They treat each other with respect at work and in their personal lives—there is room for heated professional debates, sharp criticism and honest compliments in their day. All the while, they are also thinking about the future: it’s important for them to give cultural impulses for their young son and the open professional dialogue for the next generation of designers. We talked with Annabella Hevesi and Gábor Bella, designers at IO.
Annabella: I had Gábor and an architect friend interviewing me for my first major job. At that time, I was living in a two-square-meter room and I was just starting my master’s degree. I really needed the job, I was anxious and I wanted to make a good impression. I thought that job was my only chance. He seemed infinitely confident and relaxed, but strict. Later I found out that Gábor was experiencing a difficult period in his life too. It took us nine months of symbiotic stahanovism to step out of the company’s confines—that’s when we started our first independent project of our own, and after all this time, we had the courage to face the fact that it was more than a working relationship.
Gábor: We had been working together for several months, Annabella had a growing influence on me, but I didn’t express my attraction in any way, because I didn’t have the courage to admit it even to myself. Then I went on a backpacking trip to Morocco, and there, in the solitude of the Sahara, I ventured to face my feelings—regardless of the age difference, I want to be with her. Of course, it took another three months before I was brave enough to tell her…
Annabella: Our living space is our workplace, we work almost around the clock. Every design task is first analyzed together to the smallest detail. Usually one of us will start to be concerned about some discrepancy or interesting aspect of the task and will blurt it out to the other. These are usually very free, inspiring and sometimes heated conversations. Our boundaries become blurred—often we can’t even tell afterward which one of us an idea comes from. After that, the subtasks tend to develop organically, but usually Gábor is more concerned with technical issues and communication, and I am more focused on shape and visualization. Luckily, we both have a say in everything, and that creates a balance.
Gábor: I really like the first steps: the conversations, the research, the reading up, the intense association, the engagement with the task. It always amazes me how, despite the many, many differences between us, our brains are on the same page, how similar, or even often identical our insights, conclusions or the dynamics of our discussions are, because of course there is not always an idyllic harmony. Often, we clash so vehemently over a different interpretation of an idea that outsiders and colleagues are startled: “at best, they’ll get divorced, but they might as well kill each other!” But I’m calm as long as we get involved so intensely, because that means the task and the IO are important to us.
Annabella: We share the same values and attitude to design, but we bring a different package, which makes the collaboration incredibly inspiring and synergistic. Gábor is a very passionate man with the genuine curiosity of a small child, and has accumulated a tremendous knowledge in all sorts of fields, sometimes quite astonishing. If we asked him now, he could improvise a gripping lecture on, for example, the labeling habits of butterfly collectors and the typography associated with labels. This is fascinating and liberating for me. And he also has a strong critical attitude, which is something I really need.
Gábor: Annabella’s design talent has impressed me practically since the first time I had the chance to look at her portfolio at that very job interview. I don’t know a designer who is more adaptive and confident than her, and that makes a strong impression on me. We always approach design tasks very analytical, so eventually, the inspiration comes from the problem—of course, we never know exactly what it will be at the beginning.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OR CRITICISM
Annabella: Gábor was the first person I could really accept professional acknowledgment from, maybe because I don’t know anyone who is more critical than him. He tends to address his problems in a presentable way, which usually turns into constructive discussions. He also expresses his appreciation in a clear and analytical way. Sometimes I am even more critical than Gábor, of myself and others, but I work to focus on the positive, to openly acknowledge the work of others and not to relativize my own achievements.
Gábor: With me, Annabella is very tolerant, soft-spoken, and in most cases her insights are valid. I’m much harsher on her work, but I think she gets most of her praise from me, and absolutely not for pedagogical reasons, but because I’m really impressed by most of her work. But I only take criticism from others well if it is thorough, rational and coherent.
Gábor: I would like us to go abroad for a few years, to Italy or Japan for example, partly for professional reasons and partly so that our son can be exposed to other cultures at an early age.
Annabella: I consider it almost a lifetime goal to have our own home one day, and thus a stable point for us and our son. With IO we plan on an international scale, we would like to be able to design for the big European furniture companies someday. I also have a short-term goal of starting the doctorate course and would also very much like to teach my profession. For some reason, an important vision of ourselves from the very beginning is to help the next generations and to start an open professional dialogue.
Gábor: Last spring we went to Morocco together and shortly before the trip we found out that we were having a baby. Of course, from the outside you couldn’t tell that she is pregnant, but in one of our accommodations, at an elderly Berber woman, Anabella felt sick and was nauseous. To avoid offending the old lady, I explained the situation to her—it was complicated, she spoke Arabic, Berber and Spanish, but I spoke none of them. In any case, from then on Najat (that’s the Berber woman’s name) pampered Annabella, putting her hand on her belly as if to bless her, walking and talking together—which was quite one-sided, given the language barrier. However, Najat always referred to the child as “bebé”. That became our son’s first name, and we have called him Bebi ever since, along with Ármin.
Annabella: I’m almost absolutely sure she said she would be happy to see us again with Bebi.
Photos: Balázs Mohai