June 3, 2016

Paul Crofts’s One-Man Firm Demonstrates an Impressive Diversity

Ranging from the very small, an amplifier for Audioberry, to the comparatively large Spring Studios in London and New York among various workplaces and restaurants, projects in the portfolio of Paul Crofts Studio demonstrate an impressive diversity. And it gets still more impressive when you hear that this is a “super-lean outfit,” as Paul Crofts describes it—a one-man firm, in fact, drawing on freelancers when necessary. His multidisciplinary output is made possible partly by his training as a furniture designer. He describes himself as process-driven, first and foremost.

It was this experimental approach, backed up by his office design experience, that led him to join forces with two solid-surfacing specialists, Jenny Davies and Nick Welsh, to launch Isomi, a manufacturer of furniture for reception areas. He tells us the story.

Interior Design: What was your big break?

Paul Crofts: Probably a London office tower’s atrium. I was up against firms including Heatherwick Studio, and I won with two dramatic timber pods. The reception desk there is also what inspired the launch of Isomi.

ID: Why so multi­disciplinary?

PC: I love the change of pace. I never find it an issue if I haven’t done a certain type of project before, perhaps a hair salon. I have no preconceived ideas, and the naïveté keeps me fresh.

ID: What was your involvement with the New York location of Spring Studios?

PC: I designed some of the interiors and furniture. The aesthetic has roots in the London scheme from 10 years ago. Back then, for instance, I did a small hot-rolled steel staircase. Now there’s a five-story blackened-steel one.

ID: As a furniture designer, how do you approach interiors?

PC: I conceive spaces as a series of objects, as opposed to an architect’s holistic vision.

ID: How do interiors inform your product design?

PC: For the office tower, I needed a reception desk. For a London bistro, it was pendant fixtures. Clients are essentially funding your prototyping, but they’re also getting something truly bespoke.

ID: Why were reception desks Isomi’s first product?

PC: I discovered with the office tower that a reception desk requires a lot of effort. Most architects creating a reception space just don’t have the time to focus on the desk. It probably takes four weeks to really resolve it. Then there are budget concerns.

Furthermore, Isomi couldn’t become a manufacturer of chairs overnight, because the volume needs to be so high to make a profit. Focusing on the reception desk meant we could start with small volume but high value.

ID: Which was the first design?

PC: The Kin collection. Since Nick had worked at Ross­­kopf + Partner, a pioneer in solid-surfacing, that’s what we used for our first designs, and we deliberately made them curvaceous, so they would be difficult to replicate. It was hugely expensive though less than it might have been. Because Kin’s different versions all share the same parts and radiuses, we could get four products out of one and a half molds.

ID: How is the Fold desk different?

PC: Kin was really well received, but it was a set size. In response to clients requesting dif­ferent sizes and shapes, Fold is modular—a concept that married beautifully with the material’s ability to bond seamlessly. If the desk has to arrive in several piece to fit, they can be glued and sanded so the joints disappear.

ID: Now you’re also working in metal?

PC: Metal has been one of my signature materials since the original Spring Studios. When we made a hot-rolled steel desk for our own London showroom, which I designed, that led to a surprising amount of enquiries. So we just launched the Metal desk collection.

ID: How do you see Isomi evolving?

PC: Initially our vision was quite humble, to provide good design for mid-market architects, something better than they could do themselves, and we’ve since sold to many top architects as well. In September, we’re launching a collection of tables. I want us to be more than just reception desks.

ID: Why the name Isomi?

It comes from isomer, from the Greek word meaning equal part as well as the English chemical term for two or more compounds with the same formula, arranged differently. At Isomi, we provide solutions that are consistent in their makeup but have a versatility that allows for limitless applications.

> See More from the May 2016 issue of Interior Design

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