One of the ways in which James likes to support and encourage emerging talents and ideas is to curate exhibitions in the Viaduct showroom in Clerkenwell. During this year’s London Design Festival he launched two such shows – one a celebration of the ‘less is more’ school of thought entitled ‘Bare Minimum’. More on that later…
The other was an installation entitled ‘13 Sq Metre House by Studiomama’. Read on to discover some of the surprising things people said in response to the question ‘what couldn’t you live without?’ while visiting the 13 Sq Metre House. (Interestingly, ‘more space’ isn’t mentioned!)
James is of the view that furniture design is currently in a somewhat stagnant phase, and ripe for some genuine, gimmick-free innovation. This year we’re delighted that he is once again going to be a judge on the WIN Awards for both Furniture and Surface & Interior Accessories, having judged those categories for us before in 2014. We hope he will find the originality he’s looking for among the submissions!
What made you want to get involved in the WIN Awards again this year?
I enjoyed the approach last time – the variety of judges all with different strengths, and the really broad selection of submissions I saw.
You’ve said about furniture: “Not gimmicky. Just good design.” What constitutes good design for you? In other words, what will you be looking for in the WIN Awards submissions?
I’m not interested in furniture as fashion. It has to have a life to it and be well considered, as well as possessing a great aesthetic quality.
In your exhibition, ‘Bare Minimum’, you showcased some of your favourite items of minimalist design by designers such as Muller Van Severen, Michael Anastassiades, Maarten Van Severen, Jasper Morrison and Achille Castiglione. What inspired to you set up the exhibition, and what drew you to the pieces you chose?
The London Design Festival is fantastic, but can be a bit overwhelming. I wanted to create a peaceful environment with some minimal pieces showing that extra something - be it an emotional quality, proportion, detailing or material.
The 13 Sq Metre House was based on an actual interiors project by Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama in north London that greatly impressed you, so you decided to recreate the interiors at Viaduct to show what well-thought out design can achieve in a tiny space. Clearly it’s not possible to have absolutely everything in abundance in such diminutive accommodation, so you invited visitors to tell you ‘what they couldn’t live without’. We’re very curious to know what they said?
A broad selection came through, including iphone, friends, porn, a winerack, love, art.
Was there anything more connected with the physical elements of a home that people also mentioned?
Not really, because Nina covered nearly everything, including ample clothes storage.
You and the Viaduct team were, of course, present at the Salone del Mobile Milan this year. Of the upcoming new designers you saw, were there a few in particular that you found particularly promising?
There was a good selection, and the Milan Satellite presentation gets slicker every year, but, for me, there was no-one that really shone this year
And in general, what emerging furniture and accessories trends do you see coming on-stream in the coming years?
There is still a strong Scandinavian influence coming through. Furniture manufacturers are covering the bases by expanding more and more into accessories. There’s a lot of companies following other companies and we are overdue for some real innovation. Maybe it’s time for Italy to start shining again?
Winding the clock back, what influences were there in your childhood or youth that led you into the world of design and, ultimately, furniture?
I’ve always loved buildings and studied architecture at Bristol University. During normal history of architecture lectures, furniture was not covered. However, as part of the degree education of the design process, we were given a couple of furniture projects to design a chair from scratch. I loved that design process; so I guess that started to lead me to furniture.
Going back even further, where did that love of buildings come from?
My mother used to take me round various National Trust houses and stately homes. I used to really enjoy that.
What is the back-story behind Viaduct - what inspired you to set up the business over 25 years ago?
In 1985 I saw VIA at a trade show. They are a French quango which puts together designers, manufacturers and the market. At that time there were some really exciting young British designer-makers who weren’t being marketed effectively. I had this crazy idea that I could market them singlehandedly, primarily in the USA. I called the company Viaduct in deference to VIA and because we act as a bridge between designers, manufacturers and the market.
What has been the most memorable high-point for you so far? And what next for Viaduct?
Our 25th annversary was amazing. I had no idea that the business could become quite successful and last for twenty five years. So many friends from those twenty five years came to the party. It was all very emotional. We’re now 27 and going strong, so watch this space for future plans!
Aside from furniture and design, what are some of the other great loves in your life?
The sea, contemporary photography and art, alternative theatre and contemporary dance.
Gail Taylor

Img 1 & 2: Bare Minimum Show
Img 3 & 4: 13 Sq. M house installation at Viaduct