My happy place: Benny Castles, World designer

By Bronwyn Sell

Benny Castles says architecture is the clothing of our lives. Photo / Doug Sherring
Benny Castles says architecture is the clothing of our lives. Photo / Doug Sherring

My happy place is the VitraHaus in Germany. Among the furniture and products they make there is the Eames plywood elephant, and miniature elephant, which I have at home. They're a couple of my favourite objects.

I've never been to the VitraHaus, but in my imagination it is incomparable - all concept, all design, all quirk and colour and uniqueness. The Herzog & de Meuron-designed building looks like a layered stack of homes, juxtaposed awkwardly on top of each other.

It's a striking and risk-taking design, but incredibly thoughtful. It's reinvented the familiar - taken this classic construct of a house and played Jenga or pick-up-sticks with it. I'd like to live there. It wouldn't matter if there were customers, or people going through. I'm sure I could make a tidy little corner and keep to myself and not bother anyone too much.

I love the concept that architecture is the clothing for our lives.

That has a lot of inspiration for us at World as a fashion design house. We design clothes that will help people feel more confident, or more beautiful, attuned to their personality.

We look at each piece not as a shirt or a skirt or a jersey, but as an idea - we try to dress the mind first. It's about creating the idea, and giving customers the opportunity to make it part of their lives.

One day a young guy came to World with his mum and bought a suit for his school ball, and then that afternoon a man in his 70s came in and bought the same suit. Being part of a brand that opens people's minds like that is very exciting.

In a way, Vitra is like that too. They say, "This is a great product. You bring what you want to it."

It's exciting that the Auckland Art Gallery is bringing the California Design exhibition to New Zealand. Vitra worked a lot with the Eames brothers and Herman Miller in the United States, and a lot of that flows through. I could almost say that the art gallery is my happy place. Having a place like that in Auckland makes me very proud to be an Aucklander - and not enough Aucklanders say things like that. It's done beautifully, and in a very New Zealand way, but with an international outlook.

This new exhibition is fabulous because it's turning from photographic or painting works and moving into design pieces and furniture. I think it's exciting for people to see these things in an art gallery and think, "Well, actually, a couch can be a beautiful piece of design."

Or, in my case, a small plywood elephant.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell

• California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way opens at the Auckland Art Gallery on Saturday.
• Tickets $15 adults, with concessions available.
• Benny Castles will speak as part of a series of events at the gallery.
• See www.aucklandartgallery.com, ph (09) 307 7700.

- Herald on Sunday

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