INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
Jenny Jones, Conran + Partners
A recent addition to the Conran & Partners team, Jenny Jones has a formidable background in the field of architecture and interiors. Having worked for Rem Koolhaas' OMA and Richard Rogers before moving on to Universal Design Studio and HMKM, her career has continuously bridged the gap between the architecture office and the design studio.
Not to be defined by any particular discipline, Jones' working approach is guided by the principles of good design - a synthesis of intuition and awareness of the client's objectives - and a lateral perspective. Her interest in the notion of longevity is symptomatic of our increasingly high-speed culture: of infinite image-generation and the relentless desire for new technology. Overlooking the familiar contours of London's skyline through a panoramic window in the Conran & Partners building, Jenny discusses with Amy Knight the multiple ways of challenging the obvious, and the timely significance of slowing down.

Do you prefer interiors or is it more a case of circumstances?
I have worked on a lot of interior projects so I have more experience in that area, but I trained as an architect. I enjoy both, but I think what I've enjoyed with interiors is being able to see the process from beginning to completion over a short period.

I don't actually like being labelled as 'interiors' or as an architect; I think I prefer to just approach whatever project I have with certain principles. The project I'm currently working on at Conran & Partners for a UK retailer is really interesting because it's not a tabula rasa, you actually have to work a lot with the company and the history of what's been done before, and then see how you can make that manifest into something that meets their aspirations. It doesn't matter if it's interior or exterior, master plan or product design - it's the same kind of principle.

Can you remember what first sparked your interest in architecture?
My uncle studied at the Royal College in the '70s and he would come and visit us for the summer with the little white scale models from his school. When he graduated he designed a house for my parents, which they then built themselves; so I think those two things had quite an impact. My uncle did discourage me from going into architecture though! But he's still practicing as well. Also, my sister's a photographer and she's married to an architect.

So you're a creative bunch.
There's a lot of music and creativity around in my family, in Scotland.

Your website shows photographs of other kinds of design - do you initiate your own creative projects in your spare time?

One of those is my woven seaweed - that was amazing, I couldn't believe how the light came through it. I try to still work on my own creative projects, but over the last couple of years I've just been too busy. I was living in the countryside then so it was easier; I wasn't commuting, so there was just a lot more time to do things like that. It is time.

What about the white, undulant sculpture with strawberries all over it?
That was a piece I worked on with Natasha Sandmeier when I was teaching at the Architecture Association with her. Every year someone designs a 'strawberry table' for the opening, and we were asked to design one. There'd been loads of different approaches to this design so we thought, let's do one that can be moved and moulded - so that's what we came up with. We used a system where you have a sack full of polystyrene beads with a valve, then form the shape you want and vacuum out the air - sort of like a 'barbapapa' really!

What would be your ideal project?
In 2008 I did a project for a Tokyo boutique for Universal Design Studio, and working in Japan was really amazing because of the quality of... well, the quality of many things, but particularly of construction. It was the flagship of a concept store for a new brand under United Arrows. It was a tiny little store and we worked really closely with the creative director and project manager to find something that worked really well for them, and that they could then use as a sort of basis for other stores that they developed.

So I'd say probably my dream interior project would be something - anything - in Japan! I took myself on an onsen tour, so I moved around the country quite a bit.I also went to the Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland designed by Peter Zumthor - it's a sequence of beautiful rooms, and every one is about different ways of experiencing water. That's an amazing project.

What are the objectives that drive your approach to design?
Any project one works on is a synthesis of all the different factors that are given to you, so I’d say that my approach is shaped by both intuitive response and quite a rational, analytical overview of the client, context and brief.

It is kind of a lateral approach I suppose; trying to question what the obvious is and then seeing if there is actually another way of doing it. For the store in Tokyo, for example, the client wanted a chandelier but the site only had a three-metre ceiling. So we thought, okay, we can convert the interior space so that one is effectively shopping inside the chandelier; it was the essence of what she wanted, but it became a total experience.

Is your own home interior designed with such innovation?
I live in the corner of an old '50s factory in Broadway Market [East London], which was fitted out in the '90s when the building was developed. Last year I ripped it all out and put it together in a different shape. When the estate agents came round they said it looked like The Boundary Hotel - a Conran project - but that was done before I worked here!

The existing concrete, columns and brickwork are exposed, and then anything that has gone in is white, marble or brass. It's very simple I suppose, but very functional. Everyone loves it when they come over - they say it's funny because it feels like a loft as it's so open-plan, but then there-s another section that feels more Japanese-influenced because it's like a little puzzle; everything has to lock together because of the ceiling heights. That element took ages to figure out in my design, but it was really, really enjoyable. One doesn't get the opportunity to rip out the interior of one's house very often, I shouldn't imagine!

Do you foresee anything interesting happening in terms of interior design trends?
There are always a million trends, but I think Sottsass and Memphis are going to come up again. It'll be in places you don't spend a lot of time in, but I think that aspects of it are going to come through.

I think there's also something that's happening in art and cultural theory - and in a sense interiors does react more quickly to those sorts of discussions than architecture does, because of the amount of time involved - which makes me think that somehow longevity, legacy and the notion of time will become a trend, with materials that are long-wearing - which for me sounds great.

Legacy is also a key theme for this year's London Festival of Architecture.
I hadn't realised! I’m sure that people will say this theme will be manipulated for commercial gain, but I think the idea is something that really resonates with people; like with Zumthor's work, for example.

Do you think it's a response to the age of recession - moving away from the disposable towards a more long-sighted vision for society?
In terms of values, possibly; I think for a long time we've been so excited by how fast we can do things, and perhaps for some people it's getting to the point now where we need to ask, what does that actually mean for us?

When you complete a project, what aspect do you find most rewarding?
When I worked at HMKM, we did a concept store for Old Navy - one of the huge, American big-box retailers - and our concept was to create a mezzanine. But because the budget was very low, we couldn't afford an escalator or a lift, which is necessary for wheelchair and push chair access, so we decided to do a ramped access. It was sort of inspired by Lombard Street in San Francisco, so people kind of shopped on these tiers. When the store opened, I remember seeing this family shopping and they were just having so much fun, because the kids' section was on the ramp. That was a really satisfying moment because we made that happen - and it's really brought some fun into the store and made people experience the place in a different way. Whether it's the client or a user, I think seeing people enjoy what you've done is really important, so that was a good moment for me.

Amy Knight – Arts & Media Correspondent