Bonnie Hvillum on creating immersive interactions based on self-made natural materials

The consultant, strategic advisor, and founder of the cross-disciplinary Natural Material Studio on how bio-based packaging can create an advantage in a competitive retail landscape.

5 Jun 2023

Hvillum has a master’s degree in Interaction Design and has run a consultancy company for process facilitation within the circular economy. In 2019, she established Natural Material Studio, which is now an international design, research, and consultancy studio aiming to change our understanding, perception, and relationship with materials.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

— I am educated to design interactive user experiences, but the playful game of using up what we have with sustainability in mind has always been a great part of me. So, we create immersive interactions based on natural materials or residue. I see my working approach as very childish, with a naive beginner’s mind, but also very visionary, constantly exploring the potential in the overseen to create highly sensory experiences.

Who are your clients? And what do you offer them?

— We work very cross-disciplinary, with everything from international sports brands, fashion, architecture, design, and art, offering consultancy, strategic advice, and research within the journey of replacing materials with better alternatives or re-purposing residue into value. In these projects, we use hands-on research as a method and tool to create change, and we often end up in an exhibition, carrying out an installation, or demonstrating a product as a way of communicating the learnings. We also develop and produce our own bio-based materials, using our own production techniques and processes to create bespoke materials. We use these materials and processes for our own designs and also for commissioned projects. Our previous and continuous clients include Frama, Noma, and Dinesen. Hvillum explains, continuing,

— Last Christmas, we created our first packaging design concept for Calvin Klein. We used our Procel, a bio-textile handcrafted and developed in Copenhagen which is made of ingredients and pigments that are sourced directly from nature. It is a living material — texture, colour, and shape are reactive to the material’s environment and change with temperature, humidity, and time. Packaging can easily be an underestimated aspect of a product in terms of budget, which is a shame because it plays a big experiential part in receiving or buying a product. It shifts our focus away from a fully product-minded consumer culture to a more experience-oriented one, which could be seen as a more mindful, way of consuming. We work in a premium sector as all our materials are, for now, handmade, so with packaging, it also has to make sense in terms of the aim and budget. We research and design from a renewable and circular point of view, with science, biology, chemistry, design, and art as our building blocks.

Bonnie Hvillum. Photography: Lasse Dearman

You mentioned science and you’re also a part of scientific projects. What have you studied?

— Since2020 — together with the Technological Institute in Denmark and the Danish Christmas Tree Association, supported by the Danish Ministry of Environment — we have been researching Danish pine needles as a potential fibre source for a non-woven, leather-like material for upholstery and accessories, called Pinel. It’s based on leftover pine needles from the Danish Christmas tree industry, and only looking at the leftover trees from the farmers, we stand with 4—5 million trees after the festive season, which we now try to repurpose and encapsulate into a new material. We already have our beta version of the material that we use in smaller-scale pilot projects, but this year, we hope to find the right production method for large-scale production, so we can tap into a larger market, says Hvillum. She continues:

— We are also part of a larger cross-disciplinary research project, running until this summer, together with Dinesen and architects Kim Lenschow Office and funded by Dreyers Fond. Together, we research sawdust to explore new usages, aesthetics, applications, and as a potential fibre for interior materials. This spring, we are also included in Noma’s pop-up restaurant in Kyoto, Japan, together with world-leading and specially selected craft people from both Denmark and Japan. For the new restaurant, we have designed two new biomaterials based on both algae and reishi but also one based on seashells. The materials will be used as a spacial installation and for a bespoke lamp design. We can’t wait!

During this week’s 3daysofdesign, Natural Material Studio presents HUMAN NATURE, its biggest solo installation to date, at the Nordic region’s largest contemporary art institution, Copenhagen Contemporary. The studio’s own biomaterials and processes, developed from biopolymers, natural softeners, clay, and chalk, are spatially designed to take advantage of the art hall’s large vaulted ceilings when being weaved into 7-metre-long material works and seating objects constructed from bio-foams, merged in a functional and artistic setting.

— We want to explore a non-narrative aesthetic as an opposition to the highly constructional; to host a pure sensory and explorative bodily experience with the materials, their given forms and the environment in which they sit, says Hvillum, continuing,

— Creating new, natural materials, we are determined to understand how we can design in collaboration with nature and the natural occurrences that happen within these organic processes. We are seeking to find the balancing point between human and nature’s own agency.