Behind the scenes with Nick James in his Newcastle studio.
Why did you decide to start your own creative business?
It was quite a long time ago that I decided to start my own business, so it might be quite tricky putting myself back in to that frame of mind. I approached it all through the arts – I studied applied arts at university and it was really about developing ideas and concepts and realising them in three dimensions, whether sculptural or functional. Because of my beliefs and my designs, a dining table isn’t just a dining table; it has all sorts of stories and references.
I initially started out wanting to make products that were beautiful as well as functional. This felt like the only route as I was using my own creativity and ideas to make pieces, so it seemed like the only way. There weren’t many jobs within the sector that I wanted to work in at the time, but I don’t think I could work for somebody else now.
After starting you business, can you remember what your first design was?
My first design was the scribble table. I exhibited it at One Year On at New Designers – I developed a small range of furniture to show and one of those was the scribble table and a mirror that went alongside it.
What or who do you look to for inspirations?
A lot of my work is related to mathematics. I take a lot of my inspirations from proportions that you can find in nature; there’s something called the golden section, which is really important to me. I still use that within my design work and it’s embodied in every piece I make. It informs me when I am going through the design process and when I’m drawing or sketching. Mathematics has always been important, like the Fibonacci series that has been used by philosophers and artists for thousands of years, in my opinion there’s a reason for that. The whole concept behind those systems of proportions is what gets me really excited, and that’s where the scribble table came in.
Where are you based and what’s your studio like?
I’m based in Ouseburn, in Newcastle. My studio is my sanctuary, and a little bit of a mess sometimes. It’s a place that I love being – it’s where I have all of my toys. It’s changed a lot over the years. I share the studio with my employees, but it’s lovely when I come in on a Saturday morning and it’s quiet. I have a big tidy up on a Friday afternoon and I love coming in when it’s all tidy, it’s quite a treat to be able to do that.
What are you most proud of?
I’m pretty proud of my 20:20 cabinet as that’s the most recent thing I’ve done and it’s been really well received. I took it to Design Junction in September 2014 and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made now. Every year I try to do a couple of speculative pieces; the majority of my work is commissioned but each year I promise myself that I will make maybe one or two pieces that are more speculative. Which is me trying out new ideas, designs or materials, designing something that is not for a particular client but is something that I will then exhibit. Here I can make use of great exhibition opportunities such as Design Event. That’s why I love it. It’s lovely getting people you don’t know contacting you and wanting to buy pieces.
Another piece I made early on was a piece for the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead – I made a piece for their handling collection. They came and commissioned a piece of craft from me about 12 months after I’d started my own business, so that was pretty good.
What is the most interesting collaboration / commission you’ve worked on?
I’ve worked with quite a few designers over the years. I made the jet cabinet with Bridget Jones, who’s an artist and glassmaker. I worked with her to create a 1950s style of furniture that was shown at TENT 2013. That came about because I don’t know much about colour; Bridget knows all about colour so we worked together. We dealt with colour and material on this project, we looked at Formica, which is a classic 1950s material and I designed a bit of a 50s furniture for it to go on. That relationship has continued and she helped me develop colours for my 20:20 cabinet. She’s like my colour guru, so to speak.
What’s been the most unusual project you’ve worked on?
I did a project for Xsite Architects about four years ago, which was essentially all about salmon in the River Tyne, and about how they swim up the river and back to lay their eggs. They came up with the idea of 10 cubes that would each represent a different element in the salmon’s life. I made these cubes out of metal, they started up at Kielder and moved down the River Tyne following the salmon. It was all about raising public awareness. They’re still part of the sculpture trail up at Kielder, that’s probably the most unusual project.
I’ve done something called the Book Apothecary too, where I got lots of old suitcases and fitted them out with shelves and cupboards.
What would be your dream project?
I’ve always wanted to develop a piece of furniture that is the epitome of craftsmanship and quality. That piece of furniture might take 12 months to make but I’d love to have the opportunity to have a bit of time to make something so well, where there aren’t constraints. I’d love to be able to switch off phones and computers and just do something perfectly. It’s a luxurious thing to be able to do that. I don’t know what that piece of furniture would be, maybe something for the queen
What are you exhibiting at the 2015 Northern Design Festival?
I’ve been asked to show 3 versions of the 20:20 cabinet I have, which includes the single, the triple and the media cabinet. They are kind of developing as it goes along.
Well I’m doing a reception desk for a new office block on the Newcastle Quayside for Live Theatre. I’ve done quite a bit of work for Live over the years and they’re a fantastic cultural organisation. They’re opening up a big shiny office block and they’ve asked me to make some of the reception furniture for them, which is great because it’s a landmark building in Newcastle. It’s going to be all-singing and all-dancing so that’s a pretty exciting opportunity, and that’s happening right now.
More and more of my work is being sold online and I sell quite a lot through Not On the High Street. I’m going to be developing some new ranges and products for that. Then I will have my next speculative piece, and I haven’t made my mind up on what that’s going to be just yet…