The Beautiful Experiments of Paul Cocksedge

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Today we launch a sale of home accessories by award-winning British designer Paul Cocksedge, who is just as at home creating spellbinding, cathedral-filling installations as he is making simple analog amplifiers by melting vinyl records in the oven. Since he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002—when Donna Karan bought the collection—his career has been on the up and up, having collaborated with the likes of Flos, Established & Sons, Hermès, and the Design Museum. Together with his co-director Joana Pinho and their small team of talented designers in their East London studio, Cocksedge delivers fascinating products, spaces and experiences. Our friends at Fab Europe met with him down at the pub last summer. Interesting conversation ensued, so we decided to share some of  it here.

You have such a broad variety of designs in your portfolio – how do you start each project?
Most of my projects don’t have a logical beginning. There are plenty of books that will teach you a process of design—the steps you should go through to create something. But as soon as there are rules you get the same type of things coming out. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but now I think designers are reacting against such a predictable way of working. Our motives are different now. This is about me as a person seeing things in a different way and finding ways to translate that into design. I think that’s refreshing.

So it’s not about finding a problem then trying to solve it?
No, it’s about designing things I’m interested in on a very personal level. It’s about working with objects, materials, or situations that stimulate me. I’m really only interested in unchartered territory, working through experimentation and discovering new ways to do things. I enjoy working something out that isn’t a logical—or sensible—thing to work out. It’s perverse, but it’s interesting. If someone was watching me, they’d probably be wondering what on earth I was up to most of the time.

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"A Gust Of Wind" by Paul Cocksedge Studio with DuPont Corian at The V&A, 2010 (photo credit: Mark Cocksedge)

You studied design at the Royal College of Art – how was studying under Ron Arad?
The RCA is a fantastic place—you’re immersed in an endlessly creative world, and Ron Arad taught us to push creativity to the limits. I worked hard and did well at the RCA—Donna Karan bought my entire show—which meant that when I left I felt like anything was possible. Ron Arad had introduced me to Ingo Maurer, who liked what I was doing, and decided he would ‘present’ me at his Milan show. So that was a brilliant way to start, and after that I won the Bombay Sapphire prize, then I was nominated for Designer of the Year. Joana and I had already been collaborating and after this I was like, come on, we have to do something together!

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Crystallise Installation for Swarovski Crystal in 2005 (photo credit: Andrea Ferrari)

So you’re still very much involved in all the projects coming out of the office?

Yes, absolutely. People think that I just stroll in, do a sketch and it gets made for me. But it’s not like that at all—I’m involved in every aspect. And we have a very hands-on approach to making, so while I’m working through one project, ideas are being formed for the next one.

People have this idea that the creative process is a relaxed and beautiful thing. But it’s not like that at all. There’s passion. There’s a force. There are highs and lows. There are insecurities. It’s pretty intense working with me, but I hope the results are worth it.

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Change the Record - an analogue amplifier (photo credit: Mark Cocksedge)

Tell us about your product designs.
All the pieces we produce in the studio come from experiments with materials. It’s a very immediate process, and we’ve got control over every aspect—from design to production to sales. For me it’s important not to disconnect from the making—we’re always learning from the making process.

Lots of my work is temporary; it captures an idea or a moment, but then it’s gone and all that’s left is a photograph. It’s great to have that ‘wow’ moment, with the party and the photos and the excitement, which is heightened because it’s a temporary thing—it’s like the intensity of a holiday romance, which is always more exciting because it’s not meant to last. But the complexity of creating something that will stand the test of time really appeals to me.

Megan Charnley