Quiet Spaces: Anne Kyyro Quinn

Quiet Spaces: Anne Kyyrö Quinn

In her recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking the American author Susan Cain confirms what many of us intuitively know: noise is a distraction. Cain’s book is one of this year’s best sellers, a clarion call to those of us who need peace and quiet, rather than buzz and chatter, to fuel creativity. Cain provides us with a fascinating explanation of the inner workings of our brains that make minimum disruption so important. But I suspect that London-based designer Anne Kyyrö Quinn could have told us all of this, years ago; textile designers such as Kyyrö Quinn have long been responding to the importance of quiet.

Anne Kyyrö Quinn was born in Finland and arrived in England as a student of London Guildhall University (now London Metropolitan University), before launching her studio in 1999. Ironically, a return trip to Finland as an exchange student introduced her to felt – the material that is now core to her design practice. “I fell in love with felt,” she explains of her time in Finland learning to create felt by hand, “you can mould it, it is three dimensional.” Today Kyyrö Quinn uses industrial felt to emulate many of the properties she first experienced as a student. Simplicity, she confirms, has remained central to her visual values.

Textiles can provide positive acoustic properties for an interior, and felt happens to be a particularly effective material for sound absorbency. Foregrounding the benefits of noise control, Kyyrö Quinn describes her work today as “bespoke acoustic wall panels”. The surface area available to absorb noise is increased by the use of three-dimensional patterning. These properties make her portfolio ideal for noisy settings such as restaurants and meeting rooms. Visually, the outcome is something akin to op art. A largely monochrome palette is shared across the eighteen core designs in her portfolio, while the dimensional patterning produces strong cast shadows that morph and shift depending on the viewer’s perspective.

Today Kyyrö Quinn’s work is often the outcome of commissions made in collaboration with architects and in response to site visits. She explains that this way of working brings newness to her portfolio, and provides her with the opportunity of hearing and seeing suggestions from another professional perspective. Her choice of an unobtrusive palette is hardly accidental, an element of taste that she connects to her Scandinavian roots, but happens to also compliment many commercial and domestic interiors. Industrial felt is sourced from Germany, where the country’s manufacturing base means that some textile production has survived. Over three hundred colours are available in the existing range, and while bespoke dyeing is possible, it is often unnecessary. Each piece is cut, sewn and finished by hand, with the construction of many projects taking place at her London studio. A further team works in Helsinki on designs that are laminated onto boards to create panels. In many cases, final assembly takes place in situ.

For this article, Anne and I met at her London studio and, after a quick tour, sat and chatted in a ‘concept shell’ she was creating for the British office furniture company Bene. With an exterior clad in her Laine design, the moveable panels have all the attributes Susan Cain has observed of the new workspace – ease of adaptability and crucially the acknowledgement that – at least some of the time – a quiet space to think is most conducive to work. Cain is clear to point out that these work place needs are of particular importance to the generation of creative ideas, which for some time now have been misleadingly heralded as the result of open-plan offices and group brain storming meetings. In fact Cain observes of the current work place, “we took things a step further than the facts called for. We came to value transparency and to knock down walls – not only online but also in person. We failed to realise that what makes sense for the asynchronous, relatively autonomous interactions of the Internet might not work as well inside the face-to-face, politically charged, acoustically noisy confines of an open-plan office.”

Kyyrö Quinn’s London studio is found along a row of studios tucked under renovated railway arches. As London’s trains trundled overhead, we sat in the textile-clad shell, which provided a sense of focus and concentration often absent from ubiquitous glass and cement interiors that make up so many workplaces today. While the common stereotype of felt is a warm material suited for the low temperatures of northern climates, it is in fact private home cinemas in the Middle East that are a flourishing area of Kyyrö Quinn’s business. Here her design work often takes place alongside audio-visual experts and architects and begins at the planning stage of commissions. After getting over the surprise of finding felt welcomed in such warm climates, the home cinema makes sense: these are settings where a high level of acoustic quality is required, combined with a desire to invest in the bespoke to create a visually, as well as aurally, appealing context.

Recently, opportunities have also come from the other side of the film industry’s lens. Two years ago her “Lola” ottoman featured in the character Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment for the film Sex in the City 2, creating a rush of orders for the identical colour ottoman, and this summer saw the release of film director Ridley Scott’s Prometheus featuring her “Leaf” design on set. This year Helsinki is designated as the World Design Capital. Kyyrö Quinn returns to participate in the “Home Sweet Home” exhibition organised by the Pro Artibus Foundation through October 7, 2012. She acknowledges that, as a designer, she is “better known outside Finland” than within, but sees her work continually defined by Finnish design values: “paired down, functional, and lasting design rather than fads and trends.”

Further images of work by Anne Kyyrö Quinn can be accessed via http://www.annekyyroquinn.com

Surface Design Journal (fall 2012: 6-9)