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A play between art, craft and design with Atelier Kaja Dahl

Kaja Dahl combines craft, nature and technologies to create products that fall on the edge of art and design. She focuses on sensory and fragrance projects to create poetic and intuitive experiences.

How are modern fragrance experiences activated? Norwegian designer, Kaja Dahl takes us through the path behind her sensory pieces. She founded Atelier Kaja Dahl in 2016, to capture the meeting between craft and design.

Dahl graduated with a masters degree in Design for Luxury and Craftsmanship from ECAL in 2015, after completing her bachelor in Product and Interior design at Beckmans college of Design in Stockholm. Before moving to Sweden, she studied two years of fine arts in Oslo, with a focus on sculpture and installation. She also has a bachelor degree in Marketing Communication from the Norwegian Business School BI.

Atelier Kaja Dahl has collaborated with numerous companies, such as Christofle, Jim Thompson and Revolution Magazine, to create products and concepts based that combine craft and design, sculpture and production.

Specialized in sensory and fragrance design, Kaja Dahl combines craft, nature and technologies – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

Who is Kaja Solgaard Dahl? How did the journey for Atelier Kaja Dahl begin?

Kaja Dahl: “I have always been making things and seeking out people and places to do so. Escaping into the woods to build huts, standing in line to enter the kindergarten wood workshop, setting up my worktable in my mother’s jewelry atelier and spending summers in my aunt’s ceramic workshop.

The spring I turned thirteen, I attended my first exhibition of contemporary fashion design from a Norwegian female designer, and that was when the idea of having my own brand and business manifested. When I went back home, I started making dresses and collages, drawing my future logotype, and dreaming of my own fashion label. Years after living, exploring, studying and hard work, I now realize that it was a defining moment in my career choice.

“I still admire the creative force and the progressive art of fashion, but along the way I found that product design could incorporate everything I’m curious about.

I used to have the impression that being emotional and having many thoughts and ideas was considered a weakness and that it was confusing. In fact, it is my strength and by incorporating it all into my current work the practice can grow organically into coherent artistry. I’m full of stories to tell.”

Meadow vases in collaboration with KostaBoda and Beckmans College of Design – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

Collaborating with companies on creating products and concepts, why focus on the meeting of craft and design, sculpture and production?

Kaja Dahl: “We should be striving for the perfect harmony between the manmade and what nature grows and breaks down. My goal is to contribute to this balance between craft, nature and technologies.

I see the ancient crafts as an extremely important instrument in this process of creating a future that is sustainable, functional and beautiful. The way I know how to communicate best is through objects, so I break down this extensive philosophy into different projects.”

“For example, when I’m creating jewelry with my mother, I hope to show the meeting of legacy between generations and the passing down of knowledge. The work with my stone vases and sculptures is about the meeting of what nature has crafted and the intervention of the human hand and machines.

When I design for living and spaces, scent objects, or the ‘Lean-in’ wall couch, for example, the goal is to provide haptic rewards – experiences that are intuitive, that will enhance our physical presence and connection to the moment through sculptural shapes and through the properties of natural materials. One project at the time I try to speak about this vision and dream.”

‘Lean-In’, a wall furniture to save floor space and give new possibilities for interaction – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

Your design outputs include everyday objects, jewelry, sculptures; which are the main values, core concepts or style inclinations that, above all, will always represent the studio and yourself?

Kaja Dahl: “A sculptural and sensory mindset is the approach for every project and design. The closeness to nature and natural materials is what guides my aesthetics and inspiration.

The work that examines fragrance and the typology of scent sculptures is the subject in my practice that combines all the values I hope my work can stand for, poetic experiences, positive psychological effects, artistic expression and capturing the play between crafts, art and design. Developing this whole new typology and entering the world of fragrance is a life project that I will dedicate myself to for a long time in different ways.

DUFT, a series of aromatic sculptures made using polished larvikite, cast and sculpted porcelain infused with naturally scented oils – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

Within your practice and experimentation, do you consider research an essential part of the design process?

Kaja Dahl: “It is everything and I love doing it, I consider all experiences a form of research. I’m very open-minded about what research can be in my practice.

