De­signer pro­file

James Har­ri­son on his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Castlery, the im­por­tance of pro­por­tions, and homages to his­tory and loved ones.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - Words by Wayne Cheong

James Har­ri­son.

James

Har­ri­son is a young de­signer, sur­rounded by the trap­pings of modern time and yet he still finds in­spi­ra­tion in a back­ward glance to the past. We dip into his: as a kid, he was one of those cu­ri­ous cats who’d take ev­ery­thing apart be­fore put­ting it all back to­gether again. “It used to drive my mum crazy,” Har­ri­son re­mem­bers, “the vac­uum cleaner in a thou­sand pieces, all over the floor.”

He needed to know how things work. That’s the en­gine that led to a love of mak­ing things and pushed him to­wards fur­ni­ture-mak­ing, that still drives him.

“I was drawn to wood­work­ing and I spent a lot of time in the work­shop of my univer­sity,” Har­ri­son adds. When he grad­u­ated, he fell head­long into the in­dus­try; 11 years of de­sign­ing for a great num­ber of UK re­tail­ers, Har­ri­son fi­nally went ca­hoots with Sin­ga­pore’s own fur­ni­ture shop, Castlery.

Fur­ther­ing its agenda to democra­tise pre­mium fur­ni­ture design for the masses, Castlery formed “Castlery Feat”, where it col­lab­o­rated with six in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning design houses, in­clud­ing Har­ri­son, who finds it fun to work with over­seas clients like Castlery. “It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent mar­ket and in­flu­ences since I pre­dom­i­nately design for the Western mar­ket,” he adds. The col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Castlery and Har­ri­son was over a year ago and Har­ri­son ad­mits that he hadn’t heard of them since they were a new com­pany at the time but he dogged Castlery’s Creative Di­rec­tor, Edoardo Ar­ri­cale’s en­thu­si­asm. “It is re­ally in­fec­tious. And I re­ally like the com­pany’s ethos, the whole idea of mak­ing good design af­ford­able and more ac­ces­si­ble.”

He laments that the stuff he sells in the UK tends to be “of a higher price point be­cause it’s hand­made in the UK, a lot of it is be­spoke. It’s a bit of a shame be­cause ev­ery­one should have ac­cess to good design.”

The re­sult is the Lily Col­lec­tion, Har­ri­son’s homage to mid-cen­tury modern fur­ni­ture design. “So much beau­ti­ful fur­ni­ture was made in that era and a lot of it was hand­made,” he says. “Now, it’s find­ing the bal­ance in the aes­thet­ics and the pro­duc­tion. It’s about work­ing with fac­to­ries and find­ing their strength.”

Take the side­board, for in­stance: with the book matched ve­neer on its doors, the ta­pered tim­ber legs are held to­gether with an iconic cross metal brace design; the x-brace is a com­mon fea­ture in the col­lec­tion. When weight is put on the table, the cross brace is placed un­der ten­sile pres­sure. While the x-brace adds char­ac­ter to the piece, Har­ri­son isn’t the sort who adds em­bel­lish­ments for no rea­son. “Of course, I want my de­signs to be as beau­ti­ful as they come, but ev­ery­thing is there for a rea­son.” It also en­sures strong struc­tural in­tegrity. You can find the same re­in­force­ments in ar­chi­tec­ture; where di­ag­o­nal sup­ports in­ter­sect to in­crease a build­ing’s abil­ity to with­stand seis­mic ac­tiv­ity.

When de­sign­ing for a re­gion, an­other con­sid­er­a­tion that Har­ri­son pays spe­cial mind to is the size of the fur­ni­ture due to the space that we live in. “Across the UK, for ex­am­ple,” he says, “peo­ple have small apart­ments. Space is a pre­mium so you have to think about how you can make prod­ucts com­pact and ef­fi­cient. In Amer­ica, ev­ery­thing is big. Size and scale, we need to get that right, that’s the first chal­lenge. Get­ting the styling right is the next.”

As we wrap things up, we pose a fi­nal ques­tion: “Why is it called the Lily Col­lec­tion?”

Sheep­ish and with a small smile, Har­ri­son replies, “it’s named after my girl­friend.”

Cue col­lec­tive awww.

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