Jasper Morrison & Naoto Fukasawa interviews on the Maruni stand at Saleone del Mobile 2017.
David Harrison from Design daily interviewed Jasper & Naoto for Seeho Su.
Portraits by Craig Wall.
D.d: I know you aren’t a fan of citing the motivations behind your designs but can you briefly talk us through how you approached creating the new ‘T&O’ table?
J.M: The design concept behind my latest table was really to create a table that successfully relates back to the chair in steel and wood I designed for Maruni previously….the basis of which was to design something where the wood and painted metal worked sympathetically together. I think it is a healthy development for the company. If they were to continue to develop products only in wood they would become known for that exclusively – which is ultimately a bit limiting. So long as wood remains the primary material to have the option of adding a small amount in other materials as it is necessary is helpful to the overall development of the company.
With the T&O table the steel allows you to reduce the diameter to a much smaller size while retaining strength – this allows for more possibilities and you can achieve a harmonious balance between the two materials.
D.d: Was it a conscious decision to move toward introducing additional materials to the Maruni palette or was this something that just naturally evolved through working for them over a lengthy period of time?
J.M: The first project I completed for Maruni was called ‘Lightwood’ and there I also used a combination of materials but perhaps they just weren’t as dramatic. The chair was made from wood and a particular type of stretch webbing. It was an exceptionally minimal chair bapart from the webbing material but the combination of the materials was an interesting addition to the way the chair looked at felt.
D.d: Because you and Naoto are the only two designers working for the brand, do you meet and discuss the direction you are going in before heading off on your own directions?
J.M: Maruni tends to make a list of projects that they would like us to think about then Naoto and I discuss it together and one of us might have a preference for working on one particular project more than another……so we tend to divide the list between us.
D.d: What initially drew you to working for Maruni in the first instance?
J.M: I think probably the quality of their work – I visited the factory and saw the quality of work they did and I realised what they were capable of.
D.d: Was it also to do with the philosophy of the company and the purity of their approach to the design concept?
J.M: Well that is something that came along later out of our collaboration with them. Previously they had done a project where they commissioned twelve designers to each design a chair – Naoto and myself were part of it. The project was called nextmaruni and was presented at Salone del Mobile in 2005 but not a lot of the designs were turned into commercial products. I guess you could say that was the beginning of the new Maruni. Previously Maruni were quite a traditional company making high quality classic furniture. Naoto became art director of Maruni in 2010 and it is under his guidance that the philosophy of the company continues to have a strong emphasis on simplicity, a high level of quality and sticks completely to a strong company aesthetic.
My work for Maruni is probably reacting to the Japanese emphasis on simplicity and traditional materials to a greater extent than normal although I am very interested in these elements in my work generally. Naoto is always very clear and conceptual in his design so the philosophy of the brand comes from a combination of these two approaches.
Maruni allows me the opportunity to spend some time with Naoto. He is much busier than I am so our work for Maruni is a good excuse to meet in Japan. I spend about half of the year there – not just working on Maruni projects. Naoto is booked up weeks in advance so its not like you can just ring him up and say let’s have lunch – you have to plan it! For Maruni we generally meet late in the day and discuss things over dinner.
D.d: Do you think it’s harder or easier for brands with a simple aesthetic like Maruni to cut through in such a frenetic event as Salone del Mobile? This year the Maruni stand is a simple white box with very soft lighting……
J.M: I think people are increasingly being drawn to stands and brands that have a simple clear look and where they understand the type of product being offered. There are stands which are very dark and which offer many different products that present a whole range of different messages but this can all become quite confusing. The fair is exhausting enough without having to add colourful, loud stand designs and attention seeking products.
D.d: Did you co-design the stand with Naoto?
J.M: No Naoto is the art director of Maruni and he takes care of all that.
D.d: You have a great admiration for well designed and executed everyday objects – is there a particular object that you wished you had designed?
J.M: I’ve always found that reality is a lot more surprising than any object I might wish I had designed. I have been asked to design some very strange things in the course of my career. I never thought I would be commissioned to design a tram or a pair of shoes for example. I could sit there wishing someone would ask me to design a TV but it might not happen whereas if I sit down and wait and see what comes in, its often surprising what comes my way.
