Henry Wilson, Vide Poche, 2014, cast bronze,
180 x 180 x 40mm.
Photo: Andy Lewis Photography
We were asked to write a profile on designer-about-town, Henry Wilson, ahead of the launch of his new work for JamFactory, Adelaide. We caught up with Wilson in his office-cum-studio-cum-home in inner city Sydney to chat about his design philosophy, collection obsession and creative agility.
HENRY WILSON: COLLECTOR, CRAFTSMAN, CREATIVE FORCE
Henry Wilson, intelligent thinker and captain of purposed design, has a Master in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) and established his design studio with a focus on locally produced furniture, lighting and interiors.
Wilson opens a canvas satchel and upends its contents onto the table in front of us. Out tumbles a motley collection of objects; carefully selected bric-a-brac that the Sydney-based designer keeps as a reminder of the ingenuity of design. “I have a love affair with shape,” says Wilson, picking up a bespoke vintage cheese cutter. “That’s every designers dream; to find a resolution using shape alone.”
For Wilson, less is undoubtedly more. Philosophically, he’ll avoid designing products just for the sake of a product. In practice, his designs are driven by a desire to do more with less. Fewer materials, reduced parts, limited tooling. This exacting and deliberate restraint creates objects with an earthy and tactile sensibility, where embellishment is the by-product of process: the surface pitting of cast objects, the discolouration of aged raw leather, or the varying hues of natural timber.
Under the tutelage of Aldo Bakker and Dick van Hoff at DAE, Wilson was required to defend his every project. This gruelling training cemented his resolve to only design where there is need. “If I can find something that already exists and is really nice, I’ll avoid designing that thing,” says Wilson. “When you can isolate a need and then design something utilitarian, resolved and beautiful, that’s the holy trinity for getting that object right.”
Wilson is mindful of his predecessors, and isn’t afraid to embrace collective design knowledge and flaunt it in his work. His most successful project to date, the award-winning A-joint series, unashamedly reinvents a cheap plastic sawhorse bracket that the designer stumbled across in a hardware store. “I realised that there was an inherently very good idea in it, but that it was resolved at the minimum,” explains Wilson.
Discovering that the patent on the wedge mechanism had expired, Wilson got to work unleashing the potential of the core idea, transforming the old mechanism into a versatile contemporary design object that has been rapidly embraced by the market. In stark contrast to the disposable plastic bracket, his aluminium and bronze cast A-joint is sold with a lifetime guarantee, highlighting Wilson’s determination to future-proof consumption.
When naming designers that inspire him – Achille Castiglioni, Jean Prouvé, Jasper Morrison, the Bouroullec Brothers – Wilson summates, “Anyone with a strong practice that can isolate what they are good at and who has had time to focus on a path or ideology.” Fittingly, it is precisely Wilson’s own focus that saw him invited to design the interior of personal care brand Aesop’s retail space in Balmain, Sydney.
Opening in early 2014, Wilson was commissioned to design the entire shop fit-out, despite having never tried his hand at interior design before. “I’m of the thought that once you have a conceptual basis, you can apply that to lots of situations. The Aesop store interior unlocked another skill set that I always thought I could do, but had never really investigated,” Wilson explains.
While Wilson’s trajectory into interiors is just beginning, his signature talent for combining industrial and craft-based techniques are currently being employed by JamFactory’s Furniture Studio. Along with Studio Creative Director Jon Goulder and local designers DANIEL EMMA, Wilson is developing a piece of furniture that will be part of the inaugural JamFactory Furniture Collection; a modular unit that will work in both domestic and commercial settings. “Henry’s got a lot of style, is talented, and has an in-depth understanding and knowledge of materials,” says Goulder and then adds, “He gains an understanding of what’s possible, and then designs around that”.
JamFactory’s branded furniture collection will launch in Spring 2015. It will showcase Wilson’s collaborative contribution – a locally manufactured piece in keeping with the pragmatic ethos of Wilson’s own multidisciplinary design studio practice – and will be sold through JamFactory and distributed by Stylecraft.
Published Marmalade Magazine, Issue 3, 2015
Words by Danielle Robson