FORMER Arkitektar: An architecture and design studio that invites nature in
By Linda A. Thompson
Rebekka Pétursdóttir and Ellert Hreinsson’s created their architecture and design studio, FORMER Arkitektar, to solve a simple interior decoration problem a few years ago. Today, they are working on Iceland’s biggest sustainable renovation project to date.
A few years ago, Rebekka Pétursdóttir and Ellert Hreinsson started looking for a bench for the entrance hall to their home in Reykjavík, Iceland. They wanted the bench to be functional, but it also needed to have a personal touch.
After a fruitless search, the married couple decided to put pencil to paper and simply design one themselves. The result was an elegant, pared-down bench with a compact granite table top, leather seating and a glass and steel magazine stand – their reinterpretation of the mid-century telephone bench.
After that, the couple went on to design the VERA bench, shelf and side table, and they showed their first collection, also called VERA, at the 2020 DesignMarch, Iceland’s premier design festival.
What began as a DIY solution to an interior decoration frustration developed into a boutique architecture and design studio, FORMER Arkitektar. And the VERA shelf that the couple showed at DesignMarch just three years ago has today become the best-selling item in FORMER Arkitektar’s home furniture collection.
“We think that’s because it’s a simple solution to a complex problem,” Pétursdóttir explains. Pointing out that open plans can often make a space feel too flat, she says: “Rather than a kitchen, dining and living room being perceived as one space, the VERA shelf creates a space within space. It also gives the user a simple platform to personalise the space.”
Pétursdóttir and Hreinsson, both architects by training, say they take a personalised approach to each new project. “The best designs come from a deep understanding of our clients’ needs and aspirations, as well as a commitment to working closely with them throughout the design process,” says Hreinsson.
It’s a method that has resonated with their clients, adds Pétursdóttir, pointing out that clients often compliment them on this collaborative approach. “Clients appreciate that we take the time to listen and understand their needs, and that we can translate their vision into a beautiful, functional and transformative space.”
Nature plays a central role in their work as architects, inspiring everything from their first sketch for a project to the fully-formed, finished structure. When FORMER Arkitektar was commissioned to design the Icelandic headquarters of the auditing and consultancy giant KPMG, Pétursdóttir and Hreinsson decided to create direct and indirect connections to nature through something known as ‘biophilic’ design strategies. This approach saw all the employee workstations built next to windows, planters used as visual barriers, social spaces decorated with moss-like carpets and glass walls erected so as to allow natural light to flow into as many corners of the office as possible.
More marquee projects are now on the horizon, too. Pétursdóttir and Hreinsson were recently hired to oversee the biggest renovation project in Iceland with a Nordic Swan label – the official sustainability ecolabel for products from the Nordic countries – to date. “We believe that as architects, we have a responsibility to design buildings that minimise their impact on the environment,” Hreinsson explains, adding that the project should be finalised by early 2024. “We are happy to be a part of a project that will hopefully set the standard for other big companies in Iceland when it comes to sustainability.”
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