D.d: You are very open in your praise of the work of other designers – many of whom are not well known at all.
J.M: Well I am a very genuine admirer of anonymously designed objects……..
Do you think your approach has helped or hindered your design career? Have people always understood your approach?
J.M: Yes, in the main they have – perhaps not right at the very beginning but I think the companies that I work for now understand the way I think and operate – that things don’t have to be spectacular or different to be valid.
Did people understand where you were coming from when you first presented your extremely parred back pieces for Cappellini in the late eighties?
J.M: Well….. those designs made an impact back then because it was very different from what people were used to. To put it in some sort of perspective, it was directly after Memphis and all that post modern stuff was still the theme of that time so it was quite easy to get noticed…..luckily for me…. if it had of been at the end of a very long period of minimalist design it would have been a different story and everyone would have said we don’t need another one of those – then I would have been a post modernist!
D.d: I’ve already asked this question to Jasper but it would be interesting to get your response – can you tell me about the move to introducing metal into the Maruni range?
Maruni are well known for their furniture made from solid wood but in the past we have introduced subtle variations using plywood as in the ‘Roundish’ chair. The move to other materials like steel pipe or flat bar steel is an inevitable way to be developing the company of Maruni. It may be that after a few designs experimenting with these combinations we go back to a series of designs only made in solid wood – who knows? We also may head in a different direction, creating bigger things like sofas in the coming years. We will continue to focus on beautiful properties of wood that’s for sure. In my period with the company we are not only trying to make good furniture but are attempting to make sculptural objects that have a special presence in peoples lives. These chairs and tables are not only a tool for everyday use but an artistic object that determine the look of an interior and makes it better.
The person who chooses to buy Maruni furniture has often made the decision to use the object for the rest of their lifes – it’s an investment but one which will last and age with them.
D.d: As a designer you have worked on a lot of electronic products. Does it require a very different approach when designing furniture to when designing complex electronics?
The process of designing electronics these days is all about miniaturisation of a given object. Companies want us to make them smaller and smaller rather than worry about the form an object takes – its more important for the object to be so small it disappears than to worry about its shape. As we clean up the electronic environment and make it simpler and smaller we need objects that we can touch and love. Furniture is the thing that people want to experience in this way. They want to interact with it, touch it and feel how it works.
The designer’s role has changed in recent years from being focused on shape to making the quality of the resulting experience – if you design an air-conditioner it’s not about the shape of the unit but of the special quality you have developed for the air it produces. We call this the ambient elements of a design.
D.d: I talked to Jasper about the design of the Maruni stand and how absolutely minimal it is – why did you design it this way?
Many of the other stands are confusing with a lot going on and no sense of direction. The people that come by Maruni stand are happy to be somewhere they feel comfortable. The light is nice and soft and the products have a clear visual language.
Maruni products have been very successful in Australia because you are comfortable with our design language and you are not searching for the next new thing or something which is alternative or extreme. You like to have a relationship with the furniture that isn’t just about a new look or colour.
D.d: It would seem that in the last five or so years Japanese furniture companies are making a growing impact on the international design scene……..what do you put this down to and do you see Japan as a new force in global furniture production?
Japan is a particular country with a focus on technology and it isn’t really a big consumer of quality furniture like European countries are. There are a number of very high quality producers in Japan but they are quite humble in their approach and don’t make a lot of noise about the quality of the product they produce. It’s a strange realisation as a Japanese designer that my products are more appreciated by international people than by the Japanese market.
It’s also quite strange that I am interviewed by Japanese journalists while I am in Milan a lot more than while I am at home in Japan……
Do you think that’s because Maruni is a much more international company and it seems more appropriate to interview you here than in Japan?
Maruni is an iconic company but its not typical of the average Japanese furniture manufacturer. Maruni has a very global outlook on its business and so looks to create Japanese designs that translate successfully in other markets. I’m not sure that many Japanese companies are this focused on being international.
Of course Maruni respects Japanese traditions and Japanese masters of Twentieth Century design like Sori Yanagi but we don’t want to just recreate their work, we want to confidently move forward with our own designs. While respecting traditional crafts and their centuries old handcrafted methods we want to use modern technologies.
You can read more by David Harrison on Design daily