“For me, it’s all architecture”

John Pawson's talent for bringing together architecture and furniture to create a mutually enriching whole is legendary. We asked him to discuss his approach to his work as well as his thoughts on iconic furniture items such as the Wishbone Chair.

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John Pawson Interview

In early 2016, the London Design Museum is due to open its new location, designed by John Pawson, in the Kensington neighborhood in west London. The British designer is transforming a 1960s building into a meticulously planned, well-proportioned and ultra-simple space to create a new setting for the museum.

From the beginning of his career, John Pawson's clients have respected his unique ability to work holistically. As a general rule, he is therefore usually asked to design or select furnishings for the interior, in addition to designing the external framework.

One of Pawson's first projects in the early 80s was to renovate a London apartment, and the images caused a sensation at the time.

"London Design Museum. Photo by Chris Masson"

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In his book, "John Pawson Works," Deyan Sudjic - architecture critic, author, and director of the London Design Museum - describes his experience of the apartment: "It was every bit as extraordinary as The World of Interiors pictures had suggested.

Its very emptiness made you acutely aware of how many different shades of white there can be, and all the nuances and implications of the precise positioning of a door in a wall."

Understated expression has been John Pawson's trademark from his earliest projects and continues to characterize his work. His interiors feature an all-pervasive simplicity, harmonious proportions, and exquisite detail. Naturally, a person who works with extreme simplicity and architectural precision, as Pawson does,

"The Van Royen apartment, one of Pawson's first projects. London in the early 1980s."

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is also uncompromising in his choice of furniture. Pawson elaborates on his views in the interview that follows:

eMAG:In your creative process and planning, do the architecture and the interior elements - lighting, furniture, etc. - go hand in hand, or are these elements decided after you have created the spaces?

JP: For me, it's all architecture. Whether it's a wall or a table, every component of a space contributes to or detracts from the quality of wholeness - through its form, proportions, surfaces and junctions, in the space it creates around itself and the patterns of use it implies. For this reason, it makes sense to start thinking about the furniture from the very beginning of the design process.

"John Pawson. Photo by Orla Connolly"

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eMAG:Is it possible to define the overall approach you use when selecting furniture for an interior project?

JP: The writer Bruce Chatwin described how the space contained by a room can feel limitless, no matter how small the room is, providing it allows your eye to travel freely. This condition of seamlessness is something I am always trying to achieve. A jarring profile to the arm of a chair is just one of many things that can stop the eye. You have to consider and control everything, but that is not the same as a literal Gesamtkunstwerk, where you remove the possibility of dissonance by designing every element. Over the years I have found myself returning repeatedly to a tightly edited group of furniture pieces that share a quality of visual ease.

"Apartment, as described by Bruce Chatwin. Photo by François Halard "

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eMAG:What are the most important qualities you seek in the furniture you choose for your projects?

JP: Of course you want something that works. A chair that is uncomfortable to sit in or too heavy to move has clearly failed; it is, as Donald Judd put it, ridiculous. Functional clarity and simplicity of form are important, but the pieces I like the most also have an emotional dimension.

"View from the John Pawson - Plain Space Exhibition at The Design Museum, London, 2010. Photo by Gilbert McCarragher."

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eMAG:We see similarities in your architectural work and the work of Hans J. Wegner - the extensive use of natural materials, quality craftsmanship, no unnecessary details and decoration. Instead he sought - as do you - to integrate form and function. What are your thoughts on this design philosophy?

JP: One of the qualities I admire about Wegner's work is that it is so pared down. I don't like things that look over-designed. A huge amount of thought goes into making things simple. The key can lie in the smallest increments of change, rather than a grand transformational vision. It's all about the exactness of proportion, refinements of detail, the quality of the craftsmanship and the quiet richness of natural materials.

"Picture from Wakaba Restaurant in London, designed by John Pawson. For this project, Pawson chose his favourite chair, the Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner "

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eMAG:You became familiar with Wegner's work many years ago. What were your initial thoughts on his designs?

JP: I remember the first time I saw the Wishbone Chair. I was struck by how light and strong it was, by the lyrical clarity of its lines, and how everyone looked good sitting in it. It's still my favorite chair - I have them at home and in my office.

"Baron House in Skåne, Sweden by John Pawson 2003-2005. Furnished with the Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner. Photo by Orla Connolly and Jens Weber "

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eMAG:You have used Wegner's furniture in settings like the Novy Djur monastery in Bohemia and the Cathay Pacific Lounge in the Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport. Can you tell us how Wegner´s designs contributed to these specific projects?

JP: When we were looking for furniture for the monastery in Bohemia, the requirements were quite specific. It was important that the pieces we chose would sit quietly in the architectural spaces I had designed and would meet the functional needs of the community, but they also had to be consistent with the Cistercian values of modesty, simplicity and appropriateness.

"The CH44 Lounge Chair designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1965"

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For the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong airport, the point was to create a place that people felt they could inhabit, rather than simply pass through. I wanted to move away from the types of furniture that are typically used for these sorts of spaces and choose beautiful and refined pieces that also had a domestic quality - that would help people feel at home.

eMAG:Do you believe in the phenomenon of timeless design - the notion that certain pieces of furniture have the qualities to continuously survive fashion trends?

JP: I think you only have to look at a Georgian three-pronged silver fork or a seventeenth century Japanese Raku tea bowl - or, indeed, a Wishbone Chair - to trust in the notion of timeless design.

Watch the craftsmanship that goes into making the Wishbone Chair in the video below:

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