Carl Hansen & Søn



The British Architect John Pawson's talent for bringing together architecture and furniture to create a mutually enriching whole is legendary. We asked him to discuss his approach to his work as well as his thoughts on iconic furniture design such as the Wishbone Chair.

John Pawson. Photo by Orla Connolly.

In late 2016, the new London Design Museum opened with John Pawson as the architect responsible for the interior of the museum. On this occasion, and to mark the April birthday of Hans J. Wegner, for whom Pawson has a notable affinity, Carl Hansen & Søn is reissuing an interview with Pawson previously published in Carl Hansen & Søn eMag. Here Pawson elaborates on his thoughts on architecture, interior and timeless design.

For John Pawson it has always been vital that space and furniture are in close interaction. One of Pawson's first projects in the early 80s was to renovate a London apartment, and the images caused a sensation at the time. In his book, "John Pawson Works," Deyan Sudjic - director of the London Design Museum, architecture critic, and author - describes his experience of the apartment: "It was every bit as extraordinary as The World of Interiors pictures had suggested. Its very emptiness made you acutely aware of how many different shades of white there can be, and all the nuances and implications of the precise positioning of a door in a wall."

Understated expression has been John Pawson's trademark from his earliest projects and continues to characterize his work. His interiors feature an all-pervasive simplicity, harmonious proportions, and exquisite detail. Naturally, Pawson is also uncompromising in his choice of furniture. In the following he elaborates on his views:

Photos: 1: The Van Royen apartment, 2: Apartment, as described by Bruce Chatwin. Photo by François Halard, 3: View from the John Pawson - Plain Space Exhibition at The Design Museum, London, 2010. Photo by Gilbert McCarragher, 4:   Picture from Wakaba Restaurant in London, designed by John Pawson.

CHS: In your creative process and planning, do the architecture and the interior elements - lighting, furniture, etc. - go hand in hand, or are these elements decided after you have created the spaces?

JP: For me, it's all architecture. Whether it's a wall or a table, every component of a space contributes to or detracts from the quality of wholeness - through its form, proportions, surfaces and junctions, in the space it creates around itself and the patterns of use it implies. For this reason, it makes sense to start thinking about the furniture from the very beginning of the design process.

CHS: Is it possible to define the overall approach you use when selecting furniture for an interior project?

JP: The writer Bruce Chatwin described how the space contained by a room can feel limitless, no matter how small the room is, providing it allows your eye to travel freely. This condition of seamlessness is something I am always trying to achieve. A jarring profile to the arm of a chair is just one of many things that can stop the eye. You have to consider and control everything, but that is not the same as a literal Gesamtkunstwerk, where you remove the possibility of dissonance by designing every element. Over the years I have found myself returning repeatedly to a tightly edited group of furniture pieces that share a quality of visual ease.

CHS: What are the most important qualities you seek in the furniture you choose for your projects?

JP: Of course you want something that works. A chair that is uncomfortable to sit in or too heavy to move has clearly failed; it is, as Donald Judd put it, ridiculous. Functional clarity and simplicity of form are important, but the pieces I like the most also have an emotional dimension.

CHS: We see similarities in your architectural work and the work of Hans J. Wegner - the extensive use of natural materials, quality craftsmanship, no unnecessary details and decoration. Instead he sought - as do you - to integrate form and function. What are your thoughts on this design philosophy?

JP: One of the qualities I admire about Wegner's work is that it is so pared down. I don't like things that look over-designed. A huge amount of thought goes into making things simple. The key can lie in the smallest increments of change, rather than a grand transformational vision. It's all about the exactness of proportion, refinements of detail, the quality of the craftsmanship and the quiet richness of natural materials.

Photos: Baron House in Skåne, Sweden by John Pawson 2003-2005. Furnished with the Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner. Photo by Lindman Photography.

CHS: You became familiar with Wegner's work many years ago. What were your initial thoughts on his designs?

JP: I remember the first time I saw the Wishbone Chair. I was struck by how light and strong it was, by the lyrical clarity of its lines, and how everyone looked good sitting in it. It's still my favorite chair - I have them at home and in my office.

CHS: You have used Wegner's furniture in settings like the Novy Djur monastery in Bohemia and the Cathay Pacific Lounge in the Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport. Can you tell us how Wegner´s designs contributed to these specific projects?

JP: When we were looking for furniture for the monastery in Bohemia, the requirements were quite specific. It was important that the pieces we chose would sit quietly in the architectural spaces I had designed and would meet the functional needs of the community, but they also had to be consistent with the Cistercian values of modesty, simplicity and appropriateness. For the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong airport, the point was to create a place that people felt they could inhabit, rather than simply pass through. I wanted to move away from the types of furniture that are typically used for these sorts of spaces and choose beautiful and refined pieces that also had a domestic quality - that would help people feel at home.

CHS: Do you believe in the phenomenon of timeless design - the notion that certain pieces of furniture have the qualities to continuously survive fashion trends?

JP: I think you only have to look at a Georgian three-pronged silver fork or a seventeenth century Japanese Raku tea bowl - or, indeed, a Wishbone Chair - to trust in the notion of timeless design.

Photos: 1: Passengers making them selves at home in Wegner's Wishbone Chair. Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport Lounge. 2: Faaborg Chairs, designed by Kaare Klint in 1915. Photos by Nacasa and Partners.

--> Learn more about London Design Museum.

--> Get to know the Wishbone Chair.

User login

Enter username and password

The entered username or password is not correct.