THEO WILLIAMS Another Brand

Acclaimed UK designer Theo Williams – formerly creative director of Habitat and head of design for John Lewis Home – has collaborated with manufacturer Qualita to launch his own furniture company Another Brand, the home of beautiful, no-nonsense pieces where quality is king

BY CLAIRE BINGHAM

How did you get into the industry?
I started in graphics at Manchester University before switching to industrial design. There was a competition to design a radio, which I won. I used to live with a bunch of DJs so I took the idea of a wheel that spun through the stations from them. The next thing I was in Milan, needling people and designing products for studios such as Marco Zanuso, Prada and Alessi.

Describe your style in three words
Simple, honest, rational. I hate the phrase ‘form and function’ but it’s true. There should always be a reason for something being there. When I’m coming up with a new design, I start with a list of functions that the product must have before moving on to its finish and colour. That is what gives an object its design edge and transforms it into the thing of the moment. The shape doesn’t.

How did Another Brand come about?
After all these years working with lots of designers and big brands, I wanted to work directly with the manufacturer. We play to our strengths. They hold the stock and take care of distribution, while I come up with the designs. By partnering up with Qualita, we have created a new business for them and an opportunity for us. The idea is to work with a variety of manufacturers to create a cohesive collection of products.

ABOVE: Theo in his studio in Queen's Park, London
ABOVE RIGHT: The 'Tavolini Primo' tables are designed to tuck in together, each at varying heights and widths. Available in assorted colourways, the 'Primo' circular tables have a painted solid oak top and base and a natural oak leg, and are sold flat-packed in a kraft box
BELOW: The 'Tavolini Strada' set of three rectangular tables nests together in varying heights, lengths and widths and comes in five finishes, Light Grey, Petrol Blue, Yellow, Flame Red and Latte Oak

What was the idea behind the new Tavolini designs, launched at London Design Festival 2015?
The premise was to have something that you can pick up and walk away with in a lovely box – an impulse buy; the prices also reflect this. All the tables are different. There are oak, glass, metal and fabric tops… We’re a one-stop-shop for small tables.

How are the products made?
When it comes to designing for Another Brand, we consider the manufacturer’s capabilities. It all works backwards from what they can or cannot do. 

What’s coming up next? 
There’s going to be more Tavolini and we’re moving into upholstery and lighting. Theo Williams Studio has also been commissioned to co-design a capsule of accessories for McLaren Honda Formula 1 team in 2016 until further notice.

ABOVE FROM TOP: The circular 'Tavolini Primo' side table trios have a small footprint but are big on impact; In clear or smoked glass with oak legs, the 'Tavolini Ponte' coffee table has retro Italian styling
BELOW: Another Brand's earlier 'Cubo' range by Williams includes tables, storage and seating for dining/living rooms, office, bedroom or hall. Finishes, colours and sizes can be modified to suit you (we love this graphic blue). Qualita produces the furniture in London and Lithuania

What are your influences?
I quite like a grid. I’m drawn to things that are graphic-led and well thought out. I love proportions, posters and packaging books – things like that. A lot of my influences are from Italy. There was a certain formula to working there but it was liberating and instinctive. Also, back in the day there were no computers, so everything was drawn by hand. 

You spent 15 years working in Milan and two years in Amsterdam before moving back to London. How do the cities compare?
Milan was the exception to the rule. Everything was possible back then. The creative energy was enormous. For my first job as design director at NAVA Design, I didn’t speak any Italian and they just said: ‘Invent, think, create and see what we can do.’ They trusted designers to make things better. I remember aesthetics, taste and style being relative. It wasn’t judged on seasons or trends just good ideas and solutions. It was the attention to detail and perfection the Italians taught me; they were simply perfectionists at design, printing and production. I remember them fondly. They were my second family.

In Amsterdam I began working with a corporate structure for a couple of years, which was creatively driven but without the instinctive nature of Italy. Nobody really owned anything. It was inspiring for the first year but I missed the spontaneity and instinctive nature of the Italians.

London for me seems to have all of the above and more. After 17 years away from the UK I can feel an undercurrent entrepreneurial spirit, which I think defines British creativity, with a bit of wit thrown in. There’s a natural impulse where people are just getting on with it and this creates an organic point of view and personality. There is a tradition in the UK where designers are interested in the processes, but we have moved away from traditional manufacturing towards innovative creative solutions. Reacting to the market is one thing but the depth and choice of the colleges and mixed nationalities studying here creates this entrepreneurial spirit; if only they had more opportunity to make and not just design. A few more workshops and manufacturers would be useful. The ideas are plentiful. It’s the making of them that’s hard.

BELOW: We love the slender forms and bright weaves of Theo’s 'Tavolini Lago' occasional tables, which feature an innovative fabric top. Usually used for outdoor parasols, the Sunbrella material is red wine-proof...

Who are your design heroes?
Achille Castiglioni, James Irvine (who was a good friend of mine), Jasper Morrison, Marco Zanuso and companies such as Alessi. When you look at that Philippe Starck lemon squeezer, it’s ridiculous. It’s everything they don’t teach you at school. 

Where’s on your travel wish list?
I’ve got to go to Shanghai but I’m not sure that’s on my wish list as such. I’m taking my son to New York in April, which is exciting. I promised him we would do the Shard, the Eiffel Tower and next it’s the Empire State Building. 

