Craft, Design, Interviews with creatives, Timber | 08 April 2022
Architectural designer Simon Springford.
Simon shares his love of timber and for Japanese craft.
In a recent conversation with Kiss House, Simon shared stories of his Japanese travels and influences, his passion for solving problems through design, and told us what excites him about his downstairs toilet!
He discusses working with timber in design, and the lifelong reliability and positive features of timber which help create beautiful, functional products and interiors.
How did you get started?
I studied and practiced furniture making in Japan when I was much younger, and then went on to own the furniture design and manufacturing company, TinTab. Now I work very much independently, which allows me a lot more freedom in the items and projects I work on — one of which is the Kiss House interiors!
How do you approach sustainability in your work?
A lot of the materials we source are from European countries who share our commitment to environmentally responsible manufacturing. For example, timber and cork products harvested from sustainably managed PEFC and FSC standard forests, and we always promote the conservation of natural forests, careful forest management and biodiversity.
What makes timber such a great material to work with?
There are a lot of things that make timber a great resource. Ultimately, it’s renewable so is something that is always growing, and we have masses of it in the UK and across the world.
It’s an incredibly beautiful and tactile material, and you can create many things with it on its own and with other materials, meaning there is great flexibility. It’s also one of those materials that if you treat it well, it ages well, it gives something back to you for looking after it!
When used effectively in design, it can be an easily replaceable material, so if things get worn down or damaged, you can take it out and substitute with something new in the same material. This way of constructing is incredibly prominent in Japan where they are continually changing and adding new parts to buildings, meaning that some traditional Japanese buildings have become some of the oldest buildings in the world.
Of course, if used correctly, timber can be incredibly sustainable and can create incredibly strong structures; if applied in the right way and created with the right tools and craftsmanship. An incredibly strong timber from Japan, Hinoki, has formed the structure of buildings first constructed in 14th Century, because it lasts a long time outside and because their expert knowledge and craftsmanship has allowed it to really deliver.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful and tactile material, and you can create many things with it on its own and with other materials, meaning there is great flexibility.”
How important is education when it comes to understanding how to work with timber?
It is important, but I also think it’s good to know about timber in the context of other materials available, as opposed to simply being used alone. I think this is the biggest gap in education. It would seem a shame to teach about timber without learning about the other possibilities and combinations along the way. During my time working with the material I’ve found this combination of materials, and what timber can do alongside other new materials / the way it can work with them, incredibly interesting.
It’s all about using the right material for the job and being able to identify that. It might not always be timber, but the recognition of it as a viable option in the industry is something that should be taught.
You need to be aware of the purpose, so a good example may be a building. You wouldn’t necessarily use wood on a roof because you don’t want it to stay consistently wet, but it might work on a floor, or a wall. If it can withstand its placement your timber could last you hundreds of years.
What are your greatest design influences and in what ways are they seen in your work?
My time in Japan influenced me on a grass roots level. I was drawn there in the first place by the architecture and the buildings and everything that they make.
Even now I see how wonderful their traditions are — they go back generations and I’ve taken a lot in terms of my thinking and values from this way of craft.
While I was in Japan I spent a lot of time sharpening chisels, and I would be there for hours until I could see myself in the edge of the chisel. You could cut timber so thin you could see through it. Only when it had reached this stage was the chisel considered perfect, and to them this discipline in craft is completely normal.
Tools are very important with timber, and in Japan they can last for generations. When I was there, I was taken to a little shop amid the tall buildings of Tokyo, which had a row of guys behind the counter sharpening tools and selling them. I asked to buy some and then asked for a sharpening stone. They laughed, and the interpreter said they had said, “come back in ten years, we’ll sell you that.” They really are on another level.
I felt very small in this world of timber craft while I was there, but it gave me a lot of understanding and respect for the soul of the timber and the soul of the tradition. In western culture, we have machines that do a great job and I love that, but it’s the cultural heritage touch that I like to try and bring into my thinking. Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like we lose these traditional, cultural values, especially as our tools become more throwaway, and everything begins to be in quicker production demand.
“It’s all about using the right material for the job and being able to identify that. It might not always be timber, but the recognition of it as a viable option in the industry is something that should be taught. ”
What are the main things in your life that give you creative energy?
I think I get most creative when I am building something that is solving a problem. I like the idea of delivering something that will make life easier or fulfil a function for someone. It’s going to deliver more than beauty and that’s important to me. Also, taking the time and building with traditional values at the heart of every project. I want to deliver something that’s going to last and that makes me feel that the effort and time put into making it was worthwhile.
What does quality mean to you and how do you pursue quality in your work?
