Oxford-born designer, Jay Osgerby has achieved virtually everything there is to achieve in the world of design. Together with his partner Edward Barber, Osgerby runs the internationally renowned Barber & Osgerby design studio. From diverse designs for well-known manufacturers such as Vitra and B&B Italia to the official torch for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and a two-pound coin commemorating the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, Osgerby and his partner have been almost restless in their creation of numerous icons. “I find it quite difficult to not think about work. I’m always thinking about what’s next. I’m terrible at stopping and just thinking.”
While renovating his 1870s house – a project that was only recently completed – Osgerby decided to create a kitchen-cum-living room on the ground floor. However, since the ground floor was damp and in poor condition, he came up with the idea of gutting it and lowering the floor by 1.5 meters to create more space. The result is a remarkably cozy, high room with a huge amount of space. The side of the building facing the garden has been opened up by integrating Sky-Frame windows.
“We’ve created an opening in the building, to let light in. And in doing so, we’ve created a view out. The larger the view, the bigger the aperture, the more you can be absorbed in the view and the more you become part of the landscape outside.”
Jay Osgerby discovered the window manufacturer on a visit to the VitraHaus building of Herzog & de Meuron in Weil am Rhein, South-West Germany.
“Volume and light are the two most important ingredients to make a great space. We dropped the floor to create volume. The light was the second most important thing for me. The system was the best system I could possibly find. I wanted a system which was pretty much invisible when it was closed – to avoid running the risk of feeling like you’re in some kind of prison.” The old fabric of the building and corresponding architecture, combined with lots of light, creates a sense of vastness.
“I decided that I wanted to, more or less, restore the house from the ground floor up,” says Osgerby. He felt that the house had to work for the whole family, adapting to the needs of growing children. His three children, two of whom are teenagers, fill the house with life. “I see life in layers: the base layer – the ground – represents family and friends. The next layer, represents things to be shared, enjoyed and experienced – like great food and nice wine, travel and learning. The final layer – the sky – is work, experimentation, opportunities.”
The walls are pure white, the self-designed kitchen made by the local carpenter is plain and homely. Countless historical collector’s items and some more recent collectibles adorn the shelves and the self-designed glass cabinet, telling stories of an eventful life and many travels. Art lines the walls, including works by distinguished artists. Standing in the center of the room is the Home Table and Ballot Chairs from their own collection – Scandinavian flair meets maximum comfort. Pure and yet so inviting: “Sky-Frame is as purist as can be – because it is derived from pure engineering. A lot of energy went into making something which is barely noticeable. And that is the triumph.” Osgerby and Sky-Frame are a good match: “I love solving problems – finding a way to make things better.”
There is a reason why Osgerby primarily thinks in volume and incorporates the effects of light into his designs: his undergraduate degree was in Design, his master’s in Architecture. “If you’re a furniture designer, you think about the object, you think about the body and how it sits on the object and ultimately about how the object is made, but probably less about how the object actually sits in a space. I think there’s something about that architectural sensibility that makes us think about space,” he says.
If you were to ask those in the know what sets the designs of Osgerby apart, you would be met with varying opinions. The concept of diversity – and, above all, constantly evolving, looking to the future: “It is important to be recognized to help sell your work. But commercial success was never important to us. We always try to break out of these constraints and face new challenges.” When asked what he believes makes for a good design, he plain and simply replies: “Design is the answer to a very difficult question.”
Jay Osgerby has discovered not only his passion for design but more recently, also his passion for photography. His photographs refer to the many journeys he has embarked on. His latest travels took him from Russia to Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Osgerby searches for space and expanse in his photography. His pictures exude tranquillity – nature constantly intertwines with precise geometric lines and shapes. “Maybe photography helps me create a sense of balance – it allows me to be in the moment, to stop thinking about the future for once.” Osgerby’s restlessness is momentarily stilled as he looks touched at the freshly printed photographs before him. Taken with his faithful companion, a Leica M10, the pictures would be worthy of any exhibition. Osgerby remains far too modest in this respect as well: “There isn’t anything yet. It’s just the beginning of a hobby.”
This article was previously published here.