Lebrel is a product and furniture design project run by Fernando Abellanas, a Spanish plumber who has designed and built everything that surrounds him from a very young age.
Inspired by pioneer designers and architects from the 60’s and the 70’s, Fernando creates highly-functional products with minimalist aesthetics that range from lamps, shelves and benches to bike racks.
Photos by Javier Ferrer Vidal
Please introduce yourself. What made you first interested in design?
Since I was very young, I’ve been in contact with handicraft work. Even as a child my father always encouraged us to take part in the creation, manufacturing and repair of our own furniture. This made me develop an interest to find out how the different objects around us are designed and manufactured.
I started with oil painting and then moved on to designing small pieces of furniture which I manufactured with very limited resources. When I was 18 I left high school and got a job. At 23 I started working as a plumber on my own, which I still do and combine with the rest of my projects. At 26 I became obsessed with Do-It-Yourself and I started building my home/ workplace -this kept me busy for the next 3 years.
Now that I have my own work space, more means and the knowledge I acquired on my own, I can focus on my design and production projects.
You’re based in Valencia – a Spanish region with a great design tradition – did this influence somehow your decision to become a designer?
More than being in Valencia, what has influenced me has been to be surrounded by very creative people from many different fields.
You work with many different materials but metal seems to be an important part of your designs. What does metal offer you that you can’t find in other materials?
My main job – since I was very young – has been plumbing, therefore I have daily contact with this family of materials. Metal’s versatility seems very interesting to me: you can curve it, weld it, etc. Working with metal offers me a wide range of possibilities.
What other materials do you like to work with? Is there any material you haven’t used yet but you’d like to incorporate into your designs some day?
I mainly work with metal, wood and stone. There are thousands of materials that make production processes easier and cheaper but I try to use noble materials. I like combining them and keeping the essence of each one: let stone be stone and wood be wood.
How’s your design process? Do you spend time doing research and sketching your ideas or do you prefer to go into the workshop and start experimenting?
My design process is very basic. I draw a lot on a pad until I obtain the main idea, but it is in the workshop where I really solve the design problem. By building the prototypes myself, I can check functionality and make corrections on the spot. When I obtain the desired result, I build the necessary tooling to be able to replicate the parts easier and with a better finish. I usually build small lots of 10 or 20 units which I then sell.
Your designs are quite minimalist – Who/what are your main influences?
I am very much influenced by designers and architects who were pioneers in 60’s and 70’s, but my main influence is artisan work. I am obsessed with the idea of maximizing results with the minimum amount of resources. The design and manufacturing of the tooling excites me just as much as the final result. I am also inspired by places I visit daily: abandoned buildings, last century industrial constructions, old water reservoirs, tunnels, etc. Architecture plays a main role in my designs.
Your home and workspace are just separated by one door. Is it difficult to separate work from your free time?
Separating work from leisure doesn’t worry me: I enjoy doing what I do. Since, for the time being, I survive mainly with my job as a plumber, I need to make good use of every spare minute for my design projects – living next to my workshop allows me to do this.
Some of my best ideas arise when I am having breakfast or in bed just before going to sleep, so I just need to cross a door to check and solve a process doubt, or just start working on a prototype.
What’s the design/product you’re most proud of?
In general, I am satisfied with each of the designs I produce. Many prototypes are left behind. I only select those which please me. Being able to produce my own designs from start to finish is a motivation to continue creating.
If you had unlimited budget, what would you design?
I would focus my designs in architecture. I am attracted by the concept of “huts”: making use of small wasted spaces existing often in large civil works such as underground, roads, etc. I have visited these types of places for many years looking for ways to use them as living spaces.
What’s been the biggest challenge and success in running your own business so far?
My biggest challenge has been, undoubtedly, building my home/ workshop, the main idea being to make it a part of my project using it as a showroom. Normally I produce pieces of furniture which I place in my home. When a customer is interested in the work I do he can visit the workshop where the product was designed and built and also see the final product in a real ambiance. Living with my creations lets me check, first hand, their quality and functionality.
What are your favorite spots in the Valencia?
My favorite spots are not, usually, easy to see. I find more interesting a concrete labyrinth underground or an old abandoned factory than any tourist attraction. All cities have a part, not usually seen, which is much more interesting.