Here at Extreme, the most crucial aspect of our design process takes place before we even begin to design. Before we sketch, measure or collate materials, we must first establish the design concept for any given project. For us, the design concept is the roadmap for the evolution of the project, guiding us and informing every decision, every detail.

Our design concepts begin with inspiration derived from our clients. An Extreme inspiration covers all of the fundamental factors to create an ergonomic, functional and enjoyable space in which to live. However, it also goes beyond these pragmatic and practical points to establish a story.

“To say that something is designed means it has intentions that go beyond its function. Otherwise it’s just planning.” — Ayse Birsel , Designer, Author and Co-founder of Birsel + Seck

Whilst our approach is unique to our industry, inspiration is widely used in the world of design. Designers, artists and makers have used inspiration to influence their work for millennia. In this article, we share the role that inspiration plays in design and take you on an exploration of some iconic designs in architecture, fashion and furniture.

THE ROLE OF INSPIRATION IN DESIGN

Inspiration plays an integral role in design; it could even be argued that one cannot exist without the other. Inspiration opens new creative possibilities, and it is often when designers and artists are inspired that the most groundbreaking designs are born. Whatever the industry, from architecture to automotive design, inspiration is the catalyst for fresh ideas, pushing boundaries and exploring new concepts.

One of the quotes which we feel captures this best is from Lorinda Mamo who said, “Every great design begins with an even better story”. After all, it is the story that drives the design narrative.

The sources of inspiration are unlimited and come in many different forms, whether it is an object, an emotion, a memory, a location, to name a few. Even the work of other designers can be a source of inspiration. The great art and design movements throughout history are proof of how the impact of one designer’s work can influence a generation of designers.

Some designers draw on a unique inspiration for each design, while others cite one source of inspiration that influences their entire body of work. Architect Antoni Gaudi famously said, “Nothing is art if it does not come from nature”, a belief that is reflected in his buildings such as the Sagrada Familia. Interestingly, nature is a recurrent source of inspiration for many architects and designers, as we reveal later in this article.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi
Sagrada Familia Antoni Gaudi nature inspired architecture

We have collated a handful of designs in architecture, fashion and furniture to illustrate this technique in practice. Read on to uncover the inspiration behind each design.

GUANGZHOU OPERA HOUSE, ZAHA HADID

The Guangzhou Opera House by architect Zaha Hadid, draws inspiration from its location. The building is shaped to resemble two pebbles on the bank of the Pearl River. The design has been particularly influenced by river valleys – and the way in which they are transformed by erosion. 

The Guangzhou Opera House, China. Architect Zaha Hadid, 2010.

“The design evolved from the concepts of a natural landscape and the fascinating interplay between architecture and nature; engaging with the principles of erosion, geology and topography” – Dezeen.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, SPRING/SUMMER 2001, VOSS

Alexander McQueen was known for his groundbreaking clothes, shocking catwalk shows and precise tailoring. One of his most iconic collections was Spring/Summer 2001, VOSS.

The collection takes its title from the Norwegian town of the same name, which is famous for its wildlife habitat and suggests that the collection celebrates nature. From skirts and dresses constructed from razor-clams, mussels and oyster shells, to feather skirts and a headdress composed of taxidermied hawks, the concept of nature is present in each piece.

alexander mcqueen fashion collection - razor clam shell dress

Dress – McQueen, VOSS 2001

The idea for this dress made from razor-clam shells came to McQueen when he discovered the shells during a walk on a beach in Norfolk.

The design steps beyond nature as inspiration, by incorporating real pieces of nature into the dress.

Alexander McQueen fashion collection inspired by nature

Ensemble – McQueen, VOSS, 2001


Overdress of panels from a nineteenth-century Japanese silk screen; underdress of oyster shells; neckpiece of silver and Tahiti pearls

GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM – FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

As one of the youngest buildings to be deemed a New York City Landmark at just 31 years old, the Guggenheim’s unique architecture made this building an instant icon. Wright often brought aspects of nature into his buildings with his use of natural light, plants, and water. At the Guggenheim Museum, it is thought that a nautilus shell inspired the spiral ramp and that the radial symmetry of a spider web informed the design of the rotunda skylight.

