Work and lifestyle at the cutting edge: In our conversations with contemporaries, we examine the claims, clichés and ideals surrounding our workplaces. Nani Marquina supplies her carpets to both the Spanish royalty and furniture giant IKEA. That makes people curious. Nicole Kolisch met with this bundle of energy in her office in Barcelona.
People who do artistic work have to preserve their child-like perspective, playfulness, curiosity, unbounded joy of discovery – and then they just start drawing!
Adults can’t do that. The censors in our heads are too strong: an orange peel, even if it is shaped like a trunk, is just not going to turn into an elephant for us. And we don’t draw because we might miscalculate the foreshortening of the perspective – what does that look like? Simply put: if you’re artist, you are also a child. At least at heart.
Unless you are the head of a company! In that case, you should quickly forget about being a child. Up there, Excel tables rule, negotiations with manufacturers and sales, in brief: all kinds of realities that require us to see orange peel as orange peel, not as an elephant. And perspectives should – at least in financially insecure times – be properly calculated at all costs.
The Catalan artist Nani Marquina has run her eponymous textile company since 1987. She is confronted daily with this intersection between these two worlds. We asked her how she does it.
Is there a place where you really love to work?
I have a small house in the mountains. When I work on design, I retreat to there. This is because I have to be completely alone. It is not about the actual craftsmanlike design process, but rather about collecting ideas. The work process then takes place in the team, but before we start on that, I need time to relax, to develop visions, to think. To do that, I always seek silence. Once I become quieter myself, inspiration comes to me.
Does that mean you prefer working alone over with others?
I need both. At first I work alone, but I like the contrast. I need my team as a reference point; I have to confront others with my ideas. And I also need them for the implementation of ideas. A very important part of my work is the preparation phase, which requires contact with other designers and takes up a lot of time.
Do you draw your designs by hand or on a computer?
I’m too old to design on a computer! [laughs] I never learned how to do it. I hail from a time when we had to do everything by hand, so I’ve stuck with it. My work as manager of the company is completely different, of course. That takes a lot of time and a computer.
What inspires you?
Observation is more important to me than inspiration. Above all, a designer must be a good observer. And then comes the time at which all of these collected observations lead to the creation of something new – not on paper, but in our heads. I’m inspired by nature, the arts, architecture, travelling... I really like to travel.
And how do you get an idea out of your head and on to paper?
Sometimes you don’t even need to get ideas down on paper because the inspiration draws more on weaving techniques, textures, and materials. At the moment, I’m thinking more about fabrics than about designs. But sometimes I do drawings of things, and I think to myself: wow, that could be interesting. Then I make notes and do some research... like for a carpet that is inspired by old Indian mandalas. I did a lot of research in different books in Zanzibar.
What is the most important tool for your work?
Are there rituals that are important to your everyday working routine?
Often I have so much to do that I don’t find any peace to work. All of these incomplete projects seem threatening. Then I make to-do lists. As soon as I have everything written down in a list, it calms me down. Then I make my peace with it and can start to work.
Do you get the feeling that your office makes a statement about you?
Definitely! I really like to have photos of moments that are very meaningful to me – at different points in time in my career. Here are several pictures of travels, and of people who worked here in the past and were important. And of course of my grandchild.
What were the most important moments in your career?
There were two: 1993, when the company wasn’t doing very well, I went to India and saw the opportunity that was waiting for us there. That enabled us to keep going.
And in 2005 I received the National Designer Award, which is given to highly renowned, well-established companies. That was a major honour for me. It was the first time that the award was given to a woman-owned business.
Can you tell us about a "wow!" experience that you’ve had in the course of your work?
That used to happen a lot more often. There wasn’t as much competition back then. There was a much greater focus on the artistic process, and inspiration was often explosive. You could just creatively erupt. We’re under a lot more pressure today. We always have to improve, always have to trump the previous designs... things are becoming more difficult. But there was one carpet where I had an absolute "wow" experience: That was in 1996, with "Cuadros".
I had an unbelievable adrenaline rush when the design was complete. Of course, that kind of euphoria only lasts for one day. The doubts start to appear the next day...
And since 1996?
Creating carpets is a very slow process. The drawing is not important, but the prototype is. You can wait about one and a half months for the first sample. And we make a lot of prototypes as the idea slowly continues to develop. It takes an extremely long time to get from idea to product, and there are rarely these sudden eureka experiences when you see a finished carpet.
There’s no carpet in your office. Why not?
I like it simple and white in here.
Like a blank canvas?
Yes. And I like to see my carpets in the vertical dimension. I don’t like to walk around them. We have hung a lot of them in the showroom. But when I’m working, I prefer not to have any carpets around.
Do you have a favourite carpet?
Yes, but it’s not one of mine; it’s by two designers who work with us, Ronan und Erwan Bouroullec.
If you could choose any place in the world as your workplace, where would your ‘dream office’ be?
I like the sun. And I love to see the changes of the seasons in nature. I would like to have an office in Africa. Nature there is of course very powerful, with intense green and red earth.
Thank you for the interview.