Pushing Boundaries with MATERIAL LUST

“Material Lust strives to design a conversation around their admittedly ominous aesthetic and identity in a movement they have coined Oppressionism. Oppressionism is recognizable for the combination of heavy-handed theatrics, high design, and its exploitation of uncomfortable and often pornographic imagery.”


This design statement, pulled from the bio of design duo Material Lust, encapsulates the larger scope of their even grander ambitions. Christian Lopez Swafford and Lauren Larson make up this appropriately named design team, creating work that is both innovative and functional. While they seek to push boundaries and defy expectations in their products, they also aim to create pieces that you can actually use. Both graduates of Parsons, Larson was trained as an interior designer and Swafford as a product designer. The unique combination creates a brand that goes beyond expectations in the realm of home furnishings. They create artwork—and it happens to be utilitarian.

The best thing about it is the heart behind it all. They hand craft each piece and because each is made to order, what you get is inevitably entirely unique.

I sat down with the team to discuss their work, their inspirations, their relationships, and most importantly, just how they plan to continue bending the lines between high art and interior design.


You consider yourself “artists masquerading as designers.” Could you tell me a little bit about what that means for you?

CHRISTIAN: We’re designers. We’re both trained as designers. Lauren was trained as an interior designer and I was trained as a product designer. We both work in those fields, but for our own personal work, we started a company called Material Lust. And we wanted it to be a bit more art focused so that the product (our designs) would work as functional furniture. But we approach them more with an artist process than with a designer process.

LAUREN: Christian’s mother is a Mexican painter and my mother was an American painter, so we grew up in our mom’s art studios but then when we went to Parsons, we were trained very much with the structure.

CHRISTIAN: Like the Bauhaus School-type structuring. So, now we’re trying to merge those two worlds of real, kind of structured design and maybe the more organized art world.

How does that translate from a business standpoint? You sell your pieces not as art, but as furniture, correct?
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, we sell them as furniture. But it’s a fine line. There are a lot of galleries now that are treating home furniture and even home [goods] and lighting as art, so that’s kind of our niche.

LAUREN: They’re made by local artisans and they’re not mass produced in China.

CHRISTIAN: Everything’s made in the shop.

LAUREN: Each one is made by hand.


But they’re not one of a kind, are they?
CHRISTIAN: They’re not one of a kind. We definitely produce more of them. But they are still hand done; they’re made to order. They are the same design over and over again but each one has its own characteristics, I think.

Do you have any intentions of doing one of a kind work for galleries specifically?
CHRISTIAN: I would like to. But we don’t have any immediate plans. That’s definitely in the future. We’re kind of a full service design studio right now. So with Material Lust, we have the line—you know, we have the chair, the coat stands, and we have some lighting coming up but we also do—

LAUREN: Private commissions.

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, we do private commissions. Like, we’ll either do a one-of lighting piece for an interior designer or for a private client. We do a lot of different things. We even do branding for certain people. Basically our stuff is kind of more on the edgy side, so if a company or a client is looking for something like that, they can come to us and we kind of inject a little bit of, you know. . .


Your “flavor”?
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, a little bit of our flavor. We have a very specific aesthetic.

Is there any way that you could tell me a little bit about the two pieces that are currently featured: the pagan chair and the coat stands?
CHRISTIAN: We were inspired by this Man Ray photograph that we had—Lauren has been obsessed with it forever. (To Lauren) What’s it called?

LAUREN: It’s called “Man Ray Coat Stand” and it’s this part mannequin, part human—like nude human—incredible photograph.

CHRISTIAN: So we were obsessed with that and then we were playing with these primitive geometries. And trying to kind of get the feel—we wanted to have a kind of graphic silhouette but we wanted to keep it kind of surreal in the room, surreal and also really cast a beautiful shadow. . . That was our initial concept and it kind of grew from that.

LAUREN: The chair is part of—the ultimate is a five piece collection. So, the chair is the second part of that collection and it has the same kind of primitive symbolic nature to it.

CHRISTIAN Yeah, we’ve been obsessed with kind of pagan symbols recently. So, I mean, the pentagram is kind of the most noticeable one. We really wanted to get that kind of geometry across. And have something that’s really—I mean, we made it matte black so it has a really super graphic quality when it’s in the room.


It’s very bold—it’s very definite. It does translate that way. What is your relationship like? Do you find that difficult? Do you have a strategy for collaboration in design?
CHRISTIAN: We fight a lot. You know, whenever you hear interviews with The Rolling Stones? Like Mick and the guitarist—


CHRISTIAN: Yeah. And Keith. They’re fighting like crazy all the time—it kind of comes from that strife. You know, you have to get through all that emotional bullshit to get to a place where both of your creative chis are meeting. You know what I mean? I mean, whenever we get into those knock down, drag out fights, we just think that you kind of gotta go through that. We’re both very different in terms of what we like. We share a lot of the same common kind of design cues and history but at the same time we really do fight it out for every piece.

LAUREN: Yeah, but we respect each other’s criticism. I think it’s great because I’ll love something and Christian will hate it and then I might look at it differently—it forces us to be doing the best work that we can.

CHRISTIAN: It makes you become very critical of your own taste. Because everyone thinks that they have great taste, especially designers. So, if I like something and Lauren says “Oh, that things horrible,” you know—it really makes you question, “Why do I like this piece?”


I’m sure you come up with more dynamic results if you’re faced with that kind of conflict. With any kind of conflict, you come up with something more unique than you would otherwise.
CHRISTIAN: Oh for sure. I mean, to be honest, it was like a godsend when we started dating and then realized that we had, beyond our own relationship, that we kind of had this. . .At the same time that our relationship was growing, our creative relationship was growing without us even knowing.

I’m sure that bonds you together a lot, too.

CHRISTIAN: It’s like our children. All our friends are having kids and we’re all about creating stuff.

For the magazine, could you tell us what your WILD Wish is?
CHRISTIAN: I think our long-term goal—and I don’t think it’s that wild, but I guess its kind of wild—is to buy a building, totally redo it, have a gallery space in the bottom floor, a shop in the basement, and then live upstairs. I mean that’s really the wish. It’s not that wild. But, that’s what we want to do.

That sounds very realistic.
CHRISTIAN: Here, this is WILD. When they’re talking about design movements in the art history books, that Material Lust would end up in those books.


LAUREN: Whenever we design stuff, we always ask ourselves, “Could this be in an art history book in fifty years and everybody would still appreciate it?”

CHRISTIAN: Maybe [it wouldn’t] necessarily be the style of the time but [it would] have a historical reference of what was happening in New York in the Tens or whatever—like “This was a chair that was produced.”

That’s a great way for you to force yourself to push boundaries.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, for sure. But the problem with the interior design world—especially furniture design-is that it’s just regurgitating the same thing. It’s inexpensive, it’s made in Asia, and it’s all things that we want nothing to do with.

“The Coat Stand”- Man Ray

Check out some more of Lauren and Christian’s work here.

text by: Hillary Sproul

photography by: Aviva Rowley

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