INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
CHRISTOPHER JENNER

Rising star, Christopher Jenner, is more than just an interior designer, he is a storyteller who brings design and branding together to produce exquisite interiors.

His latest commission for Paris perfumer, diptyque, at London's Leadenhall Market draws on the history of the location and the culture of the brand to create an interior infused with meaning.

Sitting in his studio on the top floor of the Art Deco Newman Hire Building in West London, Jenner begins our conversation with a brief history of his design career to date.

"I went to an amazing school in South Africa called the Johannesburg School of Art and Ballet where your day was split between academic and artistic pursuits, which gave me anincredible high school foundation in photography, painting and design."

"I went on to study industrial design in Cape Town, and then Interior Design at the Boston School of Design. After my studies, I came to London where I worked in events before taking on a retainer-contract with Swarovski working on interior and exhibition design to help build the brand globally."

"While I was at Swarovski I noticed a how design and PR are the two real cogs that build brands. Using that insight I started the studio and got my first project with diptyque Paris for Liberty, London which was a huge success for the brand and it just rolled from there really. That was two years ago."

As a young man, Jenner spent two years travelling around the world, gathering influences from diverse cultures. He also lived abroad in Tel Aviv, Paris and Hong Kong. I ask him, as a result of his travels, how a sense of place, history and culture affects his design process.

"In our personal work as a studio there are two main factors. Firstly, nature, whether its materials or shapes and textures. Secondly, for the brands we work on, heritage is key, whether it's a French brand positioning itself in New York or an English brand entering the Asian market for the first time. To make that transitionit's practical to include local culture and heritage in the presentation of the brand so that there is a natural affinity for the consumer within the space. It makes integration so much easier."

"I find big brand statement a bit off putting, especially in Asia where you have a Louis Vuitton on every corner. You could ask, 'what's special here? Why is this luxury? How is this fresh? How does this represent the values or heritage of that product?' We really did not want to do that, so heritage, culture and travel are all very important."

Throughout his design Jenner has clearly been influenced by nature. I ask him what aspects of the natural world he finds most inspirational.

"Natural materials and how you manipulate them to create something that's unique or emotively reactive. The difference between the Swell Collection," Jenner points to his collection of brightly coloured, cushioned stools and plastic tables), "and the new Deviso Collection, as far as nature is concerned, is that the new collection is more about people, about democracy, a choice for everyone's home. There is a minimalist aesthetic in the oak and stainless steel or more eccentric rosewood and brass. The idea is to allow people to make a choice on all the offering, so that there is some piece that they could put into their home."

Jenner points toward theprototypes of his new collection that sit stacked up on one side of his studio.

"It's all Italian manufacture. It's all flat pack components that will be put together. The catalogue is being produced at the moment and we will launch it in shortly in the press."

Jenner predicts that as "people like to put things about their lives on shelves and tell stories about memories, travel and people in this way. In this sense the Deviso shelves are about storytelling, about giving people lots of different options. They are democratic in the sense that there is an element suitable to each and everyhome."

The shelves, fusing Asian and Scandinavian influences, have interchangeable components that can be manipulated to form a unit that suits any space and interior. The oak and rosewood offer a neutral colour palette that blends easily into a room to create a stylish yet functional wall-mounted or free-standing storage system.

Turning our conversation towards his latest design project for diptyque's store in London's Leadenhall Market, I point out that the interior of the new shop seems influenced by both Victorian and Arabic styles, with its stained glass windows, primary colours and iconography. Jenner is quick to reply that "Victoriana was [itself] influenced by the Arabic, that there was a whole Orientalism in Victorian England which was hugely influential, whether Chinese, Japanese or Arabic."

However, for this project the influence was purely Victorian.

"In the windows," he explains, "the flower pattern is the iconic Victoriana pattern. We have also included typical Victorian stained glass and cut-ware."

Jenner strides across to his studio bookcase to pull pattern books down from the shelves and give me a quick historical journey through pattern, from medieval times when the Crusades brought Arabic influences to Britain, to the intricate prints of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th /early 20th Century.

Taking his inspiration from Leadenhall Market's Victorian past, Jenner replicates the shapes, patterns and textures of the Victorian aesthetic in combination with materials and icons directly relevant to diptyque.

"The diptyque design is based on the ceiling of Leadenhall Market. The idea, an idea that resonatesthroughout our work as a studio, is that it is totally justified. In the sense of 'why is this pattern here, what does it mean?' The answer is it's relation to the ceiling, and these [he points to a shape in the pattern] are the iconic shape of the brand. This [a panel above the doorframe] is one of the original patterns from the founders of diptyque, who were textile designers for Liberty in the 1950s so their signifiers are in the pattern as well. What we've done is merged Victoriana with diptyque's cultural heritage. This way of thinking runs through our work."

The wallpaper pattern that lines the shop walls is an image of the Leadenhall Market roof-scape as seen from the central square of the undercover shopping arcade. Other elements, such as the circular segments of the stained glass windows and the cording that surrounds the shelves, are also a result of in-depth historical research.

Turning to his desk, Jenner sorts through a collection of materials and how they relate to diptyque in Leadenhall Market.

"These are the logos from the [diptyque] perfume bottles which, as artists, they used to draw themselves. The patterns are now in the surrounds of the shop showcases and, in a sense, tell the artists' story. The drawings are etched into acrylic and finished with liquid brass and then polished. It is a very painful process!"

"All of the mouldings are consistent with the shops we did in New York and Chicago, so there is a relationship between all of them. It goes back to what I was saying about resetting Western value systems so that everything has meaning and justification. The days of us just throwing money away are over. People want to know how you made it, what ingredients you used and how you were inspired. There has to be all of this layering. You can't just make a fabulous store anymore."

In his unique way of designing, Jenner uses a method that he calls 'fractal discovery' wherein he deconstructs the elements of a brief to build inform his design process. Heexplains that this method of working came about, "in the same way that a lot of work starts strategically. You look at heritage and product offering and where the brand is going to position itself. Immediately you have many facets to consider when it comes to the design."

"A brand comes to us and says, 'please will you look at a new global retail concept for us.' You then take all the assets that currently belong to the brand, you assess the information and come up with a key proposition that defines who they are and what they communicate. It often starts with a three word proposition. For diptyque that was discovery, eccentricity and craft."

Using this method, Jenner formulates a proposition to inform the design process for each project he works on. "I put adjectives in different categories, what relates to colour, form, heritage and product. Then I knock out words that don't truly define something. I bring the [remaining ones] together to form the design proposition. By doing that everything you do is totally justified."

"You start the design process with one element. You start drawing in a corner [of the page] and it becomes quite fractal as you build the [interior] outwards. You may have totally unrelated elements at the beginning but when you look at the designoverall it tells a story."

"We have noticed that using factual analysis makes space much bigger. I don't know the psychologybehind it but potentially it is about the repetition of shape, form and texture, and how that affects the way we see things. Going back to the Arabic story, if you go to a mosque, for example, you will find an incredible repetition of pattern, the idea of which is to make the space seem bigger and more impressive through the use of scale, repetition, detail, pattern, form and texture. Going back into one of our interior spaces for a site visit, we often notice that the place seems a lot bigger from when we started."

This sense of depth is reflected throughout the intricate and often kaleidoscopic nature of much of Jenner's interior design work. The result is that each project holds an invaluable sense of worth, in terms of the historical and cultural elements it uses to tell a brand's own story.

Sarah Roberts, Assistant Editor