When we discuss the quality of an object, its practical side along with its usability and attractiveness are in focus. If it’s a piece of furniture, we often discuss whether it’s comfortable. The essence of a designer’s work hides in achieving balance. But, what happens when we add an atmosphere to this balance? British designer Jasper Morrison believes that design itself is the key for creating pleasant atmosphere. „I feel good in some spaces and very bad in others. Eventually, I recognized that design was the tool to improve atmosphere, and that seems to be my role — to take care of the man-made environment, to the extent that I am able to.“ To which extent are we aware of the atmosphere of a space and its everyday influence on us?
The Escape From the Gloomy
Jasper Morrison was born in London, in 1959. One of the most powerful memories of his childhood was the interior in which he grew up. He describes it as gloomy and a little bit of claustrophobic. Not because it was small, but because it was overcrowded. During the mid-20th century, it was quite normal to load space with curtains, heavy upholstery and decorations. He searched to escape into a room which his grandfather adapted for his needs. It was quite illuminated and bright, the floor was made of warm wooden shades. Morrison simply felt good there. His grandfather worked for a Danish Company where he got acquainted with the beauty of Scandinavian design. He transferred this knowledge to his home, creating an oasis without needless decoration. A striking memory of this room was famous Braun’s gramophone, also known as Snow White’s coffin.
When he was 16, Jasper Morrison visited Eileen Gray’s exhibition which was set in Victoria & Albert Museum. He understood the language of her work easily and realized that he wanted to try his luck in the world of Art. Although he didn’t have his father’s support at the beginning, he entered the design studies at the Kingston Polytechnic University. This was a traditional school, based on drawing. Students would find problems through drawings which would be “packed” in efficient solutions. He graduated in 1982. Three years later, he finished master studies at Royal College of Art. He then got one-year scholarship at Berlin University of the Arts, which was significant as the basis of his independent career. Morrison’s first exhibitions were displayed in Germany in the form of installations. The first one was in Cassel in 1987 and the second one in Berlin, one year later within Design Werkstatt.
In order to gain additional pocket money, he used to sell books during his studies. He read what he had, thus creating his own designer’s character. Books included artistic forms mostly, like architecture and film. Besides these sources, timeless inspiration that he always returned to was the work of Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray.
Morrison opened his studio in London, in 1986. He designed across Europe, for companies and associations like Aram, SCP, FSB, Cappellini… Within the exhibition held at Furniture Fair in Milan, in 1989, he started a fruitful collaboration with Vitra. During his former opus, he worked at different positions from exhibitions’ organizer or curator to creative director of certain happenings. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York often remind about and stand out his work’s value. Since 2001, he has been an honorable member of Royal Designer for Industry Association. He spread his work to the offices in Tokyo and Paris. Today, he signs more than 600 objects, among which we find furniture, lightning, kitchen dishes, toilets…
Atmosphere is the Goal
„From a very young age, I understood that I had a kind of over-sensitivity to atmospheres.” Thanks to gloomy interiors, Jasper Morrison grasped the significance of atmosphere in space during his childhood. This is why his philosophy comes to unaware influence of the design on environments that we spend our time in. In the world of consumerism, there is too much of glamorous design. The need for something new is incessant. Mankind is progressing and as a consequence of occupying human attention, more and more items based on marketing appear.
Jasper Morrison thinks that the design mustn’t give in while confronting these provocations, it mustn’t be dominant but quietly present. What is left is something real and something that doesn’t long to be likable. According to Morrison, aesthetics and function don’t have to be perfect. Instead, they should attract people with their moderate charm. Successful design is special, striking in its simplicity and appealing with its inconspicuousness.
Objects that contribute the best atmosphere tend to be less immediately noticeable; it may take some time before you appreciate them for their practicality and more subtle, discreet presence. That’s because the balance of how they look and how they perform is correct; they have been designed to perform well and contribute the right atmosphere, not just to catch the eye.
Morrison’s home is mostly furnished with Danish pieces. Some of them were shaped by the 20th century giants Børge Mogensen, Mogens Koch, Enzo Mari, Achille Castiglioni. We can find pieces designed by Morrison himself here. Here they have a testing purpose: „My home is a laboratory of atmospheric testing.” For Jasper Morrison, atmosphere is the starting point and the last stop of a process. The idea starts in his imagination, when he imagines a feeling that objects would evoke in space. Then he searches for shapes and solutions which would fit into an imaginary atmosphere. At last, they would be displayed in his home in order to check whether they create an inspirational ambiance. If we describe briefly what the product of this approach is, the answer will be – dedication and elegance.
The Pattern of Simplicity
It is difficult to single out several pieces among those designed by Jasper Morrison. Even if the choice is narrowed only to furniture. One of the chairs that deservedly marked the history of design is Thinking Man’s Chair from 1986. It is produced by Cappellini, an Italian Company. This chair represents the combination of flat and curved forms. It is hollow, without closed surfaces and has appeared as a result of hundreds of sketches.
One of the most original pieces designed in his studio was a limited series of furniture which was made of cork. It is made of defective wine bottle corks that are rejected during production. Why cork? It is pleasant to touch and makes the space atmosphere nice. It was a limited edition since cork requires additional manual processing of material. The beauty of this furniture hides in finding the right form. If the form is appropriate, its function will match. Cork additionally contributes to this form through sculpturality and refining colors.
Experts describe this furniture as successful section of design and art. The collection contains table, chairs, deck chairs and book shelves. It had a premiere at NYCxDesign in 2019. This wasn’t the first time for Morrison to work with cork. Combination proved to be successful in 2004, when he designed a collection of stools named Cork family, in collaboration with Vitra.
One particular idea was materialized in another collaboration with Vitra. It was the idea of archetype, the prototype of a chair. Plywood Chair is its name and concept was based on utilitarianism. To turn a chair in what it really is in its simplest possible form. Enough to make it stable and to sit on it. That is the Chair’s pattern. It is light, unobtrusive and clear. Being made of plywood is something which Morrison often emphasizes additionally. He considers it to be perfect because it is not made of solid wood or some other material. After it, another chair with filled backrest appeared. Morrison described it as “more comfortable but less exciting“.
The Reminder of Design’s Purpose
Through his theoretical work, Morrison also thanks anonymous design which has been lasting for a long time. Together with his colleague Naoto Fukasawa, Morrison organized the Super Normal exhibition in Tokyo. On this occasion, they defined the term “super normal” object which actually answers the question what a good design is. “My opinion is that the design world has drifted away from normality, forgotten it’s roots and the basic notion that we designers are supposed to take care of the man-made environment and try to improve it. Super Normal is a bridge between the two worlds, an attempt to reunite them.“
Jasper Morrison is one of the most reputable industrial designers of today. He stops the 21st century time by pointing out the importance of “super normal” every day. At the same time, he bows to modest designers and fights against mass production of unusable. With his actions, he shows that the answer is simple. The answer is simplicity. It doesn’t take time to create fake picture, but rather appreciates our time by creating the sincere one. Design is not a selfish game of unusable shapes. „Design is something real.” Morrison warns.