Industry Profile: Nigel Coates

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Nigel Coates is one of Britain’s consistently original thinkers in architecture, interior and product design. Having led a parallel career in teaching, design practice, and artistically driven, internationally recognised work, Coates has designed and built influential interiors, exhibitions and buildings around the world. His build works in Japan include Caffè Bongo, the Wall, Noah’s Ark and Art Silo, and in Britain, the National Centre for Popular Music (now the Hub), Powerhouse::uk and the Geffrye Museum.

With an insatiable passion for design, and a reputation for forward thinking, Nigel will be joining us at Decorex this year as both Entrance designer, and as part of our Seminar Programme.

We caught up with Nigel ahead of the show to find out more...

Firstly, can you tell us a little about your involvement with Decorex?

I’m one of eight design teams invited to interpret the various scenes of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress as three-dimensional vignettes. I chose the Levee, the scene in which the Rake inherits tons of money and begins holding court with the best artisans, tradesmen and artists in town.

What first drew you into the world of design?

I guess I got there through architecture and my fascination with Italy. There, most furniture and lighting is designed by architects. Although this crossover is not that common in the UK, where skills tend to be pigeon-holed, I’m inspired by a compacting of the cultures of architecture and design.

You have a broad spectrum of design accomplishments in different sectors – what has been your favourite project so far?

That’s very hard to say. My favourite is always the one I’m doing at the moment. I’m still proud of my built work in Tokyo. When it comes to furniture, some pieces have become icons, at least to me. These include the Sloop chandelier, the saddle I did for the Venice Biennale and the Occhione mirror. All of these capture my design philosophy by balancing form, function and a subversive spirit.

Who or what would you say is your biggest inspiration?

I’m still fascinated by 1950s design especially in France and Italy. I’d include designers Jean Royère, Giò Ponti and Carlo Mollino. And at the more contemporary end, I like work that’s both forthright and clever, yet appears precarious.

What is the biggest challenge in your working life?

Trying to balance creativity in the designs and in running a business. Although I used to be in a partnership I love being my own boss now. I’m not very good at being institutional.

If you could describe your work in 3 words, what would they be?

Smart, sensuous and sensitive.

What is your favourite object in your own home?

A buccharo Etruscan cup. It’s over 2000 years old. Though small it’s an exquisite museum quality object and I bought it in the antique market in Arezzo.

Can you tell us about a current project?

One of my favourites now is my own line of furniture and objets. I’ve already got several mirrors, carpets and glass lamps. We’ve recently added our first wooden dining chair and there’ll soon be tables and cabinets to go with them. We’ve just published our first catalogue, Nigel Coates Selection.

What does the future hold for you?

Obviously I’ve been round the block a few times, but I enjoy my work as much as ever. Now I only want to work on my terms.

What are your plans for the Decorex Entrance at this year’s show? Can you give us any sneak clues?

There’ll be a backdrop of the etched version of Hogarth’s painting. Then, as if stepping out from the picture, one of my Back-to-back sofas will be upholstered in men’s suiting fabrics. Along with many luscious objects, its many backs suggest the men in the Levee’s room. You’ll see.

You will be discussing the future of Georgian Britain during your seminar with Nick Silver at Decorex – can you tell us more about your thoughts on this topic?

I love 18th century architecture and design, but I’m also drawn to the century’s darker side. In many ways it was a proto-period for our combined pursuit of perfection and its aberration.

As a renowned figure within the industry, what would your advice be for aspiring designers?

The important thing is to get the feel of what you’re designing. You should get to know the space and the objects in it as though you’re getting to know a new friend. This is far more important than distilling a style. I hate the phrase ‘get the look’. Live it and it’ll be beautiful.

If you could describe Decorex in 3 words, what would they be?

Classy, focussed and useful (with occasional forays into the fabulous and the ostentatious).

Register for Decorex 2014 to see more from Nigel Coates in the Seminar Programme, and show Entrance.

See more from the Decorex Interviews archives