Designer interview: Katie Thompson
December 18, 2009
Katie is a South African interior designer who started Recreate, a repurposed range of furniture and lighting, in February 2009. By blending South African craftsmanship with high-end finishes and items of unused or discarded junk, she has created an original end product with a new integrity that epitomizes the very best of South African design.
Explain to readers how you arrived in the design world creating furniture and accessories.
After studying interior design at the most fabulous school in Cape Town (Design Time School of Interior Design), I worked in the Interior Design industry with fabrics and furniture for 7 years. I was always drawn to the conceptual and creative side of design. This, and the fact that I am a hoarder at heart with a love of junk, naturally led me to this area of design.
At what point did you realize you were a designer; what was the experience that seemed to be a defining moment?
My second job after leaving design school was working for Roger Martin Architects and Interior Design. I was involved in the design of a Thai Restaurant, Kitima. On the first day of installation, three delivery trucks arrived with glass. Roger Martin (the Principal Architect and Designer)said, ‘So Katie, where do you want the glass to go?’
What appeal does Cape Town have to a designer as far as cultural influences, local artisans and available materials.
Designers in Cape Town are spoiled for choice when it comes to cultural influences. We are able to bring together various elements of these diverse cultures to create hybrid works. I am interested in the extremes of the art world and enjoy combining high-end art works with grassroots level artistic influences.
You have shown there is a wealth of used objects such as suitcases, cookware and household items. What recycled medium do you look forward to using in creating more work based on reused objects in the future?
I don’t usually source an item of junk for a specific function. It is usually the other way around, as the junk tells me what it wants to become in its next life!
I love being able to look at an item of ordinary junk, for example, someone else’s trash, be it broken, old or discarded and see a new function through it. Rummaging through garages, storage rooms, old warehouses and the garbage tip allows me to source endless recycled materials.
To whom do you attribute your sense of style and aesthetic? Is there any particular art movement or artist you consider an influence?
Dadaism and Surrealism have been major influences on my work. I studied Art & Art History in school and remember being quite disinterested most of the time until the day we learned about the absurdity of Surrealism and Dadaism. These movements influenced the artworks I was making and allowed me to extend the conceptual boundaries of my work.
The most influential artist I have come across is Marcel Duchamp who signed a urinal and declared it art. I love the questioning behind this. Why should an artwork be on canvas with a brush and paint? Who determines what form a chair should be? Why not a suitcase? Can an old Hoover not be a fully functioning lamp?
What is one thing you had to learn out of school about designing; something only experience could lend?
Experience has taught me to avoid over designing.
What is your approach to incorporating ergonomics using found objects? What is compromised when it comes down to it – visual appeal or comfort?
Ultimately all of my products have a new function from their previous purpose. So if The Suitcase Chair is not comