With a family like Nina Bruun’s, it’s no surprise that she went into a creative field. “My mom is an architect and weaver, my dad is a graphic designer who also draws, my grandmother was an artist, and my grandfather was an architect,” she lists, numbering them on her fingers. “Creativity and visual arts were really respected. I always knew that was the direction for me.”
Although she had found school as a child fairly boring, Nina found herself falling deeply in love at the Royal Danish Academy of Design in Copenhagen. “I loved every single bit of it,” she says, “My whole life I had felt so different from everyone else. I had gone back and forth from being really introverted to becoming really extroverted. When I applied to design school, I had been doing non-creative work and there was nothing wrong with it, but I just felt like I was dying on the inside. But once I started learning about design and working creatively, things just opened up. It was really amazing.”
That process of opening up meant Nina became confident in her skills and vision. “One thing I learned was to really advocate for my work. It’s something I strongly recommend to people looking to go into design, or any creative field, because you always have to be your own biggest supporter. I was sending my work to design blogs and magazines, networking as much as possible. I started doing research on who would be at various parties or events and making sure I went over to say hello to the people I wanted to meet. It’s so important to develop a network – do it kindly and naturally as possible, but definitely do it!”
Of course, doing the actual work is necessary too. Nina’s first real foray into product design came at the end of her Master’s degree. “It was a design project, but I didn’t really follow the instructions. Instead, I made something that I had in my mind, and I was lucky that the instructors really liked it. In fact, they encouraged me to apply for a design award, which I then won. Suddenly the thing I’d made – it’s called the Nest Chair – went viral, and I was on a bunch of design blogs and elsewhere. It was overwhelming, but also so exciting. The Museum of Arts & Design actually took it into their permanent collection, and it’s still there. There are only three copies of the chair; of course I have one, and it sits in my attic.”
When I ask whether she thinks she’ll ever take it out of the attic, Nina shakes her head. “No, I don’t think so. The Nest Chair is incredibly important to my career and my growth as a designer, but when I look at it, all I can see is that particular stage in my life. It’s in the past, and I’ve moved beyond it. I like knowing that it’s up there in the attic, but I don’t think it’s ever coming back down.”
This kind of pushing forward is characteristic of Nina, and it’s also a way for her to be honest about where she is in her career. “Right after graduating, I started a studio with furniture designer Maria Bruun (no relation). We had a great time, but I kept having this feeling of insecurity; that it just wasn’t the right time for me to be working independently. I felt I needed more time learning from bigger brands. So we parted and I started working at Muuto. I’d interned there during my degree, and they had reached out to me about doing art direction and design. Later, I was working solely in design. Finally, I became responsible for colors. I was at Muuto for four years, and it was absolutely wonderful.”
Working with colors isn’t a job description you see often, but Nina contends that she never set out to work with color specifically. “I’ve always been surrounded by color in a very curated way, because my family is so artistic. That was just part of how to decorate a home. So although I wasn’t particularly interested in color as its own category, I had developed an eye for it. That said, the first year of a half of doing that job was so intense! It was a constant learning curve, and always asking experts for an opinion. You can’t be afraid to do something you’re not an expert in; that’s how you learn.”
After four years, Nina decided it was time to move on. That fear of running her own studio back when she’d graduated? That was gone, replaced with an ambition that she could no longer ignore. Once the idea was planted, she knew she had to move with her characteristic decisiveness. “I reached out to my network and put clients in place for six months of work. It was mostly doing social media imagery and consulting. Once that was secured, I quit. It was the most amicable split you can imagine: I love Muuto and I owe them a lot. But it was just time. I’m a creator, not a maintainer.”
Since then, Nina Bruun’s studio has experienced accelerated growth. Her team continues to expand, bringing in experts in a variety of fields. They do retail design, textile design, graphic design, trend forecasting, and product development.
“We work with anything that has to do with aesthetics,” Nina explains. But just as important to Nina as the work is the internal dynamic of the studio. “We’re a little family here,” she says. “and it’s really important that every person on the team fits well and feels happy here. Otherwise we couldn’t get the work done as well.”
In 2018, Nina was asked to design an exhibition of the German Design Council for the important design fair Salone de Mobile in Milan. “It was a really big project, and very exciting for us,” she tells me. But Nina’s always moving on to the next thing, and she barely touches on the Milan project before she’s explaining the next product she’s designing, and what’s coming up next for the studio as a whole.
To talk with her is to share her restless, cheerful energy. It’s clear why she’s been so successful in such a short time: she believes in her own skills, she supports and believes in the skills of others, and she’s always striving to be better. “It’s really only the beginning for me,” Nina laughs, “because I’m always starting something new!”
See more of Nina Bruun’s work here.