It is difficult to refute the power of subtlety in Matthew Hilton’s work. From the impossibly thin, lithe arms of the Manta Chair, to the seemingly facile structure of the Fin and Tapas chairs, Hilton’s creations stylishly defy the notion that minimalism is for minimalists only. A keen observer of the natural world around him, it is also of little wonder that his designs could inhabit an English cottage just as easily as a flat in Milan surrounded by Magistretti and Sottsass.

Hilton takes inspiration from everyday objects, analyzing the relationships between people and material thus informing the structure and functionality of his own designs. This acute awareness of the physical and metaphysical, harnessed with incredibly elegant, simple lines and master craftsmanship has come to define a Matthew Hilton design. It has also garnered him many accolades, including being named a Royal Designer for Industry award (RDI) at Royal Society of Art, the highest honor in the field of Industrial Design in the UK, as well as being awarded an honorary doctorate from London's Kingston University in 2012.

One of Britain's most highly respected industrial designers, Matthew Hilton has over three decades of experience designing for a broad range of high profile manufacturers, including SCP, Habitat, Driade, and Case. Most recently, Hilton has been developing his own brand, Matthew Hilton Ltd. with Portugal’s De La Espada, a design management company co-founded by Luis de Oliviera in 1995. De La Espada, who build small, virtual companies around individual designers (including Autoban), approached Matthew in 2007 at the 100% Design show, and it has been a successful collaboration ever since.

Haute Living is extremely proud to offer the designs of Matthew Hilton at our showroom, and we’re delighted to have him as part of our Five + 3 interview series.


HL: Recognizing a problem or need gives birth to the design process. How does a Matthew Hilton design project typically originate, and do you have a definitive process?

MH: Projects start in many different ways. It can be a brief conversation with someone in sales in a store, or a visit to a factory where I might see a manufacturing technique either in a new way, or one that I have not seen before. It can also just be out of frustration with not being able to find something that I want that does exactly what I need it to do.  But, once we start, it's a process of discussion and development - the tools are computer design, sketches, model making, research, and prototyping. It can be a long process, and may be an average of six to nine months for a product, sometimes as much as two years.

HL: Has your approach to designing furniture been altered or influenced since beginning your collaboration with De La Espada in 2007?

MH: I have not altered my fundamental design approach, but of course, De La Espada’s position in the market and their high quality manufacturing and knowledge influences me and actually allows more complex solutions. We are learning how the 5 axis milling machine can free us from the restrictions of what is possible by hand, but there are other restrictions. New technology in general makes things easier and more accurate, but brings its own set of manufacturing criteria. It’s a very interesting time.

HL: There’s an undeniable originality to your work, though at the same time it seems familiar and timeless. Do you look at your designs as an extension of the fundamental principals of styles that have come before?

MH: Thank you for saying that! I suppose that blend of originality and recognition is exactly what I am trying to achieve. I don't really like designs which are too alien to us. I like there to be a link to the past, even if subtle and hard to see sometimes. I believe that designs which take a longer step forward into the future of our aesthetic appreciation will have a longer life; but if the step is too far, then the product will fail in the market before it has been recognised. Things need to be in tune with the times, but ahead of them as well.

HL:  In order to address other needs in the home, you’ve recently expanded your collection by designing textiles, floor coverings, lighting, and ceramics. Tell us about this experience.

MH: I have been thinking for a while that the collection needed support, filling out and some styling, etc. We can use existing product already on the market, or we could design and produce our own. It seemed clear that we get a more focused and accurate presentation of the MH aesthtic if we produce our own. It is also a great opportunity to learn new manufacturing methods and understand a different area of the market.

HL: What can we expect from Matthew Hilton and De La Espada in 2013 and beyond?

MH: 2013 is a year of improvement and rationalisation. Although we will be busy, we will realease only a few new products in 2013. We have to work on making efficiencies in manufacturing and improvements in small design details, as well as packaging and marketing.

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What are some of your favorite designed objects within the last decade?  

A new lamp from Wastburg designed by David Chipperfield; the POC cycling helmets; the Knog cycling lights and its USB rechargable battery; the iPhone, and the iPad mini; and, although not in the last decade, my Allessi coffee maker by Richard Sapper from 1979.

What is your favorite work of architecture in London?

The Lloyd's building by Richard Rogers is for sure one of my favorites, not just in London, but globaly.

If you were given a plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would, I am afraid to say, go on a relaxing beach holiday. Rather dull to hear, but here in the UK at this time of year we all crave some sunshine. I could use a rest and some warmth!

photo by Steve Harries

Matthew Hilton’s designs can be seen at Haute Living’s showroom in Chicago, or here

Interview by Nathaniel Ross