Architects are regular clients of Jennifer Newman, who brought minimalism and colour to outdoor furniture for schools, hospitals and retailers.
She talks to Andre Paine about expanding into indoor furniture, never being bored by the Barbican and why she loves Clerkenwell Design Week…
What are you currently working on?
We’re actually working on some quite large projects, one of them is the new Publicis building [formerly Turnmills]. We’ve got the order to do the roof terrace and have our furniture scattered around indoors.
Is colour at the heart of your design?
Yes, and it’s very often about the branding and getting the furniture to match that. We’re getting a lot of schools and hospital commissions where it’s all colour-based to help patients, clients, school kids and customers to find their location. Instead of people saying ‘we’ll meet you in the left-hand side of the roof terrace’, they’ll say ‘we’ll meet you at the orange table’.
Is your artist background important?
It’s absolutely crucial. It’s about understanding the colour palette and having a really good idea of how proportions work in colour. Also the fact that I trained as an artist, rather than a product designer, means that I’m freer to do things that maybe I would have been warned against as a student. My favourite products are actually the ones that are all welded, that don’t come flatpack, and hence you don’t get bolts and fixings and it’s just a really pure and clean aesthetic.
How did you end up in the Clerkenwell Workshops?
We’ve come closer to town because our clients are here, and it’s so easy being in Clerkenwell – this is our fourth year. Last week we moved into a new studio, we’ve taken on three new members of staff and it’s growing so quickly. Part of it is that we’re now producing more for inside, especially schools and universities. We did the whole fit-out for UCL Bartlett, the architectural school – to be chosen by leading architects in the country was a big step forward for me.
Which product is driving your growth?
It’s normally the product that we first launched, the Groove Table & Bench. But the A-Frame Bench has just recently become very popular – Network Rail are launching us, Waitrose. Also we launched the Edge Table & Bench at the beginning of the year.
What do you enjoy about Clerkenwell?
It’s just such a creative buzz, there’s actually nowhere else like it. It’s just absolutely geared up for us working, the clients are on our doorstep. I’m never, ever leaving here. We have meetings after work at the local restaurants. For peace and quiet there’s Granger & Co, where we have breakfast meetings, evening meetings. The Modern Pantry is where we meet the architects– it’s more buzzy. I should mention The Clerkenwell Kitchen in the Workshops courtyard. We’re there every lunchtime, the cooks are amazing.
Do you feel at home there?
It’s fabulous, everybody knows us, it’s good for networking, our website designers are on the next floor and, of course, we’ve got the lovely Clerkenwell Kitchen girls that look after us. Our furniture is in the courtyard, we have parties and launch new products down there. Architects can just walk here, come and have a drink and see the new furniture.
Is Clerkenwell Design Week important for your business?
It’s my Christmas – we all love it. It gives us a good idea of what will be happening next year, what we must be ready for. It’s a good opportunity to meet all our clients within a short space of three days. We get visitors from all over the country, it’s a lot about putting faces to voices of people we’ve been talking to over the year – and it’s an amazing buzz. Clerkenwell Design Week was the reason I moved into the area. I just said: this is where I’m going to be. So I just sold up and moved into the area on the back of Clerkenwell Design Week.
‘Clerkenwell Design Week was the reason I moved into the area’
So you’re a Clerkenwell local these days?
I’m in the Barbican – I’m a huge fan, it’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I’m not bored after six months. The architecture is just extraordinary, the generosity of space, it would never happen now. I can get to the studio at the crack of dawn because I’m literally just round the corner from the offices. It’s a family business so it’s two sons, my husband, we’re here all the time.
During Clerkenwell Design Week (19-21 May), Jennifer Newman will be exhibiting at Design Factory in The Farmiloe Building.