side of producing into the domestic approach. Before, interior designers and architects would work with a company like FLOS to design a customized piece. After some back and forth, the client would receive their customized structure, but it wasn’t something that the individual could do himself or herself. So, we shifted the project from that extreme. We want to design and sell standardized things that are already pre-assembled.
Could you buy individual modules and every year, let’s say for your birthday, you buy one more, and you can keep adding onto your ever-growing Coordinates chandelier?
Yes. Sort of. There are different standard configurations. We’ve done a configuration that goes above a rectangular table, we’ve done a configuration that goes above a square or round table, and we’ve done a configuration that you can hang independently in a different space like a stairwell. But, we also made a configuration which is referred to as a module. The idea is that you combine them in different ways and you suspend two, or three, or four, or five, or whatever, and then you create larger areas. You can keep adding one next to each other, and then you grow in different dimensions up or down or this way or that way. The module is the one that you can multiply.
You have so much faith in your customers’ ability to put this together.
It’s interesting because at the end of the day, interior designers and architects love certain things. They love certain pictures. They want to use this, they want to use that. They always want to do it in a different color. Every time, it’s the same story. “We love this fixture. Can you make it in another color?” I think as a designer I need to acknowledge that desire and understand how to negotiate this freedom and how much control you want to allow. If you allow too much control in the same way that we did with String Lights, it becomes too much freedom for the client, and they’re overwhelmed. But if you’re giving them something that is already there that they can combine, that’s when it works.
What is the historical precedent for this kind of lighting system?
The classic example is the Gropius lamp from the 1920s, although it wasn’t modular in the same way Coordinates is. Gropius falls more in the architectural category because he conceived the lights specifically for that space at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Even if you look at all the early 20th-century Austrians — architects like Hoffmann or Loos — they conceived certain lights but they were always designed for a specific site.
Lastly, I really like the drawings you did for Coordinates.
Thank you. I like these drawings a lot. I asked to include them, because we got into the project pretty quickly for the Four Seasons commission, and then, when it came to draw, it started looking better as a plan, in terms of how you actually mark space, and it’s almost like trying to shape spaces in three dimensions. For me, the drawings work really well in explaining that because they are the three-dimensional grid that allows you to shift from the X-Y-Z axis to construct this structure within the space. The drawings in that format are quite powerful and representative of the idea as a whole.
Interview by Felix Burrichter.
Images courtesy of Michael Anastassiades and FLOS.
Coordinates lighting system is now available through FLOS USA.