Throughout his career, British designer Max Lamb has been successfully developing what he calls ‘a trial and error approach to design’. His penchant for material research and his hands-on attitude, mixing design and making, has given him the ability to instinctively understand the potential and properties of any material, and to be versatile in their use. Lamb’s approach to each design doesn't start with a sketch on paper, but with experimenting with a specific material, understanding its personality to achieve an object celebrating its properties. His design methods have often been described as ‘prehistoric’; the creative process is reflected in the final object, which exemplifies handiwork as much as design thinking.

Lamb graduated from Royal College of art in 2006, setting up his studio in London shortly after. From the start, he has been working with galleries and brands to bring his multifaceted vision to life. One of Lamb’s better-known projects, ‘Exercises in Seating’, perfectly demonstrate his wide-ranging interest and creative prowess: in 2015, he showed a collection of 41 chairs he had created over the previous decade, featuring pieces such as plywood compositions, carved foam seats, wood blocks and stone, and metal arrangements. Displayed in a circle, the collection demonstrated Lamb’s versatility and his ability to reinvent the most mundane of domestic furniture objects.



Alongside his more personal creations, Lamb has also been applying this experimental method in collaboration with international brands, successfully combining his material concern with larger scale industrial production. In 2014, he collaborated with creative entrepreneur Brent Dzekciorius to create DZEK, an engineered terrazzo surface, later developed into a collection of bathroom furniture. More recently, he worked with Stoke-on-Trent ceramic manufacturer 1882 Ltd on a series of vessels mimicking basalt stone, made using industrial craftsmanship techniques. In collaboration with Danish textile authority Kvadrat, he also worked on a set of benches using the newly-developed Kvadrat Really board (made from recycled fabrics), testing the limits of the material and devising clever folding techniques which resulted in 18 different designs, all created from a flat board.


For Valextra, he designed a new Hong Kong boutique this year, drawing from the company’s Italian heritage, combined with his own material expertise. To bring the space to life, Lamb chose Venetian Terrazzo, which he used all over the space, covering it from floor to ceiling and creating a multidimensional space where the leather goods form precious pops of color on the discrete surface.



New Valextra Boutique in Hong Kong - Harbour City

V: What was your first encounter with design?

Max Lamb: As a child, I built microarchitecture for my toys or for me - dens and tents out of bed sheets, string and furniture; tunnels and caves excavated from the earth in my garden to house my toys, and pits with integrated seating dug from the sand on Caerhays beach in Cornwall to sit and hide in. These activities gave me an awareness of scale, proportion, process, and function.


V: How did you know you wanted to become a designer?

ML: I like things that do things. I always enjoyed art but needed what I was making to function somehow, to have a purpose.


V: What’s your approach to each project? Do you have a routine?

ML: Different projects have different routines, but I rarely follow a hard and fast rule. Pretty much every project I do is unique so routines rarely develop.


V: Do you have a design motto?

ML: Make beautiful work. Make original work.


V: What has been your favorite experience in design so far?

ML: I don’t have a favorite. But my favorites usually involve traveling alone to the most rural or industrial part of a foreign country where I’ve never been before and don’t speak the language and spend more than a week living and working with the locals to develop a project.


V: You have a strong fascination with materials, why are they important in what you do?

ML: Materials are the foundation of everything I do. I always tell my students that without knowing the properties of a given material and how they can be processed it’s impossible to design a good product using them.





New Valextra Boutique in Hong Kong - Harbour City 



EV: How important is collaboration for you in your job?

ML: I often work alone but collaboration is always important even if it is simply having a conversation with a material supplier about formulas, formats, properties, availability, logistics, and price.


V: What is the best advice you have received so far?

ML: “It’s good to diversify.” Said by my grandfather about farming when I was in my late teens in case I ever wanted to run a farm. I’m not a farmer but I operate my practice on the principles of diversification.


V: In many of your pieces, the shape seems to be an afterthought, and much informed by material or technique. How do you balance all these elements, and what takes precedence when you work?

ML: I always heavily research, experiment with and develop in a considered, conscious way both material and process, but the form is typically a matter of consequence and instinct.


V: Why is it important for you to experiment with craft and build things in your studio?

ML: As I always tell my students that without knowing the properties of a given material and how they can be processed, it’s impossible to design a good product using them. I also find it necessary to get my hands dirty. I’m not a very good designer on paper and instead develop ideas and resolve problems physically, in three dimensions.


V: Which project has posed the biggest challenge for you?

ML: Always those projects with more than two people involved (i.e. myself and the client). Whenever there are multiple voices, heads and hands driving the process, I find progress stutters and quality usually lowers. This comes back to the necessity for good communication and project management. But I prefer being ‘hands-on’ than project managing.


V: Tell us about your project for Valextra: what elements did you focus on for the design?

ML: I wanted to produce a really clean, visually strong and immediately identifiable store for Valextra. I wanted the store to be both minimal and impactful. The monochromatic terrazzo creates a white noise effect but by being a low resolution in scale and covering every surface of the floor and walls it produces a surprisingly quiet and graphic canvas for displaying the Valextra bags.


V: In your design for the boutique, materials are very important, how did you select and combine them?

ML: I set out to find a single material that could be used for all surfaces - walls, floor, shelves, furniture, and props. Very few materials can actually function well for so many applications. I have previous experience designing engineered terrazzo (I designed Marmoreal for DZEK in 2014 using all Italian marbles) and knew a marble-based manmade stone would be fit for purpose.


V: How does your design speak of Valextra’s heritage?

ML: The store serves solely as a platform for the Valextra bags and to highlight the quality of the materials, design, and craftsmanship of the Valextra bags. For this reason, the store is intentionally quiet and austere. In an equally quiet way, the store subtly reflects both Italian heritage (I took a simple notion that terrazzo has an inherently Italian narrative) and the geographical context of the store being set in Hong Kong (the white background marble and primary black aggregate – nero marquina – are both quarried in China, where the terrazzo was manufactured) whilst the subtle fleck of amber red marble is Rosso Verona was imported from Italy.



New Valextra Boutique in Hong Kong - Harbour City


Hailing from Cornwall (UK), Max Lamb grew up in close connection to nature, in a rural environment which inspired the designer to explore natural materials through his work. Following a degree in Three-dimensional design from Northumbria University in 2003, he was awarded with the Hettich International Design Award and the Peter Walker Award for Innovation in Furniture Design. In 2006 he completed his masters in Design Products from the Royal College of Art. In 2007 he opened his London studio, after years of experience working alongside Tom Dixon. At the same time, he becomes a lecturer at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at the Royal College of Art. Lamb is known for his unusual and unique and experimental approach to the use of natural materials, such as stone, pewter or volcanic rock. His research is documented through a series of YouTube videos. His work is imbued with a strong sensibility for craftsmanship and traditional techniques combined with contemporary design. http://maxlamb.org/