Destination Guides

Use Your Illusion

Designer Chris Duffy talks floating tables and deceptive chairs

Use Your Illusion

Chris Duffy is the founder of design studio Duffy London. Since 2004, the company has produced a range of different furniture, lighting and interior products, ranging from the stylish to the creatively quirky. 

DEPARTURES: You describe yourself an ideas-based company. What exactly do you mean by that?

Chris Duffy: Our aim is for the ideas we have and, ultimately, the products we make to be as original as possible – sometimes even as whimsical as possible. 

Quite often, we’ll use a play on words or a joke as an inspiration: take the Surf-ace Table or the Storm in a Teacup, for example. Humour is very important in what we do. 


Optical illusions also seem to play a significant role in your designs.

Very much so. With these designs, we’ll often come up with an idea for an illusion first and then see how we can best integrate it into a piece of furniture. 

Like your most recent design, the UP Coffee Table (pictured at top)?

Funnily enough, we originally had the idea for this around four years ago, but that had to be shelved, because at the time we couldn’t find a manufacturer with the right material that was strong enough to make it. Then, last year, I was introduced to a company that had developed a special metal plating technique. They asked if I had any designs that might fit, and so I showed them the UP table. 

Usually, when we come up with what we think is a good idea, though, we try to get it done more quickly. Sometimes if you leave it too long, someone else produces something similar and then it’s too late. 

Who inspires you?

It may sound strange, but someone like [Isambard Kingdom] Brunel. Obviously my work is nothing like his, but I would like to design more engineering projects. He also constantly fought convention and really struggled to achieve what he wanted, so when I have similar problems – on a much smaller scale, of course – I take comfort in this. 

From the design world, someone like Anish Kapoor, who has worked on a huge variety of things. I would love to be able to work on much larger projects and installations. With some of my designs, the original concept was far grander, and I had to then scale it back to something that would fit in your living room, for practical and financial reasons.

The Shadow Chair

Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve created?

I would say the Shadow Chair. I think it’s almost a rite of passage for designers to have a ‘signature’ chair. Originally, I just intended to have a handful made; it was done more to generate some publicity. We’ve actually sold over 100 now, though. 

So, it was originally more of a sales gimmick?

No – the products that you could describe as being more gimmicky are actually the ones that I really love. I like to produce things that leave a lasting visual effect. The UP table is more a piece of art than a coffee table – it’s a visual focal point for a room that you also happen to be able to put a coffee cup on. These are the things that I want to do more of. 

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