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Lights on Massimo Buster Minale: Talking to the man behind the world's first designer LED bulb

Massimo Buster Minale, founder of Buster + Punch

Massimo Buster Minale is an London architect and industrial designer who back in 2013 founded Buster + Punch, an interior design label now successfully cemented at the forefront of British Design Art. We welcomed the opportunity to talk to the man himself about his ground breaking achievements, inspirations, collaborations and how it all began from a garage in East London... How did you venture into the world of design? "Mum & Dad both worked as Graphic Designers, my Dad had a really big branding agency in the 50’s and 60’s branding all the big Italian fashion houses like Gucci and Chanel. Mum was also a graphic designer at the time working in fashion. I studied an Architecture degree at Cambridge and followed up by completing my Masters in London. Design, graphic design and architecture is in our DNA, so having done it for a long time it comes naturally."

What sparked your interest in product design? "I first started working for some big architectural practises in London like Zaha Hadid , Foster & Partners, but found it can be frustrating working on really large London landmarks and architectural projects as nothing ever seems to get built and your ideas get filtered, so that kind of inspired me to start Buster + Punch in the beginning.

By day I was an architect, by night I used to make custom motorbikes in a garage in East London. I started getting more and more involved in building motorbikes and started to sell some of them, when I could finally afford to quit the day job I did. I then threw myself into originally making one off products. I enjoyed making pretty unusual cut and shut bikes, you take a front end of one bike and weld it to the back end of another bike. I was pretty much the only person in the world doing it at the time, and I sold them to interesting people - rockstars, fashion designers and film stars, all these people just found me, they just turned up at my garage. It was word of mouth basically, if you were in the scene you got to know everyone. I sold bikes to a number of the Rolling Stones, George Cloney and Alexander McQueen - a bunch of cool people that I find inspiring."

Do you remember your first interior project?

"My first product request was from a certain rockstar who asked me to make some cabinet handles for his kitchen as he knew I was an architect. I had at first said no, because it was quite a boring request, but then I made them out of old handle bars and soaked them in whiskey and did some strange things with them and that was the thing I did and it blew up from there. Six years ago everything on the market was very Scandinavian and neutral light, we kind of had this interesting darker vibe, everything we made was out of solid metal and a little bit rock and roll and we kind of came from a very different place in interiors so there was a natural gap in the market. That's when we decided to open Buster + Punch for business."

LED Bulb - Buster + Punch

We love the brand name, how did you come up with it? "Buster is my middle name and Punch is my brothers middle name, hence Buster + Punch. It’s got a nice English edgy vibe."

What excites you most as a brand? "When we started the company we made big ticket expensive items like whiskey bars and chandeliers, things were ok but it was when we started to make ordinary boring things that you find in your home that we got excited. We really liked that interesting contrast of taking really dull things and creating this really exciting lifestyle piece, we manufacture door handles, light switches, kitchen handles and lightbulbs. We want to make things that are exciting and accessible so price point is very important to us. We are as much artistical and creative as we are technical. We try and use the latest innovation in manufacturing, we are the only company that uses solid metal in all our products, cross doweling solid metal using diamond edge cnc lathes. Also 25% of our product is British made."

"We’ve always called ourselves a home fashion label because we like to transition this bit between fashion and home. There’s a new found excitement in interiors, it’s something consumers can get excited about it has an investment value."

In today's industry getting yourself out there and known is hard, how do you market yourselves? "In terms of advertising we never spend any money on it, we’re perceived more as the 'black sheep' of interiors, you don’t tend to see us in the traditional interior magazines because we never spend with them. Our mission is to get people who really love music, love fashion, love motorbikes, love all these fast moving industries into our industry. We were the first interior brand to be in London Fashion Week as we had made some boots, and first interior brand to produce rap videos and work with chefs.

We were launching light switches in America and instead of buying a bunch of adverts in magazines and doing the traditional thing, one of my friends Ms Banks was a London rapper so we thought wouldn’t it be cool to do a music video that was half product video and half music video that we launched on spotify - a different way to get people outside of interiors excited in interiors. We draw on fashion and draw on music to get new people, younger people into interiors, it’s been kind of a boring industry for them for far too long so we try and drag it into more exciting times for them.