For example, when I teach a workshop to students, I want them to design with an investigative process. Being curious about your surroundings makes research a natural part of one’s life. When starting a project I ask questions and reflect intuitively, before I start looking for references and more knowledge.”

“I usually have two research paths leading to new designs. One is to live and breathe a subject for it to slowly grow and become a design. The other is the ideas that branch out from the previous «mind-archive» collected in the extensive research – this connects with new impressions and suddenly a combination and link come together to become something new.

The perfume design ‘Tapputi and The Sea’ is an example, in which I had the luxury of dedicating myself to an all-consuming research process. So yes, it is essential to research, but also to do it creatively, the internet is not enough.

When approaching sensory and fragrance projects, which kind of balance do you strive to achieve?

Kaja Dahl: “The balance between natural and cultivation, organic and geometric, function and sculpture, is absolutely my favorite thing to play around with in my work.

Sometimes the object itself is the function because it communicates craft, nature and history. But what I like so much about what we consider design, is that an object with a function will be more included in our everyday lives. By making designs with artistic sculptural qualities that also cherish the natural and raw, it moves us to appreciate nature and what is natural.”

Challenging the boundaries between design, art and craft, how do you go about your prototyping phase?

Kaja Dahl: “The 3D “program” in my head is very useful, especially for designing. It is a circular process, in which I move between dreaming something up while researching, sketching and working with the material and models. When sculpting, I allow the material and subject at hand to lead the way, and the work is about choosing the right “stone” and compose from this starting point.

Both paths solve issues of production that can inspire new products, which come together as a product challenging these boundaries of design and sculpture.

Lately, the ergonomics of my creations have mostly been about rituals and actions. In the perfume project ‘Tapputi and The Sea’, I consider ways of applications to skin and how to interact with fragrance. How are modern fragrance experiences activated? Have there been fragrance rituals and devices in history that entail different actions? What would be a natural way of behaving? And what designs would demand new constructed ways of acting?”

Interested to know about other studios combining craftsmanship and design? Don’t miss Impactful and timeless pieces by THINKK Studio.

“..making designs with artistic sculptural qualities that also cherish the natural and raw” – Kaja Dahl – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

The design journey till the final result can be long and challenging: what have you learned and discovered through experience in this process?

Kaja Dahl: “The importance of both adapting and challenging. I love interpreting brands and design briefs from my lens and point of view.

Communication is always the key to the success of collaboration because that is ultimately the end goal as well – creating something that tells a story. I have worked on simplifying my own communication and being clear. I have been misunderstood many times or didn’t know what others meant. This is not a flaw, but minds working in different ways, something to work past, so that we can achieve amazing things.” 

‘The Stoneware Ritual’, a contrast between carved, polished and raw stone – Images Courtesy of Kaja Dahl

“This is also why I love working with craftsmen – I have experienced when traveling that material is a universal language. When working with craftsmen directly in the studio, I find that presenting renderings or technical drawings to the mm is not sufficient enough, a wonky drawing to be interpreted will actually get across better.

Ultimately the material will lead the way set by the laws of physics. So I might as well start with an open mind, and details guided by a strong intention, concept and vision.”

What can we expect next from Atelier Kaja Dahl?

Kaja Dahl: “I will continue to act both as a designer and sculptor working with stone projects. This summer I will be producing a new collection of the ‘Larvik’ vases with Fram Oslo and I sculpting vases for my studio in the Norwegian marble variation ‘Norwegian Rose’.

I will show new sculpture works at Gallery QB in Oslo in December. I’m working on an exciting collection with a stone workshop I collaborate with, in Sandefjord. This collection will be a very unique step for the studio that I’m super excited to show this fall.

Another ongoing project that I’m passionate about, is the designs I’m developing with the New York based brand Areaware. I will also continue the research of diffuser objects and fragrance sculptures, that will result in new sensory pieces, among which a crafted collaboration sculpture to be shown in Oslo in October.”

Curious to know about other designers implementing craft and tradition into their work? Head to Cristián Mohaded’s hybrid practice.

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