Cover Slovenian designer Nika Zupanc

From curvy sofas to lamps that take the form of cherries, Nika Zupanc's creative designs capture a sense of playfulness and wonder. The Slovenian product and interior designer tells us more about her design process

Slovenian designer Nika Zupanc is frequently on the move. “I love to walk around the suburbs, the woods, the coast, as well as different cities,” she quips. “I’m just looking around and letting myself find beauty everywhere.”

This applies to her creative state as well; the product and interior designer’s mind is always in motion and filled with ideas for her next project. “My mind works 24/7 like a library, consciously and unconsciously observing and storing images of all sorts with a curiosity akin to a little kid,” she explains. “I find inspiration from everyday life and ordinary things.”

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Zupanc is particularly drawn to “things that are forgotten or seemingly uninteresting”. Her keen sense of curiosity drives her foresight in producing distinctive pieces that are quirky and eclectic. Design, to Zupanc, is all about surprises. 

“I believe in a method of thinking, creating, and putting very different things in an unexpected order,” says the design powerhouse. “I tend to design timeless, elegant and iconic objects that carry an unexpected twist, a surprising detail, or a different order of understanding.”

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In 2008, she set up her namesake studio in Ljubljana, Slovakia. In the same year, she debuted the Lolita lamp for Netherlands design company Moooi. Injecting personality into any space with its elegance and timelessness, the lamp—alongside its tagline ‘who is afraid of pink?’—quickly garnered international attention. Her other products, including the feminine Ribbon chair and the iconic Cherry lamp for Italian design brand Qeeboo, centered her position as a product designer with a masterful narrative approach. 

“I believe design today has a very strong voice and a great storytelling ability,” says Zupanc. “My designs are therefore always a story. This is created by merging the philosophy of our studio with the philosophy of the company I work with. This interesting and fruitful relationship creates exciting new products.”

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This collaborative spirit is exemplified in Zupanc’s latest products for luxury furnishings company Sé Collection. Having first collaborated with the brand in 2014, Zupanc unveiled two new products for the brand—the Grace sofa and the Silence lamp—at Milan Design Week 2021. 

“The Grace sofa was inspired by seashells and the strokes of [Italian painter Sandro] Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. It was designed in hunger for something new but yet very familiar,” reveals Zupanc. “It’s created for a very special atmosphere that’s mysterious and inviting at the same time.” 

The Silence lamp, with its curvy silhouette, is intended to imbue a room with calm. “Full Moon, the previous lamp I created for Sé, was more directional and anglepoise in style. For the Silence lamp, I wanted to design with a strong sculptural silhouette,” the designer explains. “It was originally conceived as a bedside lamp; the scale and materials create a statement but the curves and form speak to nature. The brass hood gives a warm, atmospheric light and creates an interesting dichotomy between its form and the softness of the environment it creates.”

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Here, Zupanc discusses working from home during lockdown, the value of craftsmanship, as well as the decor furnishings that have captured her attention recently. 

How have you been keeping your home organised amidst working from home?

Nika Zupanc (NZ): During the pandemic, I  realised I need very empty interiors to work and be inspired. I’ve added some storage volumes, hidden into the existing cabinetry volumes of our house, to keep the spaces more empty (and uncluttered).

What is the mark of a well-designed space to you? 

NZ: A recognisable gesture that you can see and understand immediately when entering a certain public or private space. 

Pick one: bright colours or neutral hues? 

NZ: Neither of these—pastels, I would say!

What is one design trend you’re currently obsessed with?

NZ: I don’t really believe in trends but I always value true craftsmanship—a genuine and dedicated professionalism. This is what always fascinates me; bespoke objects and spaces are sublime beauty to me.

Complete the sentence: You’ll never see ____ in my home. 

NZ: A framed picture. 

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What has been the most memorable point in your career thus far?

NZ: It’s very difficult to choose, I am very lucky to be able to say that there have been so many of them. I think most of the projects we have done have a very special story behind them. I am really grateful for all of them and above all, for all the people I have met through these wonderful collaborations.

Tell us more about the designs that have been serving as a source of inspiration recently. 

NZ: These are some of the objects that have moved and touched me in recent months; some of them, I stumbled upon more or less unexpectedly.

1. K64 by Saša J. Machtig

NZ: A true example of a timeless design and also a never-ending memory of my childhood and youth in Yugoslavia, designed by my mentor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Slovenian designer Saša Machtig.

It is an icon of design history (also part of the permanent MoMA New York collection), that is currently experiencing a second life, being noticed and used around the globe as part of various ventures by museums and other artists, architects, designers, and researchers.

2. Bocca sofa by Studio 65

NZ: Designed in 1972 as an homage to Salvador Dali's Mae West-inspired sofa, the Bocca sofa by Italian architecture studio Studio 65 is an icon of modern and figurative design. It is a ‘hyper-real visual pop’ piece that never stops fascinating me.

3. Bathroom in Palazzo Durini by Gio Ponti

NZ: First designed in 1924, I saw it for the first time just recently during Milano Design Week 2021 and it was the thing that struck me the most in the whole design week. It is really true art and sublimely beautiful.

4. Black Cherry lamp by Nika Zupanc

NZ: It is really satisfying to see an object you designed for which the interest doesn’t fade; it's an object that can touch different generations in different times.

5. Sé Collections Stay dining chair by Nika Zupanc

NZ: Its appearance changes with every new fabric in which the chair is dressed—by that, I mean the essence of the chair remains the same, but the main role is the fabric. To see it in Sé’s wonderful new showroom in London, dressed in fabric by Lelièvre Paris, it was as if I was looking at a completely new chair.

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