A few weeks back, I was in Browns of Brockley, one of my favourite local coffee shops. I tweeted a picture of the furniture (which I love) only for Browns to tell me that the designer lives just around the corner. I decided to get in touch for an interview, and am so glad I did – it reminded me how many talented people fill our cities. It just takes a bit of effort to find them! Please allow me to introduce Jason Prain, the designer behind Made by Jason.
Q: How did you end up working as a furniture designer?
I trained as a furniture maker and boat builder, and used to sail competitively. The only way to make a boat go faster is to learn to the build the boat. My sailing experience has taught me a lot about making small spaces work. You have to be more resourceful and creative when you have a limited amount of money or room to work with. Every little detail becomes important, and the end result is usually far better because it’s been considered every step of the way. It’s all about simplifying, but doing so in a way that still looks good and has a bit of character. This training and background has been really useful for my cafe fit out business today.
Q: How would you describe the way you work?
I’ve been working in the building & design industry for over twenty years, so a lot of what I do is instinctive. Each project is different, but you learn to draw on your past experiences to overcome a problem, or use a material in the right way for the space.
I like using materials in honest ways. For instance, the concrete worktop I created for my kitchen has developed a few cracks over the years. But that’s natural; it’s what concrete does. Original wooden flooring isn’t perfectly smooth; it has knots and grain and inconsistencies. I used to lay wooden floors and people would call these ‘mistakes’. Personally, I like them. It shows that the wood is authentic; you know it’s not mass-produced.
Q: What materials do you like to use, and how do you use them?
I tend to mix materials. I recently started working with steel, and really appreciate its flexibility and resilience. I learned how to weld when I was fitting out Caravan, the cafe in Exmouth Market. It can be a very efficient material to work with – for instance, I made the frame for this living wall in a few hours. With the dark tiling behind it, the pop of green, and then the red wooden boxes, it adds a bit of texture to the room, and makes use of what would otherwise be a ‘dead’ corner.
I like re-using materials, like my reclaimed timber table and benches made from scaffolding boards. They take a bit of cleaning up but are great solid chunks of wood.
I’ll also mix different types of wood, playing off the different colours, textures and patterns that naturally appear. I just finished these bookcases for a private client. The outside is solid American Walnut and the inside solid Maple. I picked these two types of wood for the contrast, because I knew I wanted to feature the woodworking details. When you look at them, it’s almost like the boxes have been stitched together. And some of the other shapes in the dovetailing are almost like little pints of Guinness. I’m really pleased with how they turned out.
Q: What eras or designers inspire you?
I like the shapes and forms of Art Deco, but also am drawn to things that have been deconstructed and put back together in a unique way. For instance, my Jaime Hayon Hooded Chair – it’s modern but actually it draws on Hollywood and Victorian glamour. It’s the way he’s put it together that makes it interesting.
I’m also inspired by the people and things around me. For instance, a friend of mine repairs bicycles. I was with him while he was working on a bike, and the different parts and tools really intrigued me. The parts on the table are from a bike, and the wheels from a skateboard. For me it not only looks interesting – it also has a practical side and is really easy to move around.
Q: What would be your biggest recommendation for people looking to bring design into their homes?
If possible, invest in pieces that you want to take along to the next house. A lot of what we buy these days ends up in skips. And I know, because a lot of the wood I use for my personal projects comes from skips! Good design comes at a price, but it will last far longer and mean more.
Upcycling and recycling furniture is also a smart way to do a lot on a small budget. You’d be amazed at what you can find in salvage shops, or even on the street. I made these wall units from the doors of old cocktail cabinets. One I found on the street, and one was given to me. Both have a great veneer – one that you don’t see now. It’s amazing what you can pick up.
Also, think about the bigger picture; not just room by room. Especially with open-plan layouts; people will see every room from different angles. When I redesigned our home, I carried the organic forms and shapes of the cupboards in the kitchen through the entire house to tie it all together. I thought about how to highlight the height of the ceilings, so instead of laying tile horizontally, I put it vertically. Same with the graining in the wood I used.
In my home, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to maximize space. A lot of people opt for floor to ceiling built-in cabinets, but what they gain in storage, they loose in visible ‘space’. If you can see to the corner, you’ll feel that the room is bigger. Other simple things like sliding doors or configuring a cabinet so that it doesn’t need a knob – something I do quite a lot – really streamlines a room. Again, it’s down to the little details and thinking about how to maximize what you have.
If you want to learn more about Jason, head over to his website madebyjason.co.uk to see more of his work.