Slice off a wedge of Continental thinking

Some three years ago a perceptive furniture dealer said to me: “Keep an eye on this one. He’s one of the best around.” That “one” was Jasper Morrison, an unlikely hero given his public reticence, but an undoubted talent. His talent has been recognised (see Profile, page 12), but, with very few exceptions, his patrons are on the other side of the Channel.

You could argue that there’s more call for modern furniture on the Continent, where home-ownership is not a big deal, but kitting out your home is. You could say it’s a cultural thing and that the UK furniture industry can’t afford to be altruistic by supporting young designers. But firms in Italy, France and Germany have a living to make too and consumer cultures are shaped by what’s on the market. What sells depends on available choice at the right price – and, as Terence Conran and others have proved, there is market in the UK for simple, good design.

Morrison is not alone in his situation. Take his SCP stablemates Terence Woodgate and Matthew Hilton, both of whom get most of their work abroad. We’re still awaiting a happy ending that sees the likes of these welcomed wholeheartedly into the fold of British industry.

What is different about Morrison is that – Continental style – he’s attracted jobs outside furniture and is accepted abroad as a great all-rounder.

Here we’re too quick to pigeon-hole folk. A UK product designer said recently that he’d chosen product design as there’s no money in furniture, identifying a distinct difference between these two product types yet going on to design objects as diverse as playground equipment and domestic cookers. But why shouldn’t a designer take on any project involving a similar process?

While we battle on to break down the bastions of the “traditional” furniture camp, shouldn’t we also try to find new roles for design talent in industry whatever its origin? As other countries acknowledge, appropriateness, elegance and efficient construction are not the sole province of any one design discipline.

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