Lucy Kurrein is a British designer who now splits her time between London and Paris. We visited her studio at Trinity Buoy Wharf next to the River Thames to take in the view.
Lucy Kurrein is a designer who has consistently delivered sophisticated, elegant, and timeless products for SCP. She combines industrial design rigour with a deep understanding of the aesthetic and practical qualities required to make upholstery pieces.
With the recent launch of the sectional version of her celebrated Tepee sofa, we thought it was a good time to visit her London studio and find out how her working life has developed.
Trinity Buoy Wharf exteriors.
Trinity Buoy Wharf walkways.
Where is your studio?
I have a shipping container studio in east London’s historic docklands, underneath the City Airport flight path and overlooking the river Thames. The landscape is both beautiful and bleak, grounding in that sense.
How did you find it?
I’d lived in London for seven years at the time I was looking for a studio. It was my parents-in-law who live in France who told me about Trinity Buoy Wharf. The Wharf attracts a predominantly arts and music community, and it isn’t so familiar to designers. I think being out on a limb here has helped me to find my own voice in a crowded industry.
How long have you worked there?
I moved into the studio in 2014 which makes it nearly eight years now.
What can you see from the window?
The Millennium Dome across the river is perfectly centred to my window and I have an unobstructed view apart from the occasional ship that creaks by. Then there is the Experimental Lighthouse outside to the right which was built in 1864. It was used by scientist Michael Faraday to conduct his optical experiments, developing lighting equipment for lighthouses, lightships, and buoys. I have a big view that spans the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich and Woolwich, above which I can marvel at big skies, sunsets, and the local cormorants.
"I think being out on a limb here has helped me to find my own voice in a crowded industry."
The view of the Millennium Dome across the river from the studio on a cold February day.
How do you begin working on a project?
I divide my time between my studio in London and Paris where I have recently moved. Paris is where I can see with fresh eyes and reflect and evolve my thoughts ready to take back to the studio to develop. The longer the incubation period, where I’m walking around the city and going about my life with the brief in the back of my mind, the more chance there is for an observation that sparks something.
Where do you seek inspiration?
I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Paris flea markets. I’m starting to focus my work on physical and emotional longevity, and the flea markets act like a sort of filter for objects which stand the test of time. I find some extraordinary objects too and I love to bring them home.
"I’m starting to focus my work on physical and emotional longevity."
What methods do you use to develop ideas? Pencil, pen, computer?
All the above, but I place a lot of value on 1:5 models and I like to make these to a high resolution. I’ve recently acquired a 3D printer and I assemble the plastic parts then finish them with foam and fabric or paint to give them a sense of materiality. These models are very accurate and alive, and I can spend a long time staring at them, giving them the consideration needed to really refine a design.
How have your views on design developed or changed since your career began?
I used to develop designs with the manufacturer’s needs in mind, now I think about the user’s needs and what the manufacturer can do to put them first.
What is your favourite material to work with?
I like to take on new materials whenever I get the opportunity, but upholstery is always centre stage. I recently launched a modular sofa with a polyurethane exoskeleton for example and this was an exciting new material for me. I often pair upholstery with an external structure because I enjoy the contrast. When soft, wrinkled fabric and foam yields to a hard material I can see a sort of dialogue going on that animates the design.
"I used to develop designs with the manufacturer’s needs in mind, now I think about the user’s needs and what the manufacturer can do to put them first."
What one thing does every workspace need?
I can’t speak for every type of workspace but for a designer I would recommend a good stock of reference books and reference objects. Then again, with a pencil, an A5 (hard back, ring bound) sketchbook and a decent travel watercolour set one can take themselves to the references instead. In this way anywhere can be a workspace and the horizons are infinite.
What does an ideal day at the studio look like?
An ideal day is when I’m rolling up and down the “production line” on my cherished Wilkhan FS office chair (designed in 1980 by Klaus Franck and Werner Sauer). Shifting between sketchbook, digital modelling software, 3D printer, sewing machine, cutting matt and spray booth. When all the stations are being employed it feels like something well-rounded is coming to light. The long narrow footprint of the shipping container (10m x 2.5m) lends itself to this pattern.
Lucy Kurrein on the studio balcony.
Lucy Kurrein's studio window.
What have you learnt?
That design is a sensibility, and mine will never stop evolving.
Who are your heroes?
I look to 20th century industrially made furniture design a lot; this period has a warmth and level of sophistication and texture that speaks to me. The Eames are role models, then through my relationship with leather upholstery manufacturer Molinari, based in Trentino, I look to Italian designers such as Gae Aulenti, Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Joe Colombo and Carlo Mollino. Since moving to Paris I’ve been appreciating Jean Royère, Pierre Paulin, Charlotte Perriand and the lesser-known Guy Besnard, all whose work dominates the flea markets here.
What is important?
I think joy is important because it makes us connect, feel peaceful and content, and in that sense it has the capacity to slow down our pursuit for more. I think there’s something sustainable about bringing joy into our everyday lives.
Hopefully the realisation of some joyful, long-lasting pieces of furniture that go on to have many lives beyond their first.
Trinity Buoy Wharf exterior.
"I think joy is important because it makes us connect, feel peaceful and content, and in that sense it has the capacity to slow down our pursuit for more."
A big thank you to Lucy Kurrein for letting us come round, and for answering all our prying questions.