Guggenheim Museum architecture spiral staircase shell inspiration
Guggenheim Museum interior
The Guggenheim Museum, New York. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939
Guggenheim architecture rotunda skylight inspired by spiders web

TOM DIXON

The Tom Dixon studio is renowned for creating furniture and lighting designs with an aesthetic that is intrinsically inspired by the brand’s British roots, the products are internationally recognised and appreciated for their pioneering use of materials and techniques. Tom Dixon speaks openly of the unusual inspirations behind each of his designs in his book, Dixonary, which is a fascinating read.

Copper Shade, 2005

(and an astronaut) ‘Fascinated by hi-tech processes and desperate to obtain a perfect reflective surface on my lamps in a bid to make an over-scaled, basic yet extravagant spotlight that could use convenient bulbs and concentrate their output into a soft but narrow beam, I read up on a process called thin film vapour deposition, more commonly described as a vacuum metallization, which is commonly used in sunglasses. In this process, our polycarbonate ball is placed in a vacuum chamber, the air is sucked out and BANG – an immense electrical charge vaporizes a small strip of copper foil into a mist of particles that settle on the lamp in a coating between 0.01 and 0.02 micrometres thick. If the object is free of dust, this creates a perfect mirror and a beautiful optical effect.’

Serpentine Sofa, 2003

(and the Matchbox Motorway): ‘Toulouse airport has these snaking through the departure hall of Terminal D. Four outside curves make a useful seating space around a column in a fashion shop on London’s Bond Street. Arrayed in a U-shape facing inward, Serpentine Sofa makes a useful conversation pit for a futuristic interior.’

Plump Chair 2008

(and Prize Sow, by E Brown): For this piece, Dixon transforms notions of plumpness observed in a painting of an overfed pig into an overstuffed sofa.

‘I don’t know about you, but for me a proper sofa has to be fat and stuffed. Plump chair is an attempt at making as simple, inviting and generous a form as possible. The objective was also to allow for a secondary sitting position, to actively encourage the slobbing around and social aspect of comfy-chair-and-sofa life – perching of the back, legs over the arms – and give room for a mug of tea or a couple of small children to hide in the folds.’

THE SHARD – RENZO PIANO

The Shard, designed by architect Renzo Piano, draws inspiration from the spires of London churches depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, and the masts of tall ships. The Shard is designed as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames.

Fundamental to Piano’s vision of the building was the idea of lightness and transparency. For all its height, The Shard would be an elegant spire in contrast to the bulky high-rises of the past. Realizing this idea meant using glass in a highly innovative way.

The Shard, London. Architect Renzo Piano, 2009
A View of Greenwich from the River, Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), c. 1750-2

LOTUS TEMPLE – FARIBORZ SAHBA

The Lotus Temple – a Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi – is built in the shape of a floating half-open lotus flower set amidst pools and gardens. The temple is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad “petals” arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides.

The Lotus Temple, New Dehl. Architect Fariborz Sahba, 1986
Lotus Temple, New Dehli, Flower Architecture
Lotus Temple Flower Architecture

EXTREME INSPIRATION

At Extreme, we believe that the most impactful designs are those with a strong inspiration, or story, that flows through to every detail. This design story transcends material and function to create a one of a kind room that evokes a strong emotional connection.

The story is at the heart of an Extreme design, and it stems from our belief that ownership is for enjoyment, not for ownership’s sake. Ownership for enjoyment is about surrounding oneself with objects that fill us with joy, that resonate with us by reflecting our identity and reconnecting us with our life’s story.

For some of our clients, their story is as apparent as the experience of a treasured memory or shared passion. For others, it could be a design style that resonates with them or a subtle interpretation of their values and lifestyle. Whatever the story, the resulting design is one of sentimental value that enables our clients to relive their most cherished memories or ideas every day.

At Extreme, we’re passionate about creating truly unique kitchen and fitted furniture designs that are inspired by each client. If you would like to find out more information about our design process, please call 020 8846 8000 or enquire via our website form.

Image Courtesy: Alexander McQueen – Met Museum / Guggenheim Spiral Staircase – Architetural Digest / Guggenheim Interior – Guggenheim Musem / Guangzhou Opera House – Dezeen / Tom Dixon – The Guardian / The Shard / The Lotus Temple – Britannica