The industrial designer, teacher and artistic director believes good design can help improve the world – making it smarter. Considered an icon of young Polish design, he has not forgotten about ‘the essence of things’. He runs the design studio PG13 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
The industrial designer, teacher and artistic director believes good design can help improve the world – making it smarter.
Rygalik studied architecture and urban planning at the Technical University of Łódź, and industrial design at Pratt Institute in New York (BA), where he graduated in 1999 with honours and was awarded the Pratt Circle Award for outstanding achievement in the field of industrial design. He worked for several years with design companies in the U.S., including Prime Studio, Arnell Group, Machineart, HFID / reface Design and Product Genesis. He also worked as a consultant for Kodak, Polaroid, MTV, PerkinElmer, Dentsply, Unilever and DuPont.
Rygalik began studies at London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) in 2003, and earned an MA in Design two years later, then joined the university’s research staff. He said that a nasty workshop accident, in which he almost lost three fingers, led him to join the renowned London school.
I had a hard time focusing on anything, but a friend brought me a picture book about 100 prominent designers. The text was mostly bullet points – easy to take in – and what I noticed was that in most of the profiles, the RCA was mentioned. I felt there must be something in the school that is so special, something that turns designers into their own designers.
Following graduation, he opened his own design studio in London. After returning to Poland, he set up studios in his native Łódź (2009) and in Warsaw (2010). From 2012 he has been running the Studio Rygalik together with his partner, Gosia Rygalik.
Rygalik was raised in a time of economic transformation in Poland, which influenced his views on design and how it fits in the wider picture. In his projects, one can clearly see his ‘resourcefulness’. This, he says, is an important feature of Polish design, acquired in times of need. As a child he watched his father, a confirmed DIYer, creating items that were hard to obtain in Communist Poland, such as a lamp or a lawnmower. According to Rygalik, openness and ability to face difficulties should be essential features for a designer.
In his lectures, Rygalik describes common design traps – situations when designers are duped into the marketing game, leading to unethical behaviour – that can create unnecessary things and stylised rubbish. Though he’s considered an icon of young Polish design, he has not forgotten about ‘the essence of things’.
Rygalik belongs to a group of enthusiasts who believe good design can help improve the world – making it smarter. Such a philosophy, in his opinion, can and should be the key to a decent life. Perhaps this attitude is a reason for his popularity as a lecturer.
At the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Rygalik runs a studio called PG13. The group consisted initially of 13 people, but over time the number of students increased. Rygalik chooses them from among the best portfolios and the most open minds. The design process in his studio is based on discussion, analysing problems, and finally constructing objects that try to respond to these hurdles.
The Genotyp / Genotype lamps are a product of experimentation with various materials, using all assets to create a useful product whilst influencing the sculptural effect of the final object. This reinterpretation of the classic standing lamp with shade resulted in a family of lamps made of Corian – a DuPont material used for bathroom and kitchen surfaces – that, as a group, are of slightly different colour, proportion and scale. The smooth, translucent Corian perfectly fits the lamps’ functions.
In his later works, Rygalik often refers to Pokój z Kuchnią / Room with a Kitchen designed for the Toruń Centre for Contemporary Art. The multifunctional space workshop opened in May 2009, designed for creative leisure. It was meant to be a space open to all, where one could read a book, have a coffee and talk. It also housed an educational workshop for children and youngsters.
Designing pieces for this space, Rygalik escaped from the boundaries of prefabricated furniture. Tables, benches and seats are site-specific, between designs and art. The concept is based on creative recycling concepts and architecture of Brazilian slums, where houses are built with materials often recycled from other buildings or landfills. The OSB furniture designed by Rygalik, can, over time, morph, migrate, or be finally destroyed.
Commenting on the concept of Room with a Kitchen, Rygalik said, ‘The beginning of the project often involves ideas that something can be used for something else. An open mind is important’.
A similar philosophy about space can be seen in the Absolutna Przestrzeń / Absolute Space (2009). A club in Warsaw was taken over by Rygalik and his studio, who designed a white plywood structure with tables and chairs in the middle, filling the interior of the club and spilling onto part of the street outside. This was in practice an architectural landmark, full of irregular organic structures, similar to the structure of ice.
Another interior design was created in April 2011 at the Constitution Square in central Warsaw. Warsztat / Workshop was set up to be an inspiration for meetings. In order to make the atmosphere a friendly one, once again, the workspace was made out of OSB.
