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An Interview with furniture maker Jonathan Rose

Jonathan Rose Design was founded to satisfy a passion for design and a desire to develop contemporary furniture for living with today’s physical, cultural and commercial demands. Jonathan Rose an engineer at heart loves to solve problems hands on. He believes that through collaboration, partnership and trust, great things can happen. He works with other craftsmen to extend his design capabilities and maintain a strong British skills base.

Jonathan Rose was part of Design-Nation’s showcase exhibition ‘Green Light’ at Design Junction last month. We caught up with him and asked him a few questions.

Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?

Jonathan Rose answered: It started at school where the wood workshop was a place where I felt confident and fulfilled. My family encouraged making things and I grew up in a household where quality was valued. My first independent piece was a box, which my mother presented to me 45 years after I had made it. Functional and crude, nevertheless still in one piece.

Over the years the making instinct has remained, and now forms a useful part of my life. About 15 years ago I made a sideboard based on art deco style, from yew. This had some significant making challenges to fulfil my design brief. Much to my surprise I felt it was good enough to exhibit as an original piece. Thus my commitment to design started.

About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to become a designer/maker full time, after a career as an engineer in industry. It is very exciting to apply all that learning to this new world. I find that my workshop time is best served developing ideas and then working with partnership makers to realise production.

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

J.R: The Woodwork Book, published in 1980 with a foreword by John Makepeace, is probably the earliest influence on my making career. Contributors I particularly noticed were Fred Baier, Richard La Trobe Bateman and Wendell Castle. They showed what was possible beyond the classical need for standard shaping and jointing, demanded by the furniture industry. Since then I have been influenced by the passion of the Bauhaus, the philosophy of James Krenov and the functionality of the post war Scandinavian makers like Alvo Aalta

D-N: What inspires you and your work?

J.R: Materials and people inspire me. Design is about making things better for the world, where ever that place is. If I can create a better future with someone who knows a little more or who has different needs to me then we can really go somewhere new.

An example of this is the Attentive chair. It was born out of the desire to make a chair and one that is a little different in feel but in the Scandinavian style. Being challenged by the Design-Nation application for Design Junction I developed a new colour offering for the collection. Then meeting a textile designer created an opportunity that this chair could have a completely different colour which was part of another person’s colour and design brand.

D-N: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?

J.R: My design process starts with a pencil and paper. This enables the ideas to flow, both in detail and generally. This period is not obstructed by ‘how’, just by ‘what’. From here comes a simple computer model if the object needs to be visualised in 3D. Sometimes I make a 1:5 scale model if the project justifies the time.

I may have to learn something about the materials or glues, requiring specific experimenting with the demands of the materials. For example whether a joint can be manufactured, or if I can source the correct materials. In the case of the upholstery capture mechanism in the Attentive chair range, I worked with a saddler who introduced me some new materials that made this possible.

I am about to start using a new CAD model which I expect to be a source of new ideas. Anarkik3D is developed by a jeweller for digital manufacture and has the capability to draw in 3D using a touch sensitive mouse. This may be a new version of pencil and paper.

D-N: What is your workspace like?

J.R: I have two workspaces – a desk and a workshop. The desk is simply a computer with access to books and drawing equipment. I also have a drawing board if I need to work with templates or work with paints. My workshop has some simple woodwork machinery and hand tools. This is functional enough for the development work I do.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

J.R: I do all my own PR and marketing and find support where it is available. I maintain my own website and social media. Design Nation provides opportunities to show at the right venues for me at a suitable cost for my business. I have help from Business Gateway.

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

J.R: Developing my brand and finding my place in the market for design led furniture is the biggest challenge I face right now.

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

J.R: I would like to have several collections of chairs and tables, in demand from appreciative buyers. I would love to have a partnership collection

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?

J.R: I would love to collaborate with any member of Design Nation. Collaboration relies on the chemistry of the individuals and the common purpose shared. As a result of the Design Junction show, there is a possibility of collaboration with Angie Parker, although who knows if it will come to fruition.

D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?

J.R: I would be an architect running my own small practice for domestic living. This profession works on improving the nation’s well-being through design. I am interested in the aesthetics, the science and the engagement of the profession.

D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?

J.R: I joined Design-Nation to meet new people in the design business at different stages in their career and have the opportunity to exhibit in larger venues.

D-N: Have you got any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that you are taking part in?

J.R: There is a possibility of participating in the Devon Guild show in January.

Interview by Laura Jacometti


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Clare Edwards


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