September 1, 2020

6 Questions With… Davis Furniture Designer Jonathan Prestwich

Davis Furniture designer Jonathan Prestwich has been building and creating furniture for as long as he can remember. Growing up, he worked alongside his grandfather, who was a carpenter by trade. In his twenties, he honed his expertise under the tutelage of renowned designer Burkhard Vogtherr, who created many collections for Davis Furniture. Prestwich eventually went on to open his own studio in London. “I always had a love of making things,” Prestwich says. “When you’re making things, you’ve got to know what you’re making—so you’ve got to design it.” 

Now Prestwich designs quite a lot, including three recently released versatile pieces for Davis Furniture—Kayo, LightWork, and JP Lounge. At times, his design concepts are so forward-thinking that the materials are not yet advanced enough to execute the idea. Such was the case for his initial sketch for LightWork, but he always finds a solution to every challenge. “My life is full of problems, and I set out to solve them,” Prestwich jokes. Here, the designer shares with Interior Design how his relationship with Davis Furniture began, the secret behind creating innovative, multi-use seating designs, and why he approaches each product as if it were a timeless wardrobe staple, which could easily be dressed up or down. 

Kayo. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

Interior Design: What led to your first collaboration with Davis Furniture, where did the partnership begin? 

Jonathan Prestwich: It’s a long relationship that I’ve had with Davis Furniture. My first design job was in Massachusetts, in Boston, and the guy I worked for knew Danny Davis—company president—and this was in 1996 or 1997. Shortly thereafter, I moved to France and worked for Burkhard Vogtherr, the late great designer for Davis Furniture. I worked with Burkhard for six years, from the age of 23 to 29/30. It was a formative period for me. My first job was to work on a Davis Furniture product, and as a 23-year-old working on a Davis Furniture product, I was very happy of course. Danny and the company’s former director of design at the time would come over to France and it was always very exciting when the Americans came—we’d buy Coca Cola [laughs]. I was at such an early point in my career, and Danny gave me so much time. He is genuinely intrigued by people, and he is genuinely a nice guy… A respect started and I worked harder because of it, and our relationship developed over the years. When I was still working with Burkhard in France, I asked if I could design something myself and present it to Danny for Burkhard’s office, which we did and Danny liked it. That became our first product in 1999 or 2000, which was the Webb Tech Lounge. At the time, it was quite an exciting concept—low lounge seating for conferencing, which wasn’t common at the time. Even then, we were thinking about new ways to conference and work.  

JP Lounge. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

ID: You’ve designed several innovative seating solutions for Davis Furniture—Kayo, LightWork, and JP Lounge–can you speak to how these pieces address the changing nature of office design?  

JP: As designers, it’s our duty to contribute to society and to find solutions… Kayo, LightWork and JP Lounge were designed not just to facilitate the physical aspect of collaboration, but also to facilitate the psychological aspect of collaboration. That is something that I love doing—trying to figure out what makes people comfortable, not just physically comfortable, but mindfully comfortable in a room… With Kayo and LightWork they were similar in concept in that I wanted to create something that embraces you, something that holds you, and something that makes you feel a little bit protected. When you sit in Kayo or LightWork, you have this form that comes around you, which gives you a feeling of being a little bit enclosed and that can make you feel a little bit more at ease, and happy and open.

LightWork. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

ID: You specifically designed LightWork to fit within an office as well as a residence. Can you tell us the story behind the design of this piece? 

JP: With LightWork, we realized people were specifying furniture for the homes that needed the ergonomics of an office task chair. So for us we thought, let’s try and bring these two together and create a product that sits as you need it to, but gives you the look and feel that you’d like, as well. So LightWork brings a task chair and modern residential chair together in one product… LightWork is designed to sit at a table and look like a dining chair. If you have something that looks like a dining chair and yet sits like a task chair, then you have a perfect addition to your home, office, or home office. 

LightWork. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

ID: Multi-use chairs like LightWork and Kayo offer a variety of base, shell, and upholstery options which provide a diverse portfolio from which to choose. How do you ultimately decide which options to provide?

JP: When we’re talking about upholstery and base options, we start the project by trying to make the chair as versatile as we can. You want to get the most options out of each product, so you want to have an entry level piece that you can dress up to an executive level, that’s what I’m always trying to do. For bases, like LightWork’s 5 star caster base or 4 prong elliptical base and Kayo’s wood or metal base, we always try to include options that are a little new, entering into a different typology that a designer may not typically use, but would see the advantage in.  

Kayo. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

ID: How do you approach material selection and color, for example, what led you to construct Kayo out of plywood while opting for a plastic shell for LightWork? 

JP: When we start these projects sometimes we don’t know what material we’re going to use. The material comes forward with appropriateness for the design you’re trying to achieve, such as economy or aesthetic. With LightWork, it was a dream to make a fully working task chair with one mold and we’ve almost done exactly that using just two pieces of molded plastic. If you were to take a task chair from 10, 15, or 20 years ago, you could strip it down into 100 pieces. It’s a design challenge to mold one or two pieces of plastic that could articulate together and create a simple elegant visual—and provide a really good sit. LightWork is a simple, beautiful product that’s really economical, so you can specify the chair into more places, so more people can use it.

JP Lounge. Photography courtesy of Davis Furniture. 

ID: Modular seating is a growing trend, especially given the need to create physically distant spaces—what factors enable the JP Lounge to stand out in the market? 

JP: JP Lounge is an evolution of modular lounge systems that we’ve been working on together at Davis Furniture, so it’s kind of a next step. It comes from learning through other products that we’ve made together, such as the Q5 and Q6 collections, and it’s this evolution. We wanted this one to have a nice light look, so the cushions have the feel of typical soft seating that you would have at home. That’s how we were trying to create the feel—it’s about the cushion. It gives a familiar feeling and good comfort and hopefully makes people a little more relaxed and open… It’s an opportunity, really, and what we tried to do with JP Lounge is give designers all the options they need and the flexibility to create their unique settings. JP Lounge brings the knowledge of the past together with the market requirements of today through this single collection. 

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