As usual Friday's are my "Voices of Design" series, and today my interview is with Richard Johnson, I won't give much of a preamble about his background as he speaks about that in the interview, what I will say is that his company Aesthetic is one of my favorite collections by any furniture designer. His work is not yet widely available, but I think that in the years ahead he is set to become a design voice to be reckoned with. On a personal note, I enjoyed this interview because, quite simply he is a really great human being, whose spirit of curiosity and integrity make him a joy to be around, and someone for whom you only wish the best.
You can see his work on his web site: www.aestheticdecor.com
MC: In the period of a few short years you have established a line of decorative objects that is inspiring, how did you get your start?
RJ: My first job in this industry was with Charles Pollock Reproductions. The whole thing came about quite by chance. I was in a bit of a quandary as to the direction of my professional career. I had always wanted to be an architect, received my degree in architecture from USC in "88 and worked in the field for several years. I became disenchanted with the business reality of the profession and lack of design opportunities. I knew nothing about the furniture industry but heard that a very good furniture company needed someone to drawings for them and so I applied with the intention of just staying long enough until i could find the "right" design job. I fell in love with the business and stayed with Charles Pollock for 3 1/2 years. I went on to work with Dessin Fornier and Charles Fradin. I learned an enormous amount from all three companies and am very grateful for my time with them.
MC: It seems that a lot of your work has a very architectural sensibility to it, is this deliberate?
RJ: Well architecture is a passion of mine. Art and architectural history and their social relationships to the development of our cultures has always interested me. I feel that architecture gives us a window in which to view the lives of those it once housed. A sort of time machine. That mystery of identification and the personal association we each experience from the forms and spaces we see absolutely fascinates me and is one of the driving factors in my design process.
MC: How would you describe your design philosophy?
RJ:What I have tried to do with my accessory line is to use elements of architectural styles to create forms rather than decorate objects. I am drawn to history for reference because I believe it helps identify the object with the viewers collective memory. By abstracting on these styles or designing "in the style of" my architectural heroes I am then able to create a piece which is rich in reference but very much of the moment, non specific and transitional.
MC: What do you regard as your greatest influences? And where do you get your inspiration?
RJ: My architectural schooling and encompassing world travel are my greatest influence. My inspiration comes from the patterns and spaces these images create in my head.
MC: How do you see your collection evolving?
RJ: I see it evolving in two directions. It has been said that "God is in the details" and it is in these details of design, be it from stylistic elements or organic nature that I really thrive. But I also now recognize the desire for simplicity. I am now working on some pieces which I believe will reach a broader audience. I will continue to create unique pieces that I am passionate about, but am also looking to add a collection which more people may understand.
MC: What do you think are the greatest challenges that an aspiring furniture designer faces?
RJ: Staying true to your individuality. After I left my last job I took two years to create my original collection. During this time I struggled with my likes verses consumer taste. I was afraid that my designs were too weird and my thought process too complicated. At the time Mid Century and Forties glamor were the style du jour and I was nothing like that. My best friend told me that you have to design what you are passionate about, not what you think might sell. Only then can you create a real piece of art.
MC: If you couldn’t do this for a living what would you choose to be?
RJ: I feel I didn't really choose this path but instead happened upon it. I don't know if this is where I will stay or if I will evolve towards a new focus. I believe that whatever profession I would choose must be centered on the creation of something. Be it object, space or landscape.
MC: What is the favorite piece of furniture that you own and why?
RJ: One of the first pieces of furniture I bought after college was this rather quirky English Arts and Crafts wardrobe. It has a magical quality about it with it's English sensibility and Asian and Tudor influences. It captured my imagination and thus began my interest in furniture design.
MC: What are you working on now, that you are excited about?
RJ: I am working on a small collection inspired by the turned English rural furniture of the seventeenth century which employed woven rush seats and turned wooden members resembling bobbins. This was done to make the furniture less massive and latter evolved into a decorative style during the English Arts and Crafts. I have used a country side chair for reference but have reinterpreted its features to create a series of pieces which are simpler, less stylized and more contemporary for today.
MC: In 20 years from now, looking back on your collection, what would you like to see?
RJ: Evolution, integrity and wonder.