Words by Lucy Thomas Award-winning British designer John Green blurs the lines between abstract innovation and practicality with his Scandinavian-inspired designs. He exhibits his furniture all around the world as his designs prove to be more artistic sculptures as opposed to conventional furniture pieces. This combination of functionality and innovation is what makes John Green and his designs so intriguing, alongside his hands-on approach to design that is seldom found in likeminded design studios. This week, we caught up with John Green to talk about his design process, what makes something ‘iconic’, and the legacy of his famous Embrace table to get a real insight into his world of cutting-edge design.
John Green

You’re based in York; do you feel that your location limits or propels your work? Does location matter?

No, I am able to work with companies all over the world. I enjoy having the opportunity to travel and my work has taken me to places including Singapore, China, Dubai, France and Italy this year. With the power of the internet, I really don’t think location matters.

How would you describe your overall furniture aesthetic and what does that bring to the design world?

My furniture is designed to be minimal, with clean lines and a conscious effort to be timeless.
John Green

Who and what are your main inspirations for designing furniture?

My designs are mostly materials and process led. I’m by no means a traditionally trained furniture maker, but a big part of my design process is to make working prototypes. It’s through this process that I find and learn about new techniques which not only aid product development but inspire new designs. My biggest inspirations, by far, are the Eames’ - I’m always blown away by their work and enjoy a trawl through their back catalogue from time to time.

The ‘Embrace’ table was based on the Isokon Penguin Donkey, do you look to iconic design for inspiration?

I’m sure I do find inspiration from iconic designs, but it’s never intentional. Embrace was different. It was designed as part of a university brief to design a new version of the penguin donkey. I would never start my own brief in that way. I’ve always wondered “what makes a design iconic?” and even titled my University dissertation this. I never got the bottom of it but it’s an interesting discussion for sure.

Can you take us through the process of how you make an idea come to life?

It can start in a number of ways. Every project has been different so far. The idea could be a solution to a brief or learning about a new material or production technique. I will always work through an idea in my sketchbook first, then go from sketch to CAD and CAD to workshop. Most of the development will happen in the workshop when making full-scale working prototypes. Once I’m happy with the final design I will return to CAD to apply any changes before sending the product out for production.

When designing furniture what is more important to you the practicality of the piece or its artistic design?

Practicality. If a piece of furniture is not functional then it isn't even furniture anymore.

What was the first item that made you fall in love with design?

The Panton chair. I remember visiting a design store whilst on a school trip and being told to pick my favourite chair, the Panton Chair was it and still think it’s a great product today.
John Green
John Green

Some of your designs seem to be pretty customisable; how important are bespoke pieces to you?

I think customisability has a place with some pieces but not everything. It’s good to give customers options. I have previously produced bespoke pieces for customers based on my existing designs but I tend to avoid bespoke pieces as what I design is designed for batch production and not really suited to one-offs.

What are your 3 top tips for designing a perfect living space?

I’m no interior designer, but I’d say: 1.) Let the furniture talk, not the walls. 2.) Clean lines. 3.) Neutral colours.

The one dream item that I could have in my home is…

An Eames lounger and Ottoman, but I’d have to have the house with the space and the view to make it work.
John Green

Does your own home reflect your own artistic ideas about furniture and design? Are they the same or do they differ?

Although it’s a work in progress, I’d say it does reflect my style and ideas. It’s home to many of my prototypes.

What is the piece that you are most proud of?

It has to be Embrace, it was the first piece of furniture I designed, I designed it at University whilst studying product design and started selling it the same year I graduated. Embrace is the reason I do what I do today and it is still selling well 10 years on! Shop and explore the entire John Green furniture range at OPUMO.