Rygalik was a leader of the international research project workshop Rooted Design for Routed Living. Their alternative-design strategies were ‘implemented in 2009-2010 in the framework of artistic residencies in Poland and Norway.’ The participating Polish and Norwegian designers attempted to find an ideal solution to a common problem: an artistic residence that blends well with local history, aesthetics and heritage. Among the designs that emerged from this cooperation was the Daybed armchair, which can change its function according to its configuration.
Rygalik’s furniture is manufactured by companies in Poland and abroad. The artist considers a handful of designs in his portfolio as crucial. These include the leather Raw armchair, which supports a load without additional structural support, designed for Moroso in Italy, and a bent-plywood chair with an openwork structure in order to strengthen the construction, designed for the Finnish company Artek. The designer is also eager to work with Polish companies that place a strong emphasis on good design and build a brand based on Polish designers of innovative projects – Iker, Noti, Vox and Comforty. The Lemming armchair, designed by Rygalik for Iker, was selected for the design collection at the National Museum in Warsaw.
He cooperates with numerous companies, to name the few: DuPont/Corian, Moroso, Artek, Iker, Noti, Vox, Heal’s, ABR, Ideal Standard. Between 2011 and 2013 he acted as a creative director for Comforty, since 2013 he has been working in the same role for the company Paged. He designed numerous projects of sofas, tables and armchairs for Comforty, starting with a very functional sofa bed, lol, and ending on a rather extravagant high note with his Chopin sofa, whose fluid shapes mimic that of a piano. In 2014 Paged showed six collections in Milan, all of them created under Rygalik’s supervision. EVO, DUB, K2, TOLO, SEN and LUBI are characterised by a similar flair for adventurous colours and meticulous care for functionality. Rygalik combines wood, plywood and upholstery to create sitting arrangements that are both simple in form and comfortable for the user. Cosy and modern at the same time these projects can act as an adequate summary of Rygalik’s aesthetics.
In 2014, together with Gosia Rygalik, he prepared a special collection under the aegis of culture.pl. The collection, named NASZ, consists of both furniture (chairs, tables, pouffes) and dishes (mugs, plates, saucers). In 2015 Rygalik won the Designer of the Year title, awarded by the Institute of Industrial Design.
NASZ collection is an outcome of a research and development project that has worked as a catalyst of the creativity based on the resourcefulness in design. Characteristic for the times of austerity, the resourcefulness, when confronted with the possibilities of contemporary design and advanced and innovative industry, becomes an exceptional design strategy of an invaluable capacity.
In 2015, Tomek Rygalik was honored with the Designer of the Year award, awarded by the Institute of Industrial Design. The jury has justified their choice as follows:
Tomek Rygalik is a designer who managed to create his own, recognizable style of product lines, especially when it comes to furniture, characterized by its bold sculptural shapes. This way of creating shapes and forms is far from a traditional approach and demands from the producer to thoroughly understand and appreciate the sense of innovation in industrial design.
In the autumn of 2016, the works of Gosia and Tomek Rygalik were presented at the Arts and Crafts Museum in Dresden. They invited both city residents and refugees who had recently arrived in Dresden to join the project and exchange opinions. They initiated a discussion about the role of materials used in the production of furniture and how they shape cultural practices in relation to food. The starting point for the conversation was a table designed by Studio Rygalik – a collage of dining table tops in various shapes, characteristic to different cultures. Participants of the first workshop built the table together with the designers and then served a festive meal. The second half of the workshop was spent exploring the meanings hidden in the slogan ‘food design’. According to Gosia Rygalik, we can consciously shape the experience of eating as part of an everyday cultural practice.
The project was implemented in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Polish Institute in Berlin and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation.
In September 2018, Gosia and Tomek Rygalik took part in Vienna Design Week. Polish designers were invited to cooperate with a very well-known goldsmith’s workshop, Jarosinski & Vaugoin, founded in Vienna in 1841, which specialise in artisanal silver products (from jewellery to tableware). In cooperation with the Austrian artisans, Polish designers created a unique and exceptional project which was presented to Vienna Design Week’s audience in 2018. It is worth mentioning that Tomek and Gosia Rygalik had taken part in the Viennese festival before: for example, in 2011, they presented an unusual table made out of… baguettes. This item – both striking and aesthetic – was supposed to fuel the debate on the global issue of food waste.
