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10 Questions With… Jasper Morrison

The Soft Modular sofa by Jasper Morrison for Vitra. Photography by Marc Eggimann.

“From a very young age, I understood that I had a kind of over-sensitivity to atmospheres,” admits Jasper Morrison. In his desire to influence them, the British designer has become one of the most successful industrial designers of the modern day. Emeco, Flos, Vitra, and Mattiazzi are among his high-profile clients, while the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museumand the Museum of Modern Art in New York are just two of the prominent museums around the world highlighting his work.

In Morrison’s latest collection, a limited-edition cork furniture series launching during NYCxDESIGN this week, faulty wine bottle corks rejected during the production process find new life. To present the collection, Morrison turned to gallery Kasmin in New York—a union which also celebrates a lifelong friendship. In 1970s England, the Chelsea gallery’s owner, Paul Kasmin, was a schoolmate. On view May 9 through June 29, “Corks” unveils Morrison’s first complete series in the material, with a chaise longue, chairs, stools, bookshelves, and a fireplace. Interior Design sat down with Morrison to hear more about the new cork collection, recent Milan launches, and what London restaurant personifies his design mentality with celeriac and a boiled egg.

Interior Design: Why cork?

Jasper Morrison: I have done a few things in cork before and came to understand what a great material it is, both to the touch and in terms of what it does for the atmosphere of a room. It is difficult to do anything big industrially with it, because the material cost is quite high, the machining cost higher, and it needs to be hand-finished—so it really only works for limited production.

ID: What’s the design concept behind the cork pieces?

JM: The process is rather sculptural as the pieces have to be machined out of large blocks of cork. It’s very different from designing things for mass production, which tends to be more about structure than volume. The concept is really just about finding good shapes to make each piece of furniture work well. The material suggests its own formal language, but you need to make sure there’s the right balance of softness and tension in the forms. The repurposed corks come from a producer in Portugal. The primary product produced by cork is still the wine bottle stopper, and they grind these up and form them into blocks under pressure with a glue. I’ve known about this material for many years and have used it for a few smaller pieces, which were economic enough to be made in quantities.

Read more: 10 Questions With… Bethan Gray

“Corks,” a series of limited-edition furniture by Jasper Morrison, on view at gallery Kasmin in New York. Photography courtesy of Jasper Morrison Studio.

ID: What else have you completed recently?

JM: Some new chairs as usual—at any one time I’m always working on at least four or five chairs. At Salone del Mobile this year, I presented a slightly sculptural solid wood chair called Fugu for the Japanese brand Maruni.

For Emeco, a company I have been working with very closely for the last five years or so, I did a cleaning-up job of a few of their heritage pieces—a chair, armchair, and swivel chairs from 1948 known as the Navy Officers collection. When I first saw them, I nicknamed them the ugly sisters. We really had to rework and fine-tune them to make them more appealing for today’s market. From the proportions and thicknesses of structure to upholstery detailing, they really came from another era, when things were done in a very different way. I guess they were made to last, but they were a bit over-the-top in terms of structure.

We also just completed a big collection of tableware called Raami for the Finnish brand Iittala.

ID: What’s upcoming for you?

JM: For Vitra, I have been working on a long-term project that is a quite technologically advanced chair. We hope to launch it in Milan 2020. We are also working on adding to the tableware collection we just finished for Iittala and on another chair for Emeco.

Read more: 15 Young Design Talents to Watch from Salone del Mobile

The Fugu chair by Jasper Morrison for Maruni. Photography courtesy of Maruni.

 

ID: How did your childhood influence your design thinking?

JM: When I was growing up in London in the early 1960s, the standard interior was very claustrophobic and quite gloomy, with a lot of curtains, upholstery, and sofas—everything was heavy and upholstered.

Then, at maybe four or five years old, I discovered this room my grandfather had made for himself. It was in England—but, while working for a Danish company, he had discovered the Scandinavian way of making interiors. I think he had quite a good eye, and the room was well-lit with lots of daylight, wooden floors, and just a few rugs. There was less upholstery and more lightweight seating, a record player by Dieter Rams from the German company Braun, and an open fire. Suddenly I just felt way better in that space, and realizing that there were some places that made me feel good and others that didn’t had a huge effect on me. I’m pretty sure I became a designer to have some influence on my surroundings and to generally improve atmospheres for others as well.

ID: In what kind of home do you live?

