When I first met Matt Olson this past summer at Art of This Gallery in Minneapolis, I remember our initial interaction with each other to be refreshingly honest and one of deep sincerity. You could account the work he and Mike Brady do at rosenlof/lucas to be a poetic gesture to that first meeting. By simply appreciating the need for balance within ones psychological and creative nature the RO/LU studio has achieved in creating and sometimes reinterpreting spaces that promote a sense of equanimity within everyone who has the opportunity to experience them.
In growing up in and around the Minneapolis area and now being based there, how do you feel the city has respected design throughout the years?
It’s a hard question to answer. Respect? I think it has. Minneapolis has a good climate for design / architecture / art etc. These things are inseparable for me. And there are definitely some fantastic designers based here. The Walker Art Center has long been one of the most respected contemporary art institutions in the world and they have a revered design program. Still, and maybe it’s just my nature to always want things to be growing, evolving and getting better but, I think there’s always room for improvement.
You’ve said that academia has been something you’ve had some issue relating to, particularly on the university level. Can you explain a bit about how you were first exposed to architectural and design theory?
I’ve always had to do things my own way and school just never worked for me. I’m insatiably curious and in a pretty constant state of discernment which has resulted in an interesting education, albeit self-directed. My earliest exposure to design theory was driving with my grandfather, an architect, and listening to his good natured rants about unnecessary pillars on faux colonial buildings and shutters that didn’t actually work and wouldn’t be capable of closing. This was probably happening between the ages of five and ten. I have a great photo of him hanging in my office. It was taken in the early fifties. I wish he was still alive. I think he’d have been so excited about how my life has turned out. My great-grandfather was in the furniture business and was an early Herman Miller distributor. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a master carpenter. In some sense, I feel like I’ve always been surrounded by architectural and design theory.
When RO/LU first began who was involved and what was the process like trying to establish your first clients?
There are many different ways I could tell the stories of how we started, but truthfully, it happened very organically. Once we decided to form a studio, it seemed like clients just started arriving. It made it extremely easy to trust it as a path. Mike Brady, who started ROLU with me, and I were both buying our first homes and became aware of how expensive things we love are. Furniture, good design / high design, architecture etc. We became convinced that we could bring some of the principals of DIY culture to some of the things we are into. Landscape made the most sense as a place to start. We brought design-thinking to landscape in ways we felt others weren’t. We developed a vernacular with materials that are affordable but didn’t feel like a compromise. We buy steel from steelyards and fabricate things onsite. We like simple things. We like building things. We know that surrounding yourself with things that you love and aren’t disposable is important. We feel it improves your life. Our clients tend to share our values.
How did the name rosenlof/lucas come about? Were there any other names under consideration?
I think naming any creative project is tough. The studio was founded by Mike Brady and me. Olson and Brady? Not right. So we used our mother’s maiden names. For me, the Lucas is partly an homage to my grandfather Evan the architect.
You once toured in a pretty successful band right? Can you talk a bit about how music still influences the core of your current work?
I hesitate to use the word successful but, yes, I toured in a band and wrote music throughout my twenties. I also worked at Northern Lights in downtown Minneapolis, which was, at the time, one of the best independent record stores in the country. But music goes back even further than that. My grandfather Christian was an accomplished violinist. Until I was 12 years old, our neighbor across the street was the drummer in Jethro Tull (also Jean Luc Ponty and Gino Vanelli) and of course, he was my idol. I could go on and on. Music and design have all kinds of overlap in my mind… texture, repetition, balance, harmony, density, rhythm. When I’m in the best part of myself, it’s all the same.
Can you share with us the evolution of RO/LU’s studio? Has it always been a live work situation for you?
Yes, the studio has always worked from my house. We’ve been in the renovated third floor for the last three years it looks like this. The first few years it was my living and dining room. I was always self-conscious about that too. At times I felt, if we didn’t have a proper office, people wouldn’t take us seriously. I saw two members of one of my favorite studios speak at the Walker Art Center a couple years ago, Experimental Jetset, and they too were working from one of their living rooms. Then I felt better.
