Øivind Slaatto’s designs are modern symphonies in physical form. A trained musician who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, Slaatto carried his musical background with him as he pursued his master’s degree from the Danish Design School. It seems only natural, then, that his first breakthrough design was one intended to create beautiful music: the A9 speaker for Bang & Olufsen. The instant success of his first creation launched his design career, and Slaatto has gone on to produce iconic designs in new mediums, including the renowned Patera Pendant Light for Louis Poulsen.
In 2021, Slaatto introduced a new rendition of his original design, the Patera Oval. We had the pleasure of speaking with the designer from his Copenhagen studio, discussing his start in design, how music plays into his process and how the Fibonacci Sequence inspires his work.
How did you get into design?
I think my entire life, creating things has been my primary occupation. We never had a television when I was a kid and the Internet wasn’t invented back then. So in order to entertain myself, it was very much just about drawing or building or to invent different things. So that’s basically something I did my entire childhood. My parents are musicians and when I grew up I was very much into music and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. But already back then I knew that creating things is something I really like to do. I really missed making physical objects rather than playing music. So I went to the Danish Design School, and since then I’ve been studying design and working as a professional designer.
Does your musical background inform any of your design aesthetic or design process?
Well, in many ways, yes. I mean, music is very much about hearing something before you can hear it, or, you know, visualizing the sound. You’re imagining the sound, and then you just work until you get it. And it’s the same thing with my design. You might not see the final product, but you know the feeling or the ambiance of what you are going for, then the rest is simply just a matter of time—searching, searching, exploring and exploring. And in the end, you might be lucky enough to find what you’re looking for.
What is your idea of what makes for good lighting? What are you trying to accomplish when you design lighting?
Well, first of all, I try to make lighting which is functional—so it helps you to see. But it should be beautiful, make people beautiful and allow people to orient themselves in a space. Many people think that the best light is a very uniform light, so there is equal light distributed in the entire space. But if you look at my face now, for example, there’s much more light over here than here because you have a highlight, you have shadows. So less light enables you to read what you see as a three-dimensional object or three-dimensional person. Well, if you would have light that would come equally from all sides I would look rather flat and the space in the room would be two-dimensional, so light is really something that can help you to read a space so that it’s much easier to navigate wherever you are.
So what is your design process? Does it start in the studio or does inspiration strike you outside of the studio or in unexpected ways?
Well, it’s hard to say exactly when it begins. When we’re making light, it’s quite a scientific process. It’s very much about getting as much light out of the light bulb as possible while still avoiding glare. Glare is the enemy of any good lighting. Glare is not about the intensity of light, but it’s about avoiding the contrast between light and darkness. In order to do so, there are a lot of tricks and a lot of knowledge basically. I try to distribute the light downwards but also get some light out to the sides and always avoid the direct contrast between light and darkness. So it begins when you start with the concept and work with the details over and over and over. Then optimize it for manufacturing. So that when your idea turns from concept to commercial product you haven’t made some—or somebody hasn’t—made some compromises that removes the spirit of the original design.
Do you have a favorite design or design process story?
I would say all my designs are my favorite design process stories. Of course, my very first one was the A9 for Bang & Olufsen. A speaker. And that was kind of my favorite, because back then I hadn’t made any design that had come into production and it just changed my career from completely unknown to a world known icon with one product. That was something I remember fondly, and also the process of making it was…I mean my family and all my friends were helping me in many different ways. I wasn’t a big studio, it was just a big family.
Your iconic Patera Lamp for Louis Poulsen started as a globe pendant but evolved into an oval iteration. Can you tell us more about these designs?
Yes, so the original design is made as a modern chandelier. If you see it from a distance, it simply just looks like a globe and then when you go closer you see this very subtle and refined structure which is based on the Fibonacci Sequence and that is a product of life, of how everything is oriented towards the sun that is growing in this. It’s a structure of mathematics which is not invented by me. It’s invented by life. And I have simply transformed it into a lamp. For the new fixture, the Patera Oval, it is still the same mathematics behind it, but where the first one was completely round this one is flatter and easier to hang low over a table. Also it’s completely open underneath, so it brings more downlight while you still get some soft light out into the room so you have this.
Would you say the design process was much different?
I mean the design process is always kind of the same, you always try to refine the details, optimize it for production. It’s always a lot of back and forth. My process is, I would say it’s always the same, no matter if it is a lamp or a speaker or a chair.
So did you go into it thinking you wanted to make an oval? Was that the shape that you had already settled on?
Well, I wanted to make something more compact. I mean, the original Patera is very good when you have a big room and high ceilings. Sometimes when you have a table and maybe you don’t have so high for the ceiling and it can be good to have something which is not taking too much vertical space. I looked at the Artichoke by Poul Henningsen and then you have the PH 5, which is in most Danish or in many Danish homes—you have the PH 5 over your dining table. So I look at the classic Patera is like the Artichoke, while the new Patera Oval is like the PH 5.
Is the material the same as the original? We had the original Patera in for a photoshoot once—it’s stunning in person—is the material the same for the Oval version?
Yes, it’s the same white, translucent material as for the round version. It is quite a tricky construction that not many manufacturers would dare to make because it’s so complicated. And once I knew Louis Poulsen could fabricate this, it was about how to optimize it. So the Oval’s material structure is the same translucent one and the technique is very much the same, but the geometry is different.