GBlog got the chance to speak with Jasper Morrison before the launch party celebrating his latest book and his most recent designs for Swiss furniture company Vitra. The event took place inside the rooftop bar of the newly opened citizenM Hotel at Times Square, an artistic venue in itself. The book, The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary, could be found stacked beside the hotel’s baubles and paperback novels.
Drawing from images collected since the late 90s, Morrison’s first collection of his own photos offers a glimpse into how he looks at and thinks about the world. Published by Lars Müller, the slim volume is handsomely bound and an inspiring addition to one’s home library. Morrison further explained the history of the photos and what they mean to him during our conversation.
JM: I did these as sort of photo stories for our website, for Vitra’s website, over the years. They used to be called “picture of the month” when we showed them on the Internet, and, then, over the years, there were more and more of them. Finally, I decided to do a book with them, which is called The Good Life, and it’s all about little man-made solutions or man-made situations which have a quality that evokes “the good life” for me.
There are thirty-four different photos. With each photo, I tried to imagine the story behind how these things came to be. This concrete is not a chair, but it’s being used as a chair. Where did it come from? Why is it there? Why is this tent pitched under a roof?
Morrison’s more tangible designs for Vitra were also a marked point of interest. At the center of the room, there stood a display of his designs for Vitra’s Home Collection, which premiered at Milan Design Week before traveling to New York. The exclusive U.S. preview included the Rise Table, a two-tiered rotary tray (also used to serve hor d’oeuvres), Cork Stools, a few members of the HAL chair family first introduced in 2010, and the two latest additions to the HAL line: HAL Leather and the HAL Armchair. The small, height-adjustable Rise Table stands on a tulip base, echoing the form of the rotary, or perhaps vice versa. The Cork Stools, an earlier design, have similar proportions as well, though their material and thickness give them a softer and more playful look. The HAL chairs, of course, take a different, boxier shape, standing on four wood or steel legs or a chrome-plated cantilever base. Each is made of a single-piece shell of wood and leather or high quality plastic, and the seats are readily stackable, making the design ideal for use in public spaces.
All of the new furnishings embody what Morrison calls “super normal” design. In interview, GBlog asked about the “super normal” concept as well as Morrison’s relationship with Italian design and what’s next for him.
GBLOG: In layman’s terms, what is “super normal” design?
JM: …Objects which aren’t overly designed. They tend to be rather discrete things, which you might even have lived with for a few years before you realized one day that you couldn’t live without them.
They usually have a very, very long-term life in terms of function and in terms of looks. So, they’re not things which go out of style…You wouldn’t look at a super normal object that was twenty years old and say, “Oh, that looks really kitsch or that looks like it doesn’t belong in my house anymore.” It’s not that kind of object.
And, above all, maybe they are objects which, although looking normal, have this sort of ability to perform in an extremely good way, in a full sense of function, in the daily use of it and of the long-term relationship with an object. I think everyone has a favorite something or other, a favorite wine glass or a favorite tea cup or something which does the job, that kind of object.
So you can probably forget about everything I said up to that point. It’s the thing that does the job that you really appreciate.
GBLOG: Which of the new products for Vitra do you consider the most normal?
JM: The most super normal? Well, they all are. It’s a kind of guiding principle in my work that I try to design things that will have that sort of quality.
So, of the ones on display, I should think the new table, the Rise Table, could be super normal, the HAL chair, the Corks to some extent.
GBLOG: Going in a slightly different direction, GBlog has Italian roots and we see that you have worked with more than one Italian company. Would you say that your work is influenced by the Italian design tradition?
JM: Yeah, sure. When I started as a student, it was 1979, and, even way back then, Italy was the place where it happened. The Milan fair, although it was probably about a tenth of the size it is today, it was very much the place where things happened, Salone. And then you had all the history that came before that, so every textbook was full of the Italian masters’ work. It was pretty well built up on that Italian 50s, 60s architecture, so it certainly had a big influence.
GBLOG: Do you think that the quality of Italian design has improved or stayed the same since Milan has grown?
JM: Well, there seem to be less Italian designers than there used to be. I mean, but it may just be that there’s more of other nationalities, so they’ve kind of been swamped a bit. In those days, the furniture fair was probably 90% Italian designers. It was pretty rare to come across a designer that wasn’t Italian. Nowadays, it’s just such an international event that I think you lose sight of the Italians a bit.
GBLOG: Turning back to you, can you tell us what projects are you working on now? Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s next?
JM: That’s a difficult question. I always forget what I’m doing. After Milan, as well, we tend to take a breather. But, we are working on, as usual, some new chairs.
What else do we do? We’re doing some things for Muji. We’re just finishing off some source fans we did for Muji, and they look very nice, I think. And, two or three chair projects, the usual, some more for Vitra. We’re doing a project for the new Tate building, the Tate Modern in London. There’s a new building going up designed by Herzog and de Meuron, and we’re designing some furniture for the public areas. That’s about all that comes to mind. We haven’t really gotten back into the flow. After Milan, you just collapse.
GBLOG: Thank you for your time. One last question: what’s the least normal thing someone that has said or done at a book signing or another event that you’ve been a part of?
JM: You mean somebody that came to a book signing? I think it would probably be somebody who carried a chair to the event and asked me to sign it. That was pretty unusual. I can’t think of any others. I do remember catching somebody in Bar Basso one night at a party I gave, who had had one too many. Other than that, not too unusual behavior.
Both Vitra and Morrison’s book publisher are now presenting at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York. Displays will feature the HAL chairs and The Good Life, respectively, among other creative works. Soon to be available for purchase, The Good Life will appear in select bookstores in the U.S. and Canada in July.