BY SPENCER BAILEY
PORTRAIT BY CRISTOBAL OLIVARES
Designer Ignacia Murtagh finds revelations in the poetic landscape of Chile.
Something about the country of Chile—perhaps its rich natural environment, its connection to the mountains and the sea—lends it a profound serenity. The country's unforgettable geography and topography form its soul. That the land has spawned poets including Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidobro, and Pablo de Rokha is no surprise. In the city of Santiago, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east, this sense of spirit is especially pronounced. For 26-year-old designer Ignacia Murtagh, who was born and raised in the capital city, Chile's various native cultures "add extra value to the piece I create."
"We live in a world where we're surrounded by so many objects," Murtagh says. "I like to design more meaningful objects," Murtagh says. "I like to think that my pieces are like poetry—materialized poetry." She continues, "I'm always paying attention to tiny details of nature that can be relevant in an object."
At this month's ICFF in New York, Murtagh will unveil her latest creating: the Los Andes collection for American furniture manufacturer Bernhardt Design. Pulling inspiration from the Andes mountain range, the solid walnut line consists of a coffee table and two side tables. "The concept, or the essence, of the project," she says, "was how landscape can be turned into furniture, and how very abrupt, sharp forms can be balanced with weightlessness, elegance, and slimness."
The Bernhardt Design commission came about after the company's president ad creative director, Jerry Helling, met Murtagh at the Design Junction fair during London Design Festival in 2013. There, Helling saw prototype versions of the Los Andes pieces, which were initially made with a ceramic top. "We needed to create pieces more suitable for industry and mass-production," Murtagh says. Following a series of sketches, prototypes, and mockups, Murtagh and Helling decided on the all-wood result. "The table is angled, but at the same time soft, "she says. "Woodworking allows this. It's versatile and limitless."
Throughout the work of Murtagh, who launched her studio in Santiago two years ago and this month is relocating (at least temporarily) to New York City, her surroundings in Chile shine through. But cues come from elsewhere, too. During her childhood, she often traveled internationally, and the experiences opened her eyes to opportunities—and ideas—beyond Chile's borders. "It was my motivation to do something different than what was already here in Chile," she says.
Following a five-year design program at the Pontifical Catholic University in Chile, Murtagh briefly studied furniture design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and ceramics at London Royal College of Art, also interning at the U.K. bone china manufacture Royal Crown Derby. Her studio's focused, cleanly designed output is, like Chile's landscape, refreshingly diverse: Her pieces range from the marble-and-steel El Polmo table collection, to the Kal line of wool textiles, to the stone-shaped ceramic Kura bowls and plates. "I'm not the kind of designer who has an idea, and that's it," she says. "I study my source of inspiration, then move into materiality and the design process and all the technical aspects. I really take my time to design something."
Santiago has proven an ideal location for Murtagh's creativity. For one thing, nature is never far away. "It's a big city," she says, "but it's surrounded by mountains. You're one hour from the sea, and in 45 minutes, you can be in a national park to visit a glacier. I don't lose that relationship with nature. I'm really connected with it." For another, the city is "eclectic," Murtagh puts it. "Santiago is difficult to know because it's really spread out. When I think of Santiago, Berlin also comes to mind. They're cities in which every corner provides something different. Here, there's such a mix of western civilizations. Chile was a Spanish colony, but we also have strong French, Italian, and English influences. We also have native and countryside cultures. Everything blends."
Of Santiago's small-but-burgeoning design community, she adds, "We're all using Chile as a source in different ways. Some of us use the native culture, others the geography, others the materials. Chile is the spine of it all."
IGNACIA MURTAGH'S INSIDE GUIDE TO SANTIAGO