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Barcelona design pioneer on classic craft and minimalism

His family left their mark on the Barcelona skyline (his uncle commissioned Antoni Gaudí to design the Casa Milà, AKA La Pedrera, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions), but Miguel Milà chose to leave his imprint on a more modern field of design, dropping out of architecture school in the 1950s to pioneer the field of Spanish industrial design.

Post-war Spain of the fifties was a place of scarcity and for Milà this became an opportunity. He began to create the interior designs- furniture and lamps- that his architect brother couldn’t find on the market. Working by hand, Milà created his prototypes himself in his home workshop. “I love to do handwork and DIY and this has helped me, always”.

Gradually, he made a name for himself and his products have become classics; his TMC and TMM lamps are still on the market after more than half a century, but he hasn’t stopped tinkering and making things by hand, when possible.

“All design is born as craft,” he notes though more recently its meaning has changed, for some. “People have made craft, I don’t know why, it causes fear, so they make useless objects and bad sculpture. Because they’re made by hand they call this craft, but no. Craftwork, thought of like this, loses significance.”

For Milà, craftwork is about making useful objects and he’s spent his career perfecting lamps, chairs, benches and faucets (he recently released an eco-faucet designed to make it intuitively easy to conserve hot water).

With his son, industrial designer Gonzalo, Miguel has created such practical designs as modular exterior lighting and a garbage can- plus accompanying ashtray- for Barcelona’s streets. Their collaborative process, like their solo endeavors, is one developing an idea by removing the superfluous.

The results are minimalist designs, but Milà shies away from the term. “Minimalism as a style seems silly to me because, the less it has the better? And if it falls then what?”

A rational minimalist, perhaps, now at age 81, Milà is officially retired, but his work still sells, notably for design powerhouse Santa & Cole. He credits his success to having been born at a time “when rigor and honesty were high values”. Despite the retirement, he hasn’t stopped working with his hands.