It’s always been an ambition of mine to deliver something as close to perfect as the Japanese craftsmen can produce. Very rarely have I been able to fully stand back and wonder at my work for a long period of time and think I’ve delivered that, for my own frustrated perfectionism sins, but I’ve always been able to achieve the goal of answering a problem and solving it quickly. Quality to me is really about making sure the material is fit for purpose. Making sure it’s going to withstand the test of time and live as long as needed. Going into furniture showrooms now, I can quickly identify what will last to be an antique, and what will not. Maybe people don’t want it to be an antique anymore, and they just want to go for quickly made, beautiful design, but it feels a shame to me to not deliver something that could be around for generations, especially after all the time and effort put into its creation.
“I want to deliver something that’s going to last and that makes me feel that the effort and time put into making it was worthwhile. ”
You work across both residential and commercial projects — tell us a bit about them and your chosen career path.
Over the last twenty years, I have worked on both. I work on individual designs and ranges of projects now, mainly for myself, for Kiss House and for another client creating a range of furniture. When I closed TinTab, I was able to be much more uncompromising with my values and could make sure that the projects I deliver can reflect these. I don’t have to simply make things look good anymore, I can deliver items that have more heart, and are more personal.
How do you design for joy?
The exciting bit for me has always been mixing materials and using their different strengths to deliver something beautiful. Timber is so diverse, you can change the entire nature of it sometimes, and the design of it to be almost anything. That’s what I found exciting.
What matters most to you in your work and why?
Using a material that is fit for purpose, thinking about how it looks and how it feels and establishing if it solves a problem. Beautiful things and beautiful materials can deliver a beautiful finish, but they aren’t always going to fulfil a purpose or maintain wear and tear if used incorrectly, and I think that’s a shame.
What item in your home speaks to you of great design and why?
As perhaps odd as it may sound, it’s the toilet in the downstairs loo! It is attached to an incredibly strong piece of timber so is never going to move, it’s streamlined and functional, but it appears to float in mid-air. There’s no ugly cistern or pipes on show so for a toilet, it’s beautiful! Its design ticks the boxes of function and beauty for me!
“I felt very small in this world of timber craft while I was there, but it gave me a lot of understanding and respect for the soul of the timber and the soul of the tradition.”
Are there any rooms in your home that are your favourite spaces to be?
I really do like my downstairs toilet space! I’ve lined the walls with a beautiful cedar material which we used on the cladding of the Saudi royal family’s swimming pool in Buckingham Palace Road. The room has a lovely sink made from Oak and a layer of Corian, and I’ve added a fun little tray that moves on the inside of the sink. I made slots in the wall for light to come in, as I can’t have windows in this part of the house, and one has a little hole for the cats to come in and out.
It’s all simple stuff in a tiny room, but I like how it’s so multifunctional. The washing machine is in there, so it’s out the way of the kitchen, and I’ve put in a laundry shute from my bedroom to here, which is great. It’s very calming, having everything in its place; you must get peace where you can!
What are you passionate about?
I’m incredibly passionate about how spaces work, the light, proportions and how humans live within it. I want to deliver products and projects that not only make people go “wow, that looks great,” but also that make people go “yes I can use it so efficiently, it never marks, it’s really made my life better.”
You're working with the Kiss House team on our internal fit out — what excites you about this project?
I think the most exciting part of this challenge is answering a problem. I can bring ideas, knowledge that I’ve picked up through my experiences and mistakes along the way to the whole process, and I can suggest design ideas to influence decisions in a highly positive way.
The values of Kiss House, and the values of the people that influence them are very aligned with myself, and I think that’s always rewarding, to find like-minded individuals who all want to create something sensational.
I also really like that it’s not just about an object. We’re creating a whole living space, the whole construction and feeling of a Kiss House living space and seeing it from its conception is incredibly exciting.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge when approaching Kiss House interiors?
I think delivering a language through the living space that on one side, is sensible, pragmatic and clear, and on the other side, is distinctive and representational of a high-minded brand. This is our challenge, but one we can’t wait to get stuck into.
We want to make it distinct from others out there, and we want to produce something that works, that speaks the language that everyone is speaking at Kiss House through the design. We are continuing the creation of brand clarity, showing people what Kiss House means and how the values are represented in the work.
What makes Kiss House special to work on?
The commitment to excellence — delivering excellence in everything they do. The collaborative determination to produce the best possible housing is always so strong, and I feel excited to be working with them.
Thank you so much to Simon for taking the time to answer our questions. It was fascinating to learn about your work and cultural / design experiences, and how they have shaped and influenced your career. We can’t wait to reveal the work we have been doing on Kiss House interiors together, watch this space!
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