If you weren't a designer, what might you have been?
A storyteller. I have piles of short stories that I have written, all based on my childhood. All of the stories are true.

ABOVE LEFT: Philippe Starck's iconic 'Juicy Salif' lemon squeezer for Alessi c 1990
BELOW: All of Another Brand's flat-pack 'Tavolini' tables come beautifully packaged in a set of three

Is there anything you wish you had designed?
I’ve always wanted to build a brand from the bottom up, which is what I’m doing now. 

What’s your social media of choice?
I like Instagram the best. I don’t do selfies on the beach but, instead, use it for things I see and love.
anotherbrand.co.uk; theowilliams.com

AMANDA TALBOT

Sydney-based Australian stylist, design consultant and author Amanda Talbot cut her teeth on Livingetc and ELLE Decoration magazines in the UK, before collaborating with industry names from Ilse Crawford to IKEA. Her new book Happy aims to create 'joyous living spaces though design.'

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

What inspired you to write Happy?
After I wrote my first book Rethink: The Way You Live I realised that all those I featured may be going about life differently but they all just wanted to be happy. It got me thinking about how design can help people to be happier. 

What is happy design?
Happy design is emotional. It speaks to our hearts as well as our heads. It displays optimism, self-confidence and empathy. Historically words like ‘happy’ and ‘design’ have not been used together; pragmatism won out. People thought happy design was bold, childlike colours and houses filled with novelty ideas – places where you don’t want to spend a lot of time. Today, more architects and designers want to create objects and spaces we can enjoy. 

What key design lessons did you learn?
What makes one person happy can be another person’s nightmare – such as paint colours – but there are key elements we can all draw on. Tap into nature, lighting, colour, humour and flow, and create spaces that encourage more spontaneous, playful experiences in your home.

TOP PICTURE: Architect Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen's bear duvet, from By Nord, adds a cheery touch
BELOW: Unexpected colour brings fun touches to the homes of Paris creative director Jean-Christophe Aumas and Sydney design label Kawaiian Lion. Art and quirky ornaments up the feelgood factor

What was the most feelgood home you visited?
Each place I visited had its own inspiring feelgood factor. I loved designer Lee Broom’s London cinema room with a popcorn machine. Jo Wood’s Camden home was full of smiles and surprises, such as her skull wallpaper. I adored the giant Anish Kapoor-like silver slide in a New York apartment. The huge feasting table in an Amsterdam house showed me the importance of where we sit and eat. Tenka Gammelgaard’s Copenhagen home proved that a happy space is all about attitude.

Any little tips that can make a big wellbeing impact?
Stop following fast-fashion trends and ask yourself what makes you happy. Stepping away from the happy clichés is very liberating. It’s rare that we simply savour the moment, make the most of what we have, or put energy and love into our homes. When choosing colour for a space I now consider first what mood and activity I want to encourage. I also learned the power of editing. We need an intervention in how much we shop! 

What are the worst offenders when it comes to unhappy interiors?
I asked that question in my Happy Poll. The common answers were lack of storage, space, daylight and gardens, too much clutter, not enough room for alone time, outdated interiors, and excess noise.

ABOVE: Smile style: an owl figurine at artist Tenka Gammelgaard's monochrome home

Tell us about your work on Sydney's Coogee Pavilion (above).
I helped design this 'happy' bar/restaurant at Coogee Beach, alongside Justin and Bettina Hemmes, from owner’s Merivale, and Kelvin Ho from Akin Creative. For the ground floor, launched in July, I created a giant magnetic scrabble game with a library ladder to reach the top, customised ping pong tables with colourful geometric patterns, and introduced outsize Connect Four, Jenga, and Noughts and Crosses. We wanted adults and children to feel part of the space. I also commissioned a giant whale light. We opened the rooftop on 30 December, with four bars in a beautiful conservatory, styled as if it belonged to an eccentric botanist. 

Any other current projects?
I mentor young talents at The Design Residency, which I co-founded in Sydney. It’s an incubator for fledgling fashion and homewares designers to turn their products into viable, commercial brands.

Which residents should we be watching?
Shilo Engelbrecht has enjoyed incredible success during her time with us (table linen, above left). She had her gorgeous textiles included in Kit Kemp’s Ham Yard Hotel in London, an art exhibition with UK lifestyle boutique Anthropologie, visited Italian homewares label Missoni, and attracted top global buyers. Varina Krook from Stash Textiles is also a brilliant illustrator whose new range explores Australian historical houses and botanical motifs. British store Liberty helped with her production. Sophia Pearce from Flotsam/Jetsam has designed the marvellous ‘Buoy’ light (above right), ideal for the urban nomad. Grace Wood uses wool from her family farm to craft beautiful felt cushions, throws, over-scaled objects and wall installations. 

What's exciting you in design?
People like Dutch-born, Melbourne-based designer Joost Bakker, with his pioneering approach to sustainable living, plants and zero-waste.

Where’s on your travel wish list?
Western Australia. It’s the home of cute marsupial the quokka, my mascot while writing Happy

What’s your social media of choice?
I love Instagram. It’s so instant, image-focused and most small businesses say it has had huge impact in growing their brands. 

'Happy' by Amanda Talbot (Murdoch Books, AU$69.99) available now