wassily chair by Henry Wilson
If our definition of a supercycler is someone who has made re-use seriously desirable then Henry Wilson might be the very personification of the word. Henry's designs are "hacked" reworkings of existing designer (usually well known) furniture, accessories and lighting - executed so subtly and elegantly that you will want to take them home with you and live with them as soon as you see them.
It turns out that by wanting Henry Wilson's designs we are playing right into his hands - the familiarity drawing us in, the changes he has made adding an element of newness, setting the object apart and making it more wantable! - the fox's cunning!!
Residing back in Sydney after several years studying and working in the Netherlands, Henry is making an impact with this light hearted, yet rational approach to design or re-design.
When I first visited Henry's Chippendale studio I was struck by his inordinately good taste. The pieces he has accumulated from off the street and tip-finds (globally!) form a body of work that despite each originally being the creations of a diversity of designers, all now have a definite HenryWilson-ness to them - even a discarded Cappellini produced Marc Newson Wood chair has been salvaged and renovated so that it looks like it belongs in Henry Wilson's world.
It's this fine line of design ownership that Henry has chosen to pursue in his work. How much can a work be altered before it is no longer the author's, or more importantly before it becomes the new author's.
This question has found expression in a myriad of ways, where decisions about something as simple as the type of material used to replace a component play an important part in the new work.
Supercyclers: Henry Wilson, what inspires you?
Henry Wilson: People and their solutions to problems. I'm always being surprised by the little things that happen to me on a daily basis. I try to distil these moments and pass the experience on in my work. There are often many layers to an object, lots of stories, I believe that the most important trait in design is honesty. When that is taken care of then beauty seems effortless.
Henry Theroux wrote 'perhaps we are led often by the love of novelty and the regard for the opinions of men in procurring it, than by a true utility.' This seems as true today, faced with so much newness, we still turn to utility for comfort.
Supercyclers: Why + how did you start rethinking or adding to existing designs as your work.
Henry Wilson: During my master's study at the Design Academy Eindhoven I constantly found myself asking; why design new things for an oversaturated world when there are so many good designs out there. I quickly came to the realisation that this insistent desire to have the NEW is now seemingly built into the consumer's deepest psyche
I proposed with things revisited a way of satisfying this desire whilst paying tribute to that which has lasted so well, I am concerned with conceptual, artistic interventions that could ignite grand intellectual thinking but also concepts that effect the actual everyday nature of objects and our various uses for them.
In the case of the Anglepoise, I left the mastery of the arm and base and 'updated' the light source and shade with LED and glass. Likewise the addition to the Le Creuset pot gives the lid a now dual function, allowing the user to serve the pot on the upturned lid.
The layering of innovation and ideas on top of former designs is for me, a way to reach a wider audience. It seems wasteful to make an entirely new object whenever a new technology or innovation presents itself.
I acknowledge I'm not the first person to 'interfere' with existing designs. However I try to do so in the subtlest and most authentic way I can.
Supercyclers: How do you explain your philosophy of design
Henry Wilson: Let the function dictate the form
As a designer I see myself as a visually literate person; I organise, edit and redistribute materials and theories til some visual order and honesty is reached.
Design is about decision making. I've established a conceptual model to make decisions by.
This quote by Achille Castiglione sums it all up pretty well; "The function, what a nice form!"
Supercyclers: Can you talk us through some of your works.
Henry Wilson: The Tolix Chair is really an exceptional piece of industrial design. It falls into the category of "I wish I made this". Faced with the materials and production methods of the time, Xavier Pauchard went about constructing a series of industrial chairs for the dock and factory workers of industrial France. The chair is a great example of technique and industrial knowledge, informing the aesthetic of the design. Thirty years later, seeing its popularity in commercial settings, his son added arms to the chair. Interestingly this new adition is the one we see in the design collections around the world.
Fifty years later, after noticing its acceptance into the domestic market, I have added a fitted vegetable-tan leather cover, which will 'wear-in' as used. Its addition also reflects and highlights the chair's ingenious method of production, whilst giving it a suitable indoor application.
Inspiration for A-Joint came from what already exists. I believe that in the vast landscape of 'stuff' we often overlook basic and beautiful materials and methods. A-Joint utilises pre-dimensioned timber of the most common varieties (both 90mm x 45mm and 70 x 30) and enables them to be turned into sturdy, logical and truthful structures.
A-Joint is a sand cast, incredibly strong, multi-use joinery system that makes it possible to unite standardised, multi sized, pre-dimensioned timber in up to 4 different configurations with a sturdy A-frame structure. Easy to recycle and produce, the joint is limitless in its potential uses. From tables and benches to market stalls, shop fit-out and temporary housing. A-Joint evolves effortlessly and displays a refinement derived from function. A-Joint has been cast in a limited edition bronze, used with an off-cut of marble and pre-dimensioned pine to create a well-formed table.
Supercyclers: How do you see the kind of work you do in the wider context of production and consumption
Henry Wilson: It's harder and harder to be a designer. All of our materialistic needs seem to be catered for. It is a real challenge to create something new that will actually be used and useful. Now whenever I even consider a new project I have to consult a sort of design ethic checklist I have made for myself.
Will it last or outlast the user? Whether that be stylistically or due to sheer sturdiness - maybe a combination of both.
Is it beautiful - I should clarify that for me beauty consists of truth. So - really the question is, is it honest in how it resolves itself as an object.
Does the world need this? Can I not find a better example of this kind of product already in existence?
I make these additions so as to reignite conversation and interest in classic objects, those which have stood the test of time. Most of my additions and experiments are really excercises in different avenues of sustainabillity. Some provoke, some are just simple growth. It has been interesting for me to watch as the large companies I have built these ideas around slowly take notice. It makes such sound business sense for companies like Anglepoise and TOLIX to embrace these ideas. The marketing advantage seems obvious, not to mention the support and growth of new strands of design thinking - linking that back to the corporate world...
Luckily for Sydneysiders Henry has opened a temporary pop up retail project, Trent & Henry, showcasing his work with that of another clever supercycling designer, Trent Jansen in the Rocks in Sydney. So worth going and checking out - as the pair have styled it up very handsomely. Undoubtedly you will find something oddly familiar that you can't possibly live without...
Henry Wilson - supercycler