Sometimes it can be difficult to accredit yourself or an initiative the self-definitions needed for the public to understand what exactly it is one does. What were some of the things you felt to be most important for people to understand when it came to branding RO/LU’s philosophy?
Sincerity, openness, friendliness, fairness, honesty, curiosity, versatility, seriousness, fun/play… cool.
Scattered Light introduced to the studio a much broader audience than simply having a website could bring. What role do you see the Internet playing for a program that’s so much centered on the physicality of a place as RO/LU is?
The Internet has been a great place for us to meet like minded people. We’ve made so many friends all over the world. And I don’t think ROLU is limited to any physical concept of place. We design projects for clients nationally. Sometimes we never see the space in a physical sense, only through video, photography and email. In fact, place, the way you use it here, seems to be less and less relevant in my life, which is interesting. Scattered Light was a fantastic project for us. We loved doing it and are big fans of David Horvitz and Mylinh Nguyen’s work both separately and together as ASDF. The Internet is where most people find out about our work. And I have to mention the ROLU blog, which has been huge for us. I can’t overstate how many amazing people we’ve met and the countless interesting opportunities that have arisen from it. It’s also been a great vehicle for learning and a sort of record of all the things that are influencing us.
Even though it’s always the first element one encounters when entering a space how much attention do you feel is consciously given to landscape design?
Unconsciously? A lot. Consciously? That depends on the person. If we could return to the music connection for a moment… I think of the landscape as one part of an experience when entering a space, an important part, but only one part, like the drums in a band or the cellos in a symphony.
How do you feel the dialogue between the interior and exterior of a space can become more clearly represented to the individual who has to experience it on the day to day?
I think a person has to become aware of everything that surrounds them. Once that happens, they will begin to see many things clearly.
Are there any countries or regions that you feel have made a collective effort in standardizing the importance of honest and well-designed architecture and landscape?
Scandinavia seems to do a good job. There have been some small attempts too. Movements or developments like Prickly Mountain in Vermont and Sea Ranch in Northern California in the late 60s. More recently Jackson Meadow by David Salmela in Minnesota (his daughter Brit is one of our employees.)
Where do you feel the importance people put toward casual urban farming initiatives comes from and have you seen an increasing demand within your own work to design more self sustainable properties?
I think many people find themselves in a position of understanding the limits of urban life, needing the deep experiential peace that comes with the smell of turned soil and growing. People who are concerned about a dying paradigm that is unsustainable and are interested in taking steps towards a new model that is workable.
You guys have been quietly developing a mix of simple plywood furniture pieces that in my opinion are extraordinarily ergonomic for being rough prototypes. How do you feel they might play a more important role in the studio’s future?
When we started the studio, we always looked to the first wave of modern design in the 40s and 50s for cues. Especially Eames. They did all kinds of work. They ran everything through the lens of their values / process but they wandered a lot. We want to do that. When we move towards areas that are new, we learn. When we learn, we become better at everything, our work and our lives. As scary as it is on one level, it also feels really great that I don’t know the answer to this question. Only time will tell.
What has been the one most valued thing you’ve realized about people through your work?
That I love people.
Three favorite publications right now?
Task Newsletter – publication by Emmet Byrne, Alex DeArmond and John Sueda
KAUGUMMI releases – Loved their recent Family zines
the Journal of Radical Shimming – the publication of the collective Red76
Three most tabbed websites?
I can’t do three… five is hard enough!
Where is your furniture currently on view?
General Public Library at Art In General (NYC) Fall 2010
MONDO CANE Solo Exhibition (NYC) Nov 6 – Dec 31, 2010
IFS Ltd – MoMA PS1 (NY Art Book Fair)
Art Basel Miami – Arratia, Beer (Berlin) Booth Dec 1 – Dec 5, 2010
Golden Age (Chicago) Dec 17 – Jan 22, 2010/11
Specific – (L.A., CA) Spring 2011
Super excited that our furniture was part of the General Public Library at Art In General in NYC. Super excited to be collaborating with designer Peter Nencini on a project. Super excited to be in 01 Mag! Super excited for winter!
Oh and “Gratitude is heaven itself.” – William Blake