In 2019, Tomasz Rygalik became the artistic director of Nobonobo (formerly Inspirium) – a Polish furniture company from Żywiec, operating on the market for two years. The owners – Monika Struska and Tomasz Matejczyk – mainly create upholstered furniture, focusing on Polish design. The first collection created by Rygalik included sofas, modular armchairs and coffee tables. The individual furniture could be combined in various ways, creating a coherent designer space. The entire collection was recognised by the Łódź Design Festival.
That same year, the American Hardwood Industry Trade Association (AHEC) collaborated with Tomek Rygalik and the Polish furniture production and design studio, Swallow's Tail Furniture. The aim was to design a chair. Tomek Rygalik began the project by acquiring a thorough knowledge of the material, red oak, and its potential – not only in terms of aesthetics, but also functionality. This is how the Natural Born chair came to life; its prime focus was on the raw material, not the product.
The Natural Born project aimed to revise the approach to the creation and consumption of material goods. Whilst working on the chair, Rygalik steered away from any complicated form, which often lacks functionality and at the same time consumes more effort in the creation process. Rygalik's chair, created from American red oak, is a kind of tribute to sustainable design at a time of over-consumption. Tomek Rygalik says:
Simple yet diverse boards of wood have become my inspiration. Rather than starting the project with a design in mind, my thinking instead focused on the material and how to process it in the least wasteful way, starting from the forest,its place of origin, to the finished product. The timber elements in the form of simple boards create the shape of chair. I wanted the design to call for the minimum amount of energy and man-hours used. The ‘Natural Born Chair’ is a simple, durable, comfortable and fully natural piece of furniture with a very low carbon footprint.
The Natural Born project is not the designer's first encounter with this material. In 2018, Rygalik created a statuette for the winners of the Warsaw Home International Design Fair using the same type of wood. The event, organised since 2016, is already one of the largest industry events in Europe, and certainly the region.
The corona virus pandemic took the world by surprise. The scale and rate with which the infection spread resulted in a shortage of protective supplies, gloves and masks in many countries. Citizens in Poland spontaneously organised into temporary groups and started supplying necessary equipment for hospital staff. All over Poland, 3D printers began a mass-production of face-shielding visors, and those who did not possess the right equipment shared their expert knowledge. Tomek Rygalik published a brief video on his Facebook wall instructing how to make a face shield frame from a clothes hanger and several paper clips.
Rygalik has won prestigious awards including the First Prize Award at the 2006 International Bombay Sapphire Martini Glass Design Competition, together with Dutch designer Jorre van Astem, the BSI Environmental Design Award 2005 and the 2004 Rosenthal Design Award. He was a finalist in the international competition of the British Council’s International Young Design Entrepreneur of the Year 2007.
His work has been published in prestigious international publications including Blueprint, Experimenta, ICON, Wallpaper the New York Times and the Financial Times.
Rygalik’s works were exhibited in exhibitions including: Park Products (London, 2004), aRCAology (2005), Like Nowhere Else (2005), Innovation (2005), Human Frame (2006), 100% East (2006), Bombay Sapphire Experience (permanent exhibition), as well as Rosenthal Design Convention (Munich, 2004), Talent / Talento (Milan, 2005), Nude (Valencia, 2005), SaloneSatellite (New York, 2006), Honda Project (Tokyo, 2006), 100% Design (Tokyo, 2006), as well as Made in Poland in Berlin and Frankfurt (Warsaw, 2007), Young Creative Poland (London, 2009), From Dusk Till Dawn, in the Design Gallery (Wrocław, 2009), and others. His designs have been presented at international trade fairs in Milan, Cologne, Valencia and Poznań.
- 2016 – Red Dot Design Award for the Tulli armchair
- 2015 – DesignAlive Awards 2015 Creator: Tomek Rygalik & Gosia Rygalik; Designer of the Year award; must have, Lodz Design Festival for UXI chair (Paged Collection)
- 2007 – finalist in The British Council’s International Young Design Entrepreneur of the Year 2007.
- 2006 – First Prize Award in 2006 International Bombay Sapphire Martini Glass Design Competition (with a Dutch designer Jorre van Astem)
- 2005 – BSI Environmental Design Award
- 2004 – Rosenthal Design Award 2004
Transl. Anna Maga, April 2013. Updated by HSz, June 2020.