The music video brought a bunch of new customers and followers from music, and probably at the same time alienated us from a few interior followers but we don’t really mind that. We do like to challenge a little bit, we will post some lovely pictures of kitchens and interiors but then we’ll post some cyborgs."

Buster + Punch promotional product music video which featured rapper Ms Banks

"We want the products to do the talking. We’ve always been proud of being from London and all of our inspiration is from the sub cultures of London; fashion, music, tattooing and street art - they are the things that make us tick and we try and get them into our products. We don’t just want to make products for products sake, they need to have some sort of cultural relevance or tell some sort of story of where we’re from or what we’re into."

What is Buster + Punch's best selling product? "Hardware to date is our best selling range, by hardware I mean kitchen handles. The kitchen industry as a whole has really taken to us. For far too long they only had exposure to hardware and handles from very large companies, there was nothing that was kind of exciting to talk about or exciting to sell to customers or something that’s more than the product itself... The community has really embraced us, having these little interesting products as a sell on to make kitchens more unique. When we first started kitchens were coming out of Italian minimalism, we timed it bang on with our handles and we predicted that everybody was going to go with handles in the future. I think our success was partly timing and partly due to being a little bit dangerous and exciting as a story, it’s a nice thing to talk about in a kitchen showroom. So kitchen companies and kitchen brands have really taken to us and it’s been a big part of our success." Who has been your biggest inspiration in the world of design? "I've always been interested in fashion and it’s always been my go to for inspiration. Alexander McQueen was always my muse in terms of talent. I love how he empowered women and loved his clothes. Nowadays, Virgil Abloh, the creative director of Louis Vuitton, is a designer I find interesting. He’s more about defining the cultural time, cultural presence in terms of people. His whole branding piece is about tapping into younger people and I’m inspired by that and I try and incorporate that into Buster + Punch."

Just looking through your portfolio the range of work is so diverse, have you a favourite commission to date? "The product that’s taken the most blood, sweat and tears has been the LED lightbulb. We were the first company in the world to create a designer LED bulb which you could look at when it’s on. Every big company was trying to do it and we beat them to it. We launched it in Milan in 2015, it almost killed us but it’s our biggest achievement as a small company."

Buster + Punch LED light bulbs

How long does a typical project take from drawing board to completion and then getting onto the shelves? "It depends how technical the product is, if it’s something like a lightbulb or light switch it might take us 2 years, or if it’s a hardware maybe a year. We kind of know what’s happening in 3 years time so we have to work back and predict where the market is going and what materials are going to be in."

If you could collaborate with any designer who would it be? "Probably Virgil Ablo. I’ve spoken to him before, we’re looking at something together as a collaboration but it’s very up in the air at the moment. He is an architect as well so we’ve kind of got a kindred spirit, we’ve got an idea of something we want to do together but whether or not that will happen we’ll see."

Your client base is spread throughout the globe, where's the most exotic location you have sent a completed commission too? "We sell to about 75 countries. We sell to Fuji, we’re over in Australia and New Zealand and we’ve just launched into Japan. We are mainly an e-commerce business but we do have stockists and retailers all over the world. We’ve got a Buster + Punch office in LA, so we’ve just launched an American website. In terms of branded stores we are looking at LA and New York."

Buster + Punch Meshed Planter

Your portfolio of products seems to be expanding at a great pace, can you divulge any exciting additions at this time? "We’ve designed the next 3 years worth of products. We’re always bringing out new and exciting things. We’re launching our new Meshed furniture range - there’s a side table, coffee table and planter which is perfect for the kitchen as you don’t have to put plants in it, you can put oils, books, whatever you want. It’s all focusing around our new furniture language which is our metal mesh which is quarter cut so as you turn it around it’s more or less opaque. We’re also launching in the Autumn a new cabinet hardware range which is really exciting, it has a more feminine slant than on our more industrial stuff at the moment. We have some IP bathroom lighting coming out too."

Buster + Punch Meshed side table

Thank you Massimo, we look forward to seeing what the future holds for Buster + Punch and we're sure it's going to be exciting. #massimobusterminale #lightbulbs #LEDbulb #groundbreaking #worldsfirst #interiordesign #productdesign #londondesign #busterandpunch #msbanks #musicvideo #kitchenhandles #planters #meshed

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