Michael Hilal Debuts his Love Letter to California


Today in Antwerp, San Francisco-based designer Michael Hilal will introduce his first collection of furniture designed in collaboration with the iconic Belgian gallery—St. Vincents. Entitled Big Sur, Hilal describes the five-piece series—that includes a sculptural tête-à-tête sofa of modular upholstered components, two stools and an aluminum and acrylic Judd bar—as “a love letter to California.” Known for his poetic, balanced aesthetic that challenges the concept of formality, each piece continues this dialogue through form and function. “Formality is another societal barrier that we don’t need,” says Hilal. “I’m the person who wears my silver JW Anderson loafers on a Wednesday to the grocery store.”

Inspired by the California’s rugged topography, the Big Sur modular sofas offer a variety of configurations for “hanging out, catnapping, toasting cocktails or telling secrets,” he notes. The clever, Judd bar made of aluminum and acrylic that dually serves as a record player is an homage to artist Donald Judd’s reductive forms. Each piece commands its own attention while flawlessly flowing together as one when in the same space. Here, we share a discussion with Hilal about what this collection means to him both personally and professionally.

Designer Michael Hilal. Photo by Katie McCurdy.

How did the collaboration come about?  When I worked on a space for Kips Bay I decided to design and create most of the furnishings for the space and do something monochromatic. The images that came out of that were so striking and the design felt very fresh.  After the beautiful imagery of the space circulated St Vincent’s and I began communicating about the pieces and the opportunity for me to launch my first furniture collection with them. It really does go down in the DMs. It took about a year to come up with how we wanted to launch the collection, strategy and production.

Photos courtesy of St Vincents.

Why did you choose to launch your first collection with St. Vincents? As mentioned, the St Vincent’s team and I started talking over Instagram, we really got to know one another and understood one another’s long term goals; it just felt right. I’m all about vibes and following my initial intuition; it always ends up being the right call. St Vincent’s now represents me as an artist and we’ll be launching more collections in the future.

Geraldine and Henri spent time working with me on the requirements to build a collection instead of just a few pieces for clients. We are producing the pieces in the U.S. (for this market) primarily in the Bay Area, and additionally in Belgium (for the European market). We are using production facilities that make pieces for some of the biggest interior design and architecture names coming out of Belgium. As we look to expand the collection, we are exploring new artisans to work with. I really do owe a great deal to St Vincent’s for believing in me and my work. I see a longstanding relationship with them as we look to expand the collection.

The BIG SUR 1.1 STOOL by Michael Hilal. Photos courtesy of St Vincents.

-What is the story behind each piece? The seating collection is called Big Sur, it’s my love letter to the California landscape. I wanted the seating to feel as though it could be immersed in nature and fit right in. I wanted the pieces to turn the idea of traditional seating configurations on their head, and create the concept of a space having a circular flow versus a conventional configuration.

For the bar I took inspiration from one of my design icons, Donald Judd. I looked to his late 70s to early 90s metal and acrylic work. I thought about how Judd might have made the openings as useful as possible and closed off everything else. Anecdotally, when I was presenting my space with the bar in it for Kips Bay Dallas—unbeknownst to me—Donald Judd’s nephew came into the space.  He stopped at the bar and when I explained to him the inspiration he said, “this is exactly how my uncle would have made it”.  A flattering experience that I certainly hope others find true as well.

The BIG SUR 1.1 SOFA by Michael Hilal hangs below a MOBILE by Anne Büscher, next to a BRONZE STOOL by Haring. Photos courtesy of St Vincents.

Will you be adding pieces to the collection? Yes, I am currently working on Collection 2.0, which will be an extension of the first collection adding dining, more seating and coffee and side tables.

The Judd bar by Michael Hilal. Photos courtesy of St Vincents.

What does this collection mean to you and the success of your career? This is really a huge milestone for me. I’ve only been in the interior design space for four years now and I realize what an accomplishment and how fortunate I am to be able to launch a collection with such a prestigious gallery. Between the attention that my work has garnered in such a short period of time and the people who have supported me through the years, I cannot put into words my gratitude. This collection will be one milestone of many.

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