Interview: Jamie Gray

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Future zombies, beginnings and good design with the mastermind behind New York's most unique furniture store, Matter.

I think one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, I’m going to have to buy a new house, sell all my furniture and fly over to NYC just so I can buy everything from Jamie Gray’s perfectly curated furniture store Matter. I can almost picture myself in that Quilt armchair now. Mmmmmmm....

It’s no surprise that Matter has one of the most impressive press pages going around, loved and lauded all over the world, Matter is an absolute Mecca for those of us who are constantly seeking good design. I was delighted to be able to speak to the man behind it all about starting his own furniture store, MatterMade (Jamie’s in-house line), future zombies and trying to love running.

Interview: Jamie Gray - Photo 1 of 7 -

Hi Jamie, How are you?

I’m great, thanks. How are you?

Good! What are you up to today?

A lot of catching up on emails. I think I say that every day. 

It’s hard work this emailing business. So, what was your childhood like?

It was great in many ways. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s during a time that was culturally and politically very dynamic. I definitely had much more freedom than kids nowadays. I spent most of my childhood on a bicycle or a skateboard and clocked in a lot of miles just meandering through the city.

Do you think your childhood influenced your aesthetic and tastes in any way?

I’ve honestly, and maybe surprisingly, never really thought about it but I suppose it had to. I think of taste as being accumulated visual information that’s been filtered and filed. And a large part of what's been compiled in my lifetime are the homes, interiors and landscapes of California in the 70s and 80s.

Interview: Jamie Gray - Photo 2 of 7 -

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I actually grew up thinking that, like my father and my grandfather, I would be a businessman, an entrepreneur. After dropping out of school for business economics, and later a handful of careers that included ad sales and motorcycle restoration, I discovered design very much by accident. I was living in Seattle in the 90s and running a small cafe. When it was slow I would frequently go to thrift stores and estate sales. I quickly accumulated a lot of mid-century furniture and pretty soon I was selling to a lot of local dealers and at flea markets.

Did you attend design school too?

Yeah, I eventually lost interest in vintage and became more interested in contemporary design. I decided to go back to school and moved to New York to study at Pratt Institute. I actually ended up studying fine arts, specifically sculpture, because I was more interested in materials and understanding their nature.

So what does good design mean to you?

It’s a generalisation but if I want to live with something I tend to consider it good.

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Interview: Jamie Gray - Photo 4 of 7 -

What made you want to start your own store?

Lack of retail experience.

(Laughs) Fair enough. So you’re store Matter stocks some really unique and beautiful pieces, how do you come across these designers and their works?

Thanks. Well either they find me or I find them through referrals, at trade shows, on the internet, Instagram and less so these days, but occasionally in a magazine.

What does a day in the life of Jamie Gray consist of?

I drop the kids off at school and then I’m pretty much trying to catch up on emails for the next few hours.

Can we talk a little bit about your in-house line, MatterMade?

MatterMade was something I always wanted to include as part of the conversation when I opened Matter, but I had no practical experience with production beyond the one-off. So it started as a platform to create projects with some really great designers and an opportunity to learn how to get things made in small batches. The designers I worked with in the beginning were part of a small community of American designers that were either unknown or just establishing in their field. That part hasn't really changed with the exception of the community, which is steadily growing. And I recently set up shop in Brooklyn where we now do development, prototyping and some production. It’s all very exciting.

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Amazing, so let’s get deep…What makes you happy?

Good design.

Do you ever imagine what the future will look like in 100 years? How does it look?

Have you seen that show Walking Dead?

You think we’re going to be overrun by flesh eating zombies? What about teleporting and stuff?

Oh you're totally right, it's much more likely the world will be overrun by teleporting robots.

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(Laughs) What do you think it is about an inanimate object like a piece of furniture or an architectural shape that can create such a strong emotional response in some people?

I think for some people it’s a song or a great novel. For some it’s a glass of wine and a great meal. For me it’s that moment when a form and its materials are just right - it strikes that visceral chord much like a succession of notes does for some.

If you could go back in time 10 years and leave a note for yourself what would it say? 

Buy Apple, Google, Netflix, Priceline, etc.

Yeah definitely. So, apart from design, what are some of your other great loves in this world?

My family. A good meal. Music. A beach. Sleep. And currently I’m trying to love running.

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This story was originally published as part of our ongoing interview series exploring the work and lives of inspiring creatives.

Photography: Nick Hudson
Words: Nick Smith

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