Santa & Cole co-founder Nina Masó described the Barcelona-based operation as “a small independent and global editor of design products.”
In other words, the studio’s process goes far beyond merely manufacturing a designer’s product. Every aspect of every project is carefully considered, from the initial selection of designers to the editing of the work, to the way each new piece fits into the entirety of the Santa & Cole universe—look no further than their well-appointed headquarters.
In 2019, we had the pleasure of asking Masó about Santa & Cole‘s design philosophies, the editing process and what’s next for her forward-thinking company.
As an “editor of design products,” how does that role play out in the design process?
NM: We have been editing since 1985, when the company was first founded. Editing means preparing a work (often someone else’s product) for publication, just as a book publisher does, but in our case, we also “edit” objects. Based on a process of reflection, we select, produce, protect and distribute furniture and lighting products that we are excited to welcome into the Santa & Cole family and with which we are proud to co-exist at home, in a hotel or at the workplace.
We believe that an editor’s greatness resides, not in its powerful corporate scale, but in the quality of its product catalog. Over a period of 35 years, more than 80 creators have contributed to a rich catalog of products originating in very different contexts, by renowned designers such as Miguel Milá or Ilmari Tapiovaara. Our focus is not the present market, but the future one; not Barcelona, but the world; not fashion, but history.
When you founded Santa & Cole in 1985, what was your brand philosophy? And is that still the same today or has it changed at all?
NM: Santa & Cole was founded by Javier Nieto Santa, Gabriel Ordeig Cole and myself in 1985, during a decade of upheaval in Spain when anything seemed possible in the wake of the dictatorship. The early days, creating unique lamps for some of Barcelona’s most famous bars, soon led to commissions to light the homes of regular patrons of some of those venues.
At a time when halogen lamps (cool to the touch, with a bluish light) were all the rage, Santa & Cole advocated the use of natural materials like wood, stitched cardboard or ribbons. It was a transition from cold technology to human warmth. Since LED lighting stormed onto the scene at the dawn of the 21st century, we have continued our quest for light that enhances the beauty of objects, shadows and people.
We remain committed to creating ambiences and moods, night and day, that serve to improve habitability at home or elsewhere.
How do you choose which designers to collaborate with and how does the editing process work?
NM: All the products we edit answer a question or respond to a need, and each one stands by its response. We begin with an intellectual process consisting of reflective inquiry and selection of ideas, and we then seek the very best designers to implement them. The next step is to choose the most suitable materials and processes for each case and to identify the industrial craftsmen, primarily in Spain, best suited to produce the pieces. Having our suppliers nearby enables us to ensure uncompromising quality of craftsmanship.
Our goal at Santa & Cole is to provide our authors with a stimulating environment, technical support, conceptual discussion and constructive criticism so that, together, we can supply products that provide good solutions and further our mission, which is to offer the world well-designed products that improve our day-to-day lives.
Tell us more about your commitment to craftsmanship.
NM: We believe craftsmanship is the best instrument to obtain a solution that is not harsh or gaudy. In this case, craftsmanship is wedded to industry by means of hands that are not desensitized by repetition, and we prioritize proximity production. At Santa & Cole, we are believers of serial manufacturing and handcrafted products.
Examples of industrial design include the porcelain of our Cirio LED Mini Pendant, the ribboned screen of Tripode M3 Table Lamp or the flexible cherry wood structure of Cesta Table Lamp, indispensable details to offer users the right experience. It is precisely these details that evidence the skill of the craftspeople who lovingly tease out each object, something quite out of reach for a machine alone.
So it sounds like there’s more to making good lighting than simply trying to illuminate a space.
NM: People and objects meet around light. Light creates spaces, arranges them, structures them, even enables them. Editing lamps means fostering ways of life; thinking about light is thinking about how we live. Good lighting enhances your comfort, is more relaxing, and nurtures good conversation; it can improve your work day, or help you see yourself as more attractive. At Santa & Cole, we reflect on the great influence of artificial light in everyday life, its effect on spaces and people.
We noticed the Lamina is featured in office spaces at your headquarters in Spain. It seems like there’s a Santa & Cole design ecosystem that all works together. When you designed the office space, did you have specific Santa & Cole fixtures in mind?
NM: Our catalog comprises a range of objects of highly diverse origins and uses that share an approach to design that reflects a particular way of life. Lighting pieces that move us and accompany us, such as Lámina. We chose this system for our own offices due to its formal clarity and general light, which does not cast shadows. Lámina is a system that advocates the benefits of reflected light with simple, obvious forms that hide nothing and show everything. It is a pendant lamp that is not designed to dazzle.
Any new releases you’d like to tell us about?
NM: We are delighted with how well Tekiò is being received internationally. London-based designer Anthony Dickens’ inspiration for this piece were traditional washi Japanese paper lanterns. Tekiò combines aged-old craft techniques with warm-dimming LED technology; it is a contrast between the ancestral and the avant-garde, using highly technical structures covered with paper made by hand in Japan. The result is a unique object that is welcoming and invites contemplation.
What can we look forward to from Santa & Cole lighting in the future?
NM: We would like to convey our concept of comfort, our philosophy, to people who do not yet know us, by means of our catalog. And our aim is to continue with the same passion as ever, editing the objects that identify us.
Editor’s note: Nina Masó passed away in 2023. A behind-the-scenes tour of the Santa & Cole showroom with the late editor is featured in our 2022 Instagram Live with The Makers for Trade Access at 31:30.