Theodóra Alfreðsdóttir is an Icelandic product designer who creates conceptual objects which are heavily influenced by their relation to the physical world. Her narrative-led approach exemplifies how everyday objects should inhabit our space, by encouraging a full-circle approach to conscientious consumption.
Although originally from Reykjavik, Theodóra is now based in London. She works from a small white-brick studio in Hackney, with walls covered by coloured Post-Its and a floor-to-ceiling yellow curtain that conceals various boxes of tools, projects and works-in-progress.
Theodóra often explores how an object can document its own manufacturing process and in turn, communicate its former life. This transparency is of utmost significance in her work; “I start with a material or with a concept — but all of it is quite process driven. For me, it’s important that people understand what process objects need to go through to become what they are in front of you.”
“One of the problems we are facing today is this overabundance of everything, which means it’s a big responsibility to make something; you must have a reason to do it. I’m trying to find out how people can connect to their objects to slow down fast consumerism. For example, we’ve become quite aware of what we eat but not aware of what we eat on — surely it’s just as important to know where our plates and cups come from.”
“For me, it’s important that people understand what process objects need to go through to become what they are in front of you.”
Theodóra grew up in a suburb of Reykjavik, with swimming pools, forests and skiing at her fingertips, but spent two years on the northern side of the island where the harsh winters brought heavy snow and intense weather that scared her as a child.
Although she was always interested in design, she also studied Biology for four years. “My biology studies have helped with design by giving me many different references. When I applied to the Art Academy in Iceland, I wrote a letter about how I wanted to relate the concept of DNA to product design; in that humans are 99% the same, so this 1% is what makes us so different. I proposed to create a family of objects that would share the same DNA, but appear different. Looking back, I can see this is what I’ve been doing in so many of my projects; creating batch objects that retain individual character.”
After her BA at the Iceland University of the Arts, she embarked on an MA at the Royal College of Art and has remained in London ever since. “When I’m in London, I miss not seeing the ocean. It can all look the same here. In Iceland, you drive for a couple of hours and you see black sand, or a huge glacier — the landscape changes so quickly. But while our background does influence us, my aesthetic is as informed by London as it is by Iceland because my focus is on ideology rather than aesthetics.”
“One of the problems we are facing today is this overabundance of everything, which means it’s a big responsibility to make something; you must have a reason to do it.”
Theodóra’s work centres around storytelling and one of her projects which best illustrates this is From The Ground Up — a project founded on the obscure significance of the lesser-known mineral feldspar. While preparing for her final project at the RCA, she went on a trip to the Lake District searching for an epiphany but returning to London with a bag of rocks.
“In Iceland, we have a close relationship with nature and some people (including myself) believe there are elves hiding amongst the rocks. I started wondering where these rocks were in our domestic environment and found out that they all possess the mineral feldspar which is essential to making glass, ceramics, coating paper and more.”
Inspired by the abundant mineral, which covers 60% of the earth’s crust, Theodóra created a series of table-ware comprising of feldspar in varying proportions. It plays a unique role in each component, even appearing in the presentation. The collection sits in a totem-like stack on a block of granite; the material with the highest feldspar content. “The dining set functions as is, but it has this added layer. This is the premise for all of my projects; to stand on their own but if the consumer is interested, they have this extra knowledge of its origins.”
“By giving objects a narrative that people can relate to, we create a connection that’s harder to break, and hopefully the person who buys it will cherish it for longer.”
This focus on background makes Theodóra’s work intrinsically more sustainable. “If you go to Ikea and see 100 of the same object, you’re just going to pick any one of them. But if you have a choice between objects that possess subtle character differences, you will put more thought into it — and a sort of attachment is created. By giving objects a narrative that people can relate to, we create a connection that’s harder to break, and hopefully the person who buys it will cherish it for longer.”
Theodóra subscribes to Barthes' Death of the Author school of thought, in that an author's intentions and background should not hold any special weight. “A theme in everything I do is how to remove myself from it, so I’m not the author anymore. This was our goal with Subterranean Formations” — A research-led project in collaboration with Daniel Durnin, which conducted ceramic experiments where objects were burned underground. “The finished object was informed by tools, process and soil, rather than by our design.”
“A lot of the pieces I make are quite geometric because by doing shapes that people recognise and understand, the concept can shine through. While I am designing the object, I am also designing the methodology — and as such, the aesthetics aren’t necessarily my main focus.”