“We were lucky to catch Katrín just as she was packing up her home and organising a new chapter in her life. Packing up, because this adventure involves a move away from a beautifully crafted material world, to a life of constant movement – a nomadic journey taking her new project Primitiva into the world. In a sense, Katrín is initiating an inspiring, new kind of lifestyle: a workshop, office and business on the road.
Katrín, who was born in Akureyri in North Iceland, says that her fascination with the wider world and its cultures awoke in her teens, during an exchange year in Spain. Since then, her professional life as a designer has seen her live and work in many places across the globe. Her studies took her first to Paris – for seven years – where she graduated as an industrial designer, worked in the studio of design giant Philippe Starck, and became a mother. London followed (including a period working with the designer Ross Lovegrove), and it was here that Katrín met her former husband, industrial designer Michael Young. For nearly a decade, their life and work together took them all over the world and included some iconic design projects.
In 2007, Katrín set up her own practice, creating award-winning projects such as the Cristal Bar in Hong Kong. But in recent years she has focused more on what she describes as an inner journey. She feels that her latest project, the Primitiva Talismans (and the philosophy surrounding them), is her most important to date. It is bringing this project to the world that has led her to the new journey that she is about to embark on.
Her home is a large, bright loft, based in the heart of downtown Reykjavík. The building was designed by the well-known Icelandic architect, Einar Sveinsson, and was originally built to house a family business; serving as a home, an office and a retail space. Even though the building has undergone a radical change since then, it is easy to understand what first attracted Katrín to it, with its broad staircase leading up to a beautiful open space filled with light. And there is more light beyond, flooding in from the large row of windows running across the façade. Not surprisingly, her home is like a small showroom representing much of her work from over the years, mixed with objects that have followed her from the many places she has lived.
It was in this bright, open space, that she began a journey of exploration into philosophy, psychology, writing and drawing some years ago. The result is Primitiva, which was first launched in 2015 at Helsinki Design Week. Katrín tells us that this 40-piece collection of bronze talisman jewellery represents the existential ideas that we all grapple with on our way through life. She sees these intricate, fossil-like shapes as a kind of vocabulary composed of three-dimensional structures, holding within them philosophical principles that anyone wearing them can connect with. Katrín says that she is interested in designing for our inner space – an area that she feels is quite uncharted when it comes to design. And so the pieces in the collection connect to themes such as the Self, Memory, Courage, Balance, Universe, etc. and they encourage the wearer to delve more profoundly into their own inner space.
To create the Primitiva pieces, Katrín and her Finnish design partners developed a process combining digital technology, 3D printing and lost-wax casting in bronze. To accompany the collection, Katrín has also written a book, which serves both as a guide and as a book of ideas.
So now she is setting off to take this project on the road, as part of what she refers to as the Primitiva Nomad Lab – a kind of mobile mini-museum and workshop, allowing her to work and exhibit as she goes. She sees this as an alternative method of marketing and distribution, one that happens in transit, wherever she is at any given moment.
Katrín tells us she is committed to just letting the journey and her Primitiva objects take her where they want. ‘I kind of see myself as a creative explorer. I have made most of my discoveries about the world and life by being open, flexible, creative and trusting towards life,’ she tells us…
‘To choose to work in the arts is a choice of a life of uncertainty. When you go on a journey like this, you open yourself to the world and you have to be ready for the things that come your way. The life of a nomad is to live nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I think this is a beautiful way to look at life.’
As we are leaving, the last thing that catches our eye is one of her most well-known design pieces – a coat-rack in the form of a tree, where two of her hats are hanging, ready to join her on the adventure ahead. She grabs one and puts it on, along with a black cloak, and, if it were not for the mirrored sunglasses, she could easily be a character from a completely different era. But somehow this combination symbolizes what she is all about; ties to the past but with a need to look towards the future.
Text: Auður Gná // Photography: Íris Ann