Kenneth Grange and Jack Smith’s first collaboration was the April sofa. Now, as they present Apriletta, they talk working together, what’s changed, what they have in common and why they like working with Modus.
KG Thinking about how Jack and I met, it’s because I have a job as visiting professor at The Royal College of Art. It’s all a pleasure, they just like me to talk to people. Jack was one of the students there.
JS It’s a two year course but they don’t split you up into year one and year two, you sit all together. Then there are sub divisions called platforms with smaller groups which sorts out what you want to do. In my case within the Design Products course, I studied on the platforms led by Luke Pearson and Michael Marriott. Kenneth would come in a handful of times a year.
KG I think it was a very good time: the coalescence of people there. The tutors are not like formal teachers, they are participants, a great deal rubs off in both directions, in my case very much. It’s quite natural that I migrate towards those who have come through a constructing type background and Jack was very much of that mould. Jack graduated and I subsequently asked him to help me with a few things. Recently, last year, I was approached by Modus to do a sofa and it seemed to me Jack was the natural ally in that and it’s grown from there.
JS I find designing with Kenneth a very relaxed and mutual process. We have a start out point and we have discussions and it evolves like that which I find really nice. With other people, sometimes their ideas get fast tracked.
KG Fundamentally we share a lot of the same beliefs and enthusiasms.
JS Ninety per cent of our conversations aren’t necessarily to do with design. It’s more about things that we like, things that annoy us, it’s almost like we’re friends above all else. We’re not formal colleagues, the set up is something different. We have a lot in common.
KG We have a tremendous amount of common ground. It’s a very happy arrangement. I am always on the lookout for the commercial angle. An example of this is when we were talking in the latter stages of designing April. I had been to a hotel in the West Country. I said it looked to me that this hotel could be a perfect place for April but that it was too big. Modus said something similar simultaneously. Out of that came the proposition for Apriletta: it might well open up another angle in another sector. It’s very much of the same character; one is the child of the other.
JS There’s never any raised voices or stamping of the feet. There were one or two things that we ummed and aahed about but nothing serious.
KG I haven’t found any time when there’s been a taste disagreement. Jack contributed a very important detail, that of tailoring; the smoothness of function, the elegance of line and that the product should have a good profile whichever way you look at it, like a decent suit. They brought the fine detailing, the seaming, the elegance of the detail of where the cushions meet.
JS Because of the time Kenneth has spent in the industry there’s confidence in his decisions. For me all through college and university I’ve been quite shy, but when I go to meetings with Kenneth, I take on a lot of his presence, how he presents and I find that invaluable. When I’m with him in meetings I feel a lot more relaxed.
KG In terms of the way the industry’s evolved, there’s a very big change in the communication process. Designers today are having to be a master of many skills. Jack was talking recently about being familiar with a range of software. I was reminded that in my office when we had computers, there was really only one program. But now, there’s a huge chunk of Jack’s grey matter that I have no connection with at all but that he takes for granted. It’s very much about the complexity of the software.
JS People are much more reliant on computers for designing. These days anyone can learn a program, it’s accessible and people can create things that look amazing but not always have a great knowledge of how it’s done and why. Go back a few years, there’s a certain knowledge that had to be behind that design, a certain amount of skill. I find good designers have that behind them. They are great at drawings, modelling, prototyping and they have a good knowledge of the industry beyond Googling it.
KG We could have been very good friends even if we’d had very different jobs. The glue that would have brought us together would have been constructing, anything, a suit, a pudding. It’s all to do with sticking things together but more importantly being witty. Occasionally somebody does something that’s so blindingly obvious when it’s brought to you but you’ve been happy with it before. My favourite example of that is the sphere of white glass light fitting. Jasper Morrison comes along and all he does is slightly squash it and that’s the wittiest thing to have done and it’s transformed this familiar thing.
JS I find that some designers use their personality to sell themselves. There are great designers who have personalities behind them and I feel that that does help in their publicity. Jasper Morrison, Barber and Osgerby, they let their work do the talking. Their work is really considered.
KG Modus as a company is, from our perspective, just about the right size. There aren’t great tiers of management. It makes dealing with them very agreeable. The overall benefit is the scale.
JS I think Modus is a refreshing, stand out, British manufacturer and brand. I admire many of their products and have been very excited about working with them. I’ve found Modus very interesting to work with, always happy to consider different options and with their upholstery manufacturing being in the UK, it’s great that we can take regular trips to see the prototypes being made by very skilled upholsterers and to develop the designs closely with them.
KG It’s novel that we’re not in a room together every day. We live separate lives but it makes for a very agreeable partnership.