INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
Lasvit: a glass act

Czech glass manufacturer, Lasvit, is on a pioneering path to revolutionise centuries old Bohemian glass and make it new again.

Leon Jakimic, who heads the four-year young Czech glass company, Lasvit, is not your typical CEO. The California-educated former tennis star and avid skier is making his mark in the design world introducing Czech glass to a whole new audience that is younger and hipper. With much hometown pride and no shortage of bright ideas, Jakimic has managed to breathe new life into centuries old Bohemian glass, using parametric design and superstar designers. The results are an amazingly fresh line up of products, from bespoke lighting fixtures to architectural glass, that are getting good play with designers, who are specifying them left and right in high-end hospitality environments and welcome lobbies of some of the most iconic buildings in the world, such as the Burj Khalifa.

On a recent trip to Lasvit's two studios last month, a more traditional one where large float glass panels are made for use as interiors partitions and exterior walls and a more romantic one where bespoke pieces are hand blown, I witnessed the making of several products Lasvit was preparing to debut at this year's design fair in Milan. Aside from the obvious camaraderie of the glassblowers that was thick in the air and a real clue that these guys were having fun, it was clear that Jakimic was respected by the young Czech designers he culled from the local art schools to work for him who, together with established designers like Favio Novembre and Ross Lovegrove, were like a pick-up band of rock and rollers who had come together for the night's performance.

Surprisingly, it was the elder statesman of the group, Britain's own Ross Lovegrove who was pushing the envelope, so to speak, working at the far edges of glassmaking practice, drawing inspiration for his designs from such things as swarm theories and using computers to create new patterns and shapes like the wavelike patterns of the panels he created for an ethereal pavilion, dubbed Liquidkristal, which Lasvit unveiled at the Triennnale, a name that is particularly fitting as the glass panels, like water, seem to be in a constant state of movement.

Oki Sato of Japanese Nendo studio, the red-hot, young designer whose work was all over the fair and is working with Lasvit on several projects, took a retro approach to Bohemian glass, choosing to hand blow a number of bespoke pieces for the fair. Sato told me that he has been travelling back and forth quite regularly to the Czech Republic to do this work, which requires skill and patience to get it right.

At last year's Salone, Lasvit debuted Nendo's Growing Vases, a lighting installation that alludes to a whimsical glass forest filled with abstract flowers and branches. That piece, which now hangs in London's Mint Gallery, led to much anticipation for Lavist's collaboration Nendo this year. Called "Still and Sparkling", presumably after the lightness of champagne bubbles, the new collection includes beautiful objects and lamps that have an elegant lightness and minimalism about them.

Each product in the line is named for the process that created it, such as the Inhale Lamp, where glass blowers form big air bubbles then inhale to produce an unusual shape created by negative air pressure, and my favourite, the X-Ray vases, which capitalise on transparency and reflection to transform a series of domes within a larger mirrored dome into a subtle, ever-changing, and quite frankly mesmerising optical effect. For his part, Oki Sato says, "Working with glass is like working with water. You can never totally control this material, so there is always research, new attempts, risk-taking, testing what is possible. The experience is extremely stimulating for me."

Stimulating and risk-taking pretty much sums up what Lasvit is doing for the glassmaking industry, as evidenced by the many creative products it has brought to the market in four short years.

Sharon McHugh