Over the years, we’ve highlighted the work of Samuel Wilkinson, a London-based industrial designer well-known for his watches, furniture, and home furnishings, like the Plumen 001 bulb and the Babylon Desk Set. After graduating in furniture and product design from Ravensboure College of Art & Design in 2002, he spent years working at Conran, PearsonLloyd, Tangerine, and Fitch:London before striking out on his own. For this month’s Where I Work, the busy designer gives us a look into his Bethnal Green studio and his design process.
What is your typical work style?
We are generally working on a number of projects at the same time, so I usually split my days up. My assistants usually have set projects to carry on with so then I can review with them a few times a day whilst continuing with other projects. I like to mix it up to keep it fresh. Also I believe a good design takes time to develop so it needs space to ferment. Leaving something alone then coming back after a day/week/month really helps to understand a project’s long term appeal.
What’s your studio/work environment like?
I try to keep the studio fairly tidy. Making various furniture prototypes certainly fills up a space. We are currently developing a few larger pieces so after making three or four 1:1 mock ups you can run out of space pretty quickly. I already have too many chairs!
How is your office organized/arranged?
The studio is set on the ground floor of old Warehouse built in 1899. We have a good sized creative space with white painted brick walls and big windows that let in lots of natural light. This connects to a hallway space that contains a library and a kitchen at the one end with space for meetings. The door from the kitchen leads off to a great little yard that looks up onto the back of all the other warehouses which mostly contains other creative studios. The yard gets direct sunlight over lunch period so great for an outdoor lunch!
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
We have been in the building for 18 months before then I had a studio in Shoreditch. I needed more space so we moved down the road to Bethnal Green.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
There wouldn’t be much I would change, the light quality is great and we have enough space for the moment. As it’s an old building so the heating can be temperamental but it’s not too bad.
Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?
Yes, most definitely. In the morning something fairly chill, downtempo, electronic or classical. Think Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnaulds, Jamie Woon, etc. Then usually in the afternoon pick it up a bit. With deep house or something like Subtrkt, Digitalism, Matthew Dear….
How do you record ideas?
Sketchbooks of different sizes usually. Recently, I just prefer a pile of A4 paper on the desk to get through!
What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?
Certain projects require different workflow depending on the outcome. If it’s a project that is more straight industrial design you can work in a more traditional manner (research, ideation, design development, prototype, etc.), but with the more experimental projects you can be much more free. The work may be exploring a new material, then remaking models and tests until you figure out the best way to use it.
I really enjoy all parts of the creative process. The initial conception is exciting but I especially enjoy detailing and manufacturing. The real challenge with every product is to translate an initial idea into a quality manufactured product without diluting it. Often navigating around compromise becomes the biggest challenge to the good design.
What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?
The desk space has a long shelf next to the window where we display samples and objects from various past and present projects. On the other side there is racking with hundreds of scale models, material samples, and inspiring objects.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.
I use a specially built PC, then have a MacBook/iPad/iPhone for traveling.
Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?
Most of the current projects become favorites, it really depends on how long that lasts before something else jumps ahead. Right now there are two, a ceramic project that has been ongoing for a year or so and a range of furniture that has great potential but unfortunately I can’t really discuss. We are also self-producing a wooden chair to celebrate the launch of a new website + shop which will launch in a month or two.
What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances?
I think success can’t be really be measured until after you have finished your career. Hopefully if I continue to be consistent and produce good work I will look back at a successful career.
I am interested in a model that fits with the SLOW design ethos: democratic, efficient and distinctive design, something that is as good today as it is in 20 years time.
Although I have gained great experiences, won a few awards and ticked a few things off my list, I still feel like I am at the start of my career as have so much more that I want to do so come back and ask me in 20 years!
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
I can’t really talk too much about what we are doing right now as it may give things away but am still quite obsessed at merging the boundaries between craft and mass manufacturing, creating pieces that are perfectly imperfect within larger scale production.
Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?
I think when you are a designer of furniture and lighting it’s difficult not to! My home (and basement) is filled with prototypes that date back to my college days, these are mixed in with other pieces I have picked up along the way from markets and designers I admire.