JM: I live in a few different homes, but mostly on the south coast of England with my wife and three children. These places are all furnished either with my own designs (for testing purposes) or with other designs I admire. I have a lot of Danish furniture, especially Børge Mogensen and Mogens Koch, but also pieces by Enzo Mari and Achille Castiglioni. There’s a Charlotte Perriand armchair which I got recently which I love. Right now, my Alfi chairs for Emeco are around my dining table. It’s an important learning process to live with things and assess how successful they are or not!

The Lepic kitchen by Jasper Morrison for Schiffini. Photography by Miro Zagnoli.

ID: Is there a person in the industry that you particularly admire?

JM: When Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec hit the scene, I remember describing their design language as like a new color—something you haven’t seen before, something you didn’t expect. They made a big impression on me and today they are still probably the designers I respect the most. Their vision is very individual and they have great design.

ID: Could you name an Instagram account you follow?

JM: There’s a funny little account that actually hardly anyone follows. It’s called @terencepoe and is by architect Terence Poe of Poe + Poe. I share an eye with him somehow and he actually posts a lot of my stuff as well. But that’s not why I’m following him! He posts things that are quite obscure but interesting, which I really like, which I may know and also think are great.

The Zampa stool by Jasper Morrison for Mattiazzi. Photography by Fabian Frinzel.

ID: What are you reading?

JM: “Hokusai: A Life in Drawing,” which is an illustrated introduction by Henri-Alexis Baatsch to the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, who is somebody I’ve been interested in for a long time. He did a lot of woodblock prints but he also did a lot of drawings, which I like as they’re very human. He just drew these kind of normal things, everyday stuff, and I admire that because that could not have been easy at that time. He was supposed to toe the line and do beautiful drawings of actors and actresses and set pieces, but he just did his own thing. They’re incredibly great drawings and there’s nothing old about them, they’re still very contemporary.

ID: Do you have a secret you can share?

JM: The St. John restaurant Smithfield Supper on St. John Street in Smithfield, London is hardly a secret, but I think they do with food exactly what I do with things. As an example, a French friend of mine went there for dinner and ordered a dish called Celeriac and Boiled Egg. When the plate arrived, it was just a plate of celeriac with a boiled egg on top—with its shell still on. My friend was outraged she had to do all the work, but for me that’s a fantastic example of what they do best. It’s really straightforward: What you order is what you get. That really matches my design philosophy.

Keep scrolling to see more of Jasper Morrison’s work >

The O Watt restaurant, with interior design by Jasper Morrison, in the historic EDP building in Lisbon, Portugal. Photography by Francisco Rivotti.
“Corks,” a series of limited-edition furniture by Jasper Morrison, on view at gallery Kasmin in New York. Photography courtesy of Jasper Morrison Studio.
The Zampa stool by Jasper Morrison for Mattiazzi. Photography by Fabian Frinzel.
The T&O table by Jasper Morrison for Maruni. Photography courtesy of Maruni.
The Superloon adjustable LED panel light by Jasper Morrison for Flos. Photography by Jasper Morrison Studio.
The Palma cast iron cookware set by Jasper Morrison for Oigen. Photography courtesy of Jasper Morrison Studio.
The 2 Inch aluminum table by Jasper Morrison for Emeco. Photography by Miro Zagnoli.
The Navy Officer chair series with an update by Jasper Morrison for Emeco. Photography courtesy of Emeco.

Read more: 10 Questions With… Philippe Starck

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How are image-sharing apps affecting architecture and design?

How are image-sharing apps affecting architecture and design? Artist and designer Sebastian Errazuriz’s take on the Snapchat x Jeff Koons Balloon Dog in Central Park. (Courtesy Sebastian Errazuriz Studio)

With 800 million active users and 95 million photos and videos shared each day, Instagram is affecting our visual perception like no other platform. Users distribute literally millions of photos, spreading trends, popularizing places, and ultimately, influencing built and designed environments.

Although it is still early for major buildings to outwardly reflect Instagram’s impact, architecture is rapidly becoming saturated from the inside out. Philippe Maidenberg, known for his interior work in hotels across Paris and the UK, including the Holiday House London, is very aware of how social media has altered clients’ expectations. “Clients have shifted from thinking about design to envisioning new ways of life,” he explained. “Hotel owners want public spaces that are more alive and more comfortable than ever before; office owners want spaces that look like hotels. The standards are getting higher and higher for the greater good.”

In New York, firms like Paperwhite Studio and Home Studios have made veritable reputations from crafting “Instagrammable interiors” for restaurants such as Jack’s Wife Freda, Cha Cha Matcha (Paperwhite), and Elsa, Ramona, Sisters, and The Spaniard (Home Studios). Rich, memorable colors, personal touches—down to the custom sugar packets—and dramatic moments such as sweeping brass lamps and neon signs all apparently contribute to the restaurants’ Instagram popularity.

Maidenberg believes the portmanteau “Instagrammable” merely means photogenic: “In reality, every space inside a project has to be ‘Instagrammable.’ There is a similar way of thinking among architects, directors, and photographers. On the top of their minds, they’re always considering, ‘What will visitors see when they see the building? When they go inside the building? How can we surprise them?’”

Obviously, the basic notion of creating photogenic architecture is not new. It can almost be simplified to a 21st-century version of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s “ducks” versus “decorated sheds” in Learning From Las Vegas. But although there are definite parallels to postmodernism replacing modernism and maximalism writ large in pastel whimsy replacing high-minded minimalism, new equivalent definitions of ducks and decorated sheds remain murky.

Somewhere in this vague category is the plethora of “museums” that opened in 2017. More pop-up galleries than actual museums, these repositories of vibrant mise-en-scènes provide opportunities for snap-happy visitors to create totally next-level selfies to share with their friends. The most notable are the Museum of Ice Cream (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami), the Color Factory (San Francisco), and 29 Rooms (Los Angeles and Brooklyn). And by notable, we mean that going up against museums such as the Louvre, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Ice Cream landed the tenth spot on Instagram’s “Most Instagrammed Museums” list in 2017, and its Los Angeles location alone claimed the sixth top spot in “Most Instagrammed Museums in the U.S.”

Legitimate museums have taken note, crafting photo-worthy installations and creating hashtags to promote sharing across social media. “It’s a level of feedback that we have never really had before,” said Andrea Lipps, assistant curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. “People do use the hashtags, and then we notice the trends of where people are taking these photos and how they are accessing the information and what they are interested in. It’s become a really valuable tool.”

But those whose work is on display may see it differently. Brooklyn-based artist and designer Sebastian Errazuriz believes that the best name for these spaces and our new era of obsessive image sharing is “prop art.”

“It is very disappointing to see work being misused as a prop for a self-portrait because when that happens, it stops being seen,” Errazuriz said. “And when more content is created just to be shared and to function as a prop, more people will see that as successful content to create and will emulate it.” At the same time, Errazuriz learned to harness the power of Instagram early when he created the entrance installation for the Collective Design Fair in 2013: a series of box fans that had “Blow Me” written across them in neon. “The ‘Blow Me’ fan, if you see it just by itself, is a funny association that is provocative and sexual in nature. But, when I get commissioned to design something like an entry piece in an art fair, I am essentially being told, ‘Go, Sebastian, do that thing you do, do the monkey dance, show me something impressive.’ So, in this case, I made a fan that literally blows them away. It takes a lot of balls for the artist to say ‘blow me,’ and it takes a lot of balls for the client to tell everyone to ‘blow me.’ Then, it has the neon pink which is the cliché of every art fair and was designed as a square precisely to be as Instagrammable as possible. It generated more press than the whole fair combined; and I did the monkey dance and it undermined the effects of the fair.… It was all about distilling enormous amount of stuff in one thing.”

Errazuriz was also concerned about the implications of the Snapchat x Jeff Koons Balloon Dog in Central Park. “There is a very real risk of corporations like Snapchat taking over the digital art space and dictating new representations of what art is, like Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog,” Errazuriz said. “So when I saw that, everyone in my studio stopped what we were doing and in 24 hours managed to recreate an exact replica of the dog, tagged it with graffiti, uploaded it, geotagged it to the same destination, submitted it to Snapchat, and sent out the press release. I think it generated a lot of interesting articles about public space and the notion of virtual vandalizing.”

This is the inherent irony in Instagram: Even as designers and architects decry its influence, they are aware that they rely on it. Consider OMA: When it updated its website in 2014, the firm opted to change its landing page to an Instagram feed with software that picked up the geotagged images in a certain perimeter around OMA’s buildings and projects. “We’ve discovered that amateur pictures tell a different story,” said OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli. “There are a lot of unexpected surprises and beautiful moments that are not as present in staged photography.”

Shifting the power of perspective to boundless viewers creates possibilities, but also engenders limitations. The art, design, and fashion worlds have already begun to chafe against the effects of shortened trend cycles, altered client demands, and distorted design priorities. Will architecture follow suit? #maybe.

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