It’s a subtle doorway in London’s Shoreditch that leads me into the working world of British designer Michael Sodeau. Barely a moment passes to admire the sketches on the walls and the scale models of furniture before we head back out the door to a nearby café. I sense Michael is keen for an afternoon breather as we sit down to reflect on his long-term collaboration with Modus.
In many respects, the evolution of his studio and that of Modus has run in parallel; the former started in 1997 and the latter in 2000. Sodeau graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1994 having already started making a whole variety of inflatable products that were launched a year later under the name Inflate. The collections, comprising everything from blow-up egg cups, fruit bowls and lighting, were bright and whimsical and earned him and his partners a lot of attention in a short space of time.
But Sodeau soon felt that too much of his time was spent making and not enough designing. When he launched his own studio in 1997, he consciously chose to broaden his repertoire of materials and product typologies. Furniture became his focus and the production was outsourced, often made in small batches. It didn’t take long for his path to cross with Modus during the early years when an opportunity took them to Tokyo and the relationship began.
“I suppose you could say I’ve always had an upholstery relationship with Modus,” says Sodeau as he mentally backtracks through nearly two decades of collaboration. Over that time, his repertoire for the company has been varied yet his upholstered furniture designs have contributed greatly to the company’s evolution, especially his Lilly Chair and sofa, Library sofa and more recently pac.
Sodeau’s own studio has evolved with a multi-disciplinary approach to design, working on physical products of all scales as well as exhibition design and full interior fit-outs. Graphic design and identity enter the equation too, which comes down to a desire to input into the multifarious elements of a project and contribute to the whole as opposed to fragmented parts.
Interior projects have become a fruitful part of the studio’s workload. It is often when creating a small batch of bespoke furniture for, say, a restaurant interior that a commercial item may be born off the back of its development. Such a dynamic has existed between the designer and Modus over the years, with the library sofa evolving from the interior fit out of a private residence in Portugal
Sitting back in his chair, he reminisces on the evolution of Modus. “The company has enjoyed an organic growth,” he says. “Its evolution has involved small steps and incremental improvements and during that process, Modus has remained flexible and very competitive. The company has learned from experiences and grown up from those lessons.” Furthermore, Modus has increasingly worked with a solid repertoire of international designers, broadening its reputation abroad and opened it up to foreign markets and media, something Sodeau has enjoyed being a part of.
His work takes him all over the world but I discover that’s not the only thing. He is also an avid cyclist and his passion for two wheels takes him on bike tours to places like Mallorca or the Cote d’Azur. Closer to home, he can be found doing laps of Regents Park or heading out of North London into surrounding countryside at the weekends with a group of likeminded enthusiasts. This might explain our setting, as the café doubles as a bicycle repair shop with bikes coming and going throughout our meeting, catching his eye as they pass.
He talks with enthusiasm about this relatively newfound passion, explaining the Rapha Cycling Club that he’s part of with a growing group of fellow devotees. He has invested in all of the precision gear for optimum performance and, as we wrap up our conversation and head back to his design studio, I predict it’s only a matter of time until he extends his design hand to the fine-tuned accoutrements of pedal power.