Her pieces are earthy, timeless, and elegant, keeping perfect balance with themselves and their surroundings. With work featured in AD Germany and IDS, she’s a future design legend in the making.
She was also one of CASSON’s first employees, an experience that helped shape her unique perspective on industrial design.We spoke to her about her inspirations, her newest line of hardware Fauna, and her first foray into furniture.
How did you get started in design?
After studying psychology and philosophy, I wanted to step out of the theoretical. I studied industrial design, hoping to combine my interests of epistemological thinking and making tangible things.
And what drew you to hardware?
I started in hardware because of the founders of CASSON, Jane and Megan. While I was interning, Jane saw a project of mine. I had designed a bottle opener, a thick curve of metal with notches on the inside. When Jane saw it she was like, “Can you make me a handle like this?” So, that became Cercle Thick Pull.
Then, I built a small series around it: a thinner version and a small globe. That was the first Maha Alavi hardware line that CASSON has carried for, like two years, and we've just expanded.
"My lines have the same ethos... Ideally, they are heirlooms - I design them so they could be at home in a variety of spaces."
You added a new, exaggerated size with the Cercle Large and the Cercle Half Pull, which really anchors the entire line as very graphic and geometric. Where did you get the idea for these pieces?
These things are so intuitive. I thought what can I add to this series that would make it a little more interesting? The half pull - it’s a little edgier, literally edgier. The whole Cercle series is about playful proportions. Some of the pieces are more subtle. These are the ones that keep it very cool, very modern.
Tell me more about this new series, Fauna. It seems to be less geometric, almost more Art Nouveau?
Fauna is more experimental, more organic, and yeah, I guess a bit Art Nouveau. It's also inspired by nature. I actually thought of the design while hiking through Switzerland. I remember looking down and seeing wildflowers and mountain plants (pictured top left) with these interesting and dainty forms. So, I borrowed from that.
The two lines have similarities, they are graphic and raw, but such different tones. Which one draws you more?
I find that I want to go in two different directions. I want to do a cleaner graphic line, which is Cercle, made out of these foundational shapes. And then I wanna go super organic with Fauna, or traditional with the oval knob.
But my lines have the same ethos - careful consideration of materials and shapes. Ideally, they are heirlooms - I design them so they could be at home in a variety of spaces.
"When you already have a concept in your head, in the back of your subconscious, it can somehow come back to you in a fully articulated version."
You recently began designing furniture with Lithic, an almost exaggerated chair featuring playful proportions and curves, combined with soft, anchoring details. How did it happen?
Last year, the curator of IDS Studio North reached out and asked if I wanted to pitch something. I was like, “I don't have anything, but yes!”
I worked really quickly. It went from a drawing in my notes app to a fully fabricated functional piece of furniture, on display, in less than three weeks.
And that was Lithic? That’s very fast!
It is! Overnight, this design just kind of came to me. When you already have a concept in your head, in the back of your subconscious, it can somehow come back to you in a fully articulated version. I think I’d been imagining the Lithic for a long time.
How is Lithic in conversation with your earlier designs?
Well, I work with these bold, robust round shapes. You can see it in the hardware, in the exhibition I did with Umbra (below right). It focuses on curves, a bit exaggerated but balanced. Lithic has the same principles, but transfigured to furniture.
I love playing with these shapes, some foundational, elemental, or exaggeratedly graphic but finding a way to ground them through materials. So, that's in keeping some materiality, whether it's a natural metal finish, or a gorgeous wood, or roughing up plastic, so it becomes tactile and soft.
Lithic has expanded from an occasional chair to a dining chair, which because of its exaggerated proportions doesn’t seem like an obvious or effortless adaptation. How did you make these changes and have it still work?
It was an ergonomic study. I kept the diameter of the wooden tube the same, which is five inches. But I did scale everything to dining proportions, meaning the sea height went up, the back rust went up, it became narrower. I like to see how many iterations I can make but keep the philosophy, the idea, pure.
You always play with your series - finding patterns and ways to expand an idea.
I do like the idea of having series instead of like one off. It feels like I'm orphaning my ideas if I leave them alone. I have to flesh out the idea fully, and that comes with going back to it, until you feel like you've done enough kinda with it. Then, it's in a space where it can live on itself without you intervening.
What inspires your designs?
I am inspired by breaks from the everyday - well, actually, I like experiencing the everyday in a new way. Almost all of my designs have happened after travelling - Fauna in Switzerland, Lithic after a trip to the Dominican - something about the quotidian made fresh that invigorates me.
I love the process too, using clay and learning new and different craft techniques. What I'm doing now for my new series is hand making out of clay, all of them. And then casting those directly; there's no computer or software involved, just like straight from my hands to the metal.
What’s it like working with CASSON?
I feel like we have a super unique relationship. I've known them since 2018. I've grown up with them. They've seen me go from student to intern to collaborator now, independent designer. They've seen a lot. And, it’s because I was able to see Jane and Megan do their own thing while I was a student, I always had it in my head that I could also do my own thing.
Dream spots for More about some of our favourites from MAHALAVI
We asked Maha to talk about her classic pieces and where she imagines them.
What would be the most interesting way you would want to see someone use the Cercle collection?
I designed these to be used on any drawer or furniture, antiques with small details or totally modern flat front, but I love when someone takes my work and uses it an unusual way.
Somebody used the small Cercle knobs for a guitar cabinet to house their instruments. I thought that was so creative and so sweet.
Where do you imagine Fauna being used?
Fauna, because it was inspired by Europe, to me it's almost situated there. There’s something old-world and luxurious about the line. I see it in a fancy European pied-à-terre, with a freestanding tub.
I'd also love to see the hooks outside a sauna or steam room. Somewhere where you feel invigorated and natural.
What's your dream for Lithic?
I love working with clients to create iterations of my work that will fit in their space - do you want wider? A different finish? A matching side table? We can collaborate and make that possible.
I’m looking to make a two or three seater. I want to play with upholstering the chair, to create even more softness. I want a coffee table, a whole set. That’s the dream: a room of all Lithics.