When seeking out materials to build furniture, the first items that come to mind are probably not ice-cream sprinkles, coffee grounds and salt. For Fernando Mastrangelo, however, those materials—along with sugar, sand, porcelain, silica, BB pellets and more—are fertile ground for his MMATERIAL line of furniture, which blends a wide range of materials with casting techniques to create minimal forms with complex structures.
The co-founder of AMMA Studio, Mastrangelo has been practicing as a sculptor for over a decade. He first began dabbling in design in 2013, after he was commissioned to translate his artistic style to a piece of furniture. He continued working on more pieces, eventually building out an entire collection that debuted at the Collective Design fair in New York last month; he branded it as MMATERIAL to separate it from his artistic practice. "The idea making furniture and using natural materials came from my sculpture practice," Mastrangelo says. "I've been casting unique materials for about eight years now, so it was a pretty fluid translation. My sculptures were always highly engineered objects and all the technical knowledge was carried over to the furniture."
MMATERIAL's 350-pound indoor-outdoor chaise longue, made of crushed porcelain and cement An indoor-outdoor console table
For his first few pieces, Mastrangelo didn't do many sketches, instead opting to dive right in, building and casting into wood and silicone molds. With extensive experience casting a variety materials, he knew exactly which pieces would work the best, pouring them into fine-art cement, which was then hand-dyed to create a more utilitarian effect. "I have notebooks filled with formulas from the last eight years of casting materials," he says. "There's almost nothing that's dry and able to be cast that I haven't tried at this point. I just knew which ones were going to work for furniture due to the amount of wear and tear certain materials can handle."
These days, Mastrangelo begins each piece by doing a few simple drawings—"nothing too elaborate," he says, just enough to remember his concept and be able to realize it in the studio. There, he works with a team of five sculptors to take the more complex designs into CAD, rendering them in 3D to figure out details for fabrication or to show collectors what they will be receiving for custom commissions. Next, Mastrangelo spends time thinking about the actual process of making the object, taking his thoughts to his lead fabricator to discuss the engineering of the piece. Then they begin mold-making, using either wood or foam to create the form.
Mold-making for the chaise longue
Once the molds are complete, aggregates are cast with resin to assure a strong archival result. Depending on the piece, sometimes the team will begin with a steel armature surfaced with lightweight but structural core material. Once that underlying structure is in place, the team will cast the cement in such a way to make the cement appear to be an organic stone formation. "We usually blend these techniques and learn from them to push the forms and combinations as far as possible," Mastrangelo says. "It's basically a back and forth of casting aggregates or cement in different combinations or different formats to achieve a variety of outcomes." For MMATERIAL, Mastrangelo focuses on a combination of natural materials mixed with cement to create the language for each collection. After completing the casting, the team sands, grinds, finishes and polishes the final pieces to the desired look. Between each project, Mastrangelo and his team test new techniques, and they are always on the hunt for new materials to cast. "As with most creative endeavors, you learn from work to work what is possible," he says. "Thinking about how I can push the processes of what we do at the studio becomes the main source of inspiration."
More MMATERIAL works in progress Enter a caption (optional) Casting from BBs Enter a caption (optional)
Mastrangelo and his team recently finished their first indoor-outdoor chaise longue , weighing in at 350 pounds. To build the large piece of furniture, which looks something like an oversized rubber band, 150 pounds of crushed porcelain were mixed with resin and set for 16 hours. Then 120 pounds of cement were poured into a wooden mold around a steel armature, which provides structural support to the form.
So is the final seat comfortable? "I think about form and beauty first, then comes function, so that's why I haven't made too many seating pieces yet," Mastrangelo says. "The chaise longue is actually very comfortable and forms to the body pretty well. Most of the collection is ergonomic and I spend a good amount of time thinking about how people will live with them. I also primarily think about these pieces as sculpture and although they are furniture, I won't sacrifice an amazing form if it's not the most ergonomic." As with other sculptural furniture, MMATERIAL pieces do not come cheap—its standard furnishings begin at $4,500 and go up to about $25,000; custom works go up from there, depending on the scale, engineering, materials and time to fabricate.
With this initial foray into outdoor furniture now completed, Mastrangelo will be tackling architectural interiors next, with plans to create cast walls and floor installations. "I want MMATERIAL to be a studio where anything is possible," Mastrangelo says. "Furniture is our gateway to educate architects, interior designers and collectors as to what is possible with the materials we use and the infinite amount of possibilities they present. That is the most exciting part for us."