After spending the first half of her professional life as a physical therapist in her native Iceland, Emilia Borgthorsdottir made the transition to industrial design. Coalesse realized her first production piece, the "Sebastopol" table, on the occasion of NeoCon 2011, where her mix-n-match design took the Gold Award in its category. Read on as she talks us through her background and her latest work.
Core77: So first things first, can you tell me about your background?
Emilia Borgthorsdottir: I'm from Iceland. I've lived in the States for five years now and it's been two years since I graduated [with a B.S. in industrial design], so this is my first production piece.
I understand you were a physical therapist before becoming a designer?
Yes, yes back in the day. So I was working in a clinic as a physical therapist. Of course, ergonomics and biomechanics are always in my head— always have the body in mind. It's good to have that base of knowledge when you're designing because of course we're always designing for people. Even though it's packaging or whatever, it's always the interaction of the human body to a product. So I think it's very useful.
That was back in Iceland?
Yes, that was back in Iceland.
And you moved to the States to pursue your degree in design?
Yes... my husband was relocated, so that's why I thought I would use the opportunity to study. It takes four years to learn physical therapy, but on my third year, I thought why not pursue my passion for design and take a Masters in ergonomic design instead of rehabilitation? So I thought it would make sense to have this knowledge in the background of design. So I took a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Design.
And that figured into the chair that was at ICFF last year ("Surtur," 2010; above)?
Yes. It's very asymmetrical; it's a chair [in which you] can sit upright, with support for your back, and you can put a cup of coffee or an iPad or whatever [on the shelf] on the side... and then you can shift and lounge in it. It's a good relaxation position for the human body, to have the feet upright, [as well as] good position for the lower back.
The physical therapy [mentality] is always there. You're always thinking about how functional, what positions... we are made for movement, not static positions, so I look at sitting as a movement, not a static position. We don't like being very rigid and sitting in the same position for a long time.
In the new piece ("Sebastopol," 2011), it seems a little less obvious as far as how your background [factors in to your work]...
Yes. But it's functional; it's the practical side of me..,. the problem-solving side of me, as well. Because I'd always wanted a rectangular table, but usually they get so big and blobby and [fill] the middle of the living room when you're not using them, but it's needed when you have friends over or working around it.
But then when you're not using it, you don't need that big of a surface [so] you can pull it apart, use it as a side table, make it into a fun shape—[to really get creative with it].
How did you like working with Coalesse?
It's amazing, it's like a dream come true, because such a strong group was behind this table. And it shows you that a good idea becomes fantastic when you have the team behind it. How it's executed, it's fantastic.
Do you have any interesting projects in the future?
Always, of course. But it's just the beginning. I'm focusing on this now... you will see more later on.