Designer to Know: Simon Johns

Designer to Know: Simon Johns

By Dwell
Furniture designer Simon Johns channels the spirit of his wild surroundings in rural Quebec into pieces with raw characteristics and material mixes.

To look at Simon Johns’ work is to be transported straight to the Canadian wilderness: Credenzas resemble craggy cliff faces, mirrors evoke shearing rock, tables are underpinned by slabs of stone. The designer, who established his studio in 2015, is surrounded by these references at his studio in rural East Bolton, Quebec. 

"We’re in a really mountainous area, the tail end of the Appalachian Mountain Range," Johns explains. "The way the cliffs jut out is quite spectacular to me...I’m always drawn to the way they crack and crumble and layer, like they’ve been planned in advance." 

In "Outcrop," his most recent collection, these raw characteristics are a central theme. One of his favorite pieces, the Dolomite Table, resembles a jagged boulder, but is actually sculpted from bleached ash and topped with polished aluminum. Its fractured geometries create the illusion that it is on a perpetual tilt—like a glacier on the move.

The Dolomite Table by Simon Johns

Learn why Johns treasures a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in our Q&A below.

Hometown: East-Bolton, Quebec, Canada

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I make sculptural pieces of furniture, where materiality sits center stage and the fabrication mimics the elemental in poetic compositions.

What's the last thing you designed? The Fracture Mirror.

Do you have a daily creative ritual? I sketch in a plain-paged sketchbook—especially when something goes through my mind that I know I should revisit, expand upon, or solve at a later time.

How do you procrastinate? I make myself and my staff yet another cup of coffee.

The Fracture Mirror by Simon Johns.

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? I'd love to design a wood stove and a fireplace toolset. It's not an everyday object for everyone, but lighting a fire is part of my daily morning ritual for about six months out of the year, and I've yet to fall in love with a modern fireplace.

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? My heroes are my peers struggling to make their best work while building a community of designers, caring for each other, and promoting their values both inside and outside the world of design.

What skill would you most like to learn? I’d love to learn to work with clay. I love the imperfections, the scale, and process of ceramics. My uncle and my assistant are both ceramicists, and all my dishes are handmade. There is beauty to the limits of ceramics, and it's one of those things I won't dare dabble in until I know I have the time it takes.

The Ledge Console Table by Simon Johns

What is your most treasured possession? I own a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that was my grandfather’s. He passed before I was born, but I remember admiring it and taking photos of it when I visited my grandmother's as a kid. It's green with loads of chrome, a white vinyl interior, and warm interior lighting. Wherever I drive it, I feel elsewhere.

What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? My parents had some danish lighting and cutlery, which I can remember from an early age.

What contemporary design trend do you despise? I don't really despise many trends. I think there is good at the heart of trends, but the saturation of an idea can kill it for us all.

The Hex Dining Table by Simon Johns

Finish this statement: All design should... either inspire or function, but at least do one of those well and for a long time.

What’s in your dream house? One work from each of my friends, a Vincenzo de Cotiis piece, lots of sunlight and views of nature, as well as guest rooms for friends. I could go on, but I would need many more square feet.

Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? I hiked many more trails than I had in the last two years.

The Ledge Dry Bar by Simon Johns

How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? I think people have realized, at least temporarily, the importance of feeling at peace in their own homes. Being elsewhere should be inspiring or invigorating or whatever, but home should be a place where you are calm, comfortable, and can be yourself. Maybe people will invest in thoughtful pieces and understand that they're also investing in themselves.

How can the design world be more inclusive? The design world—like many other industries—needs to actively seek out the views and experiences of BIPOC, LGBTQ+,  and others. It also needs to step back and think about how it might be contributing to the problem. Unpaid internships are just one example of common practices that seem banal but disproportionately give privileged white designers access to precious work experiences and opportunities. I'm still in "listen mode," and there are so many important conversations going on right now.

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? I wish people understood how much trial and error is an important part of the design process, and how it needs to be paid for too.

You can learn more about Johns by visiting his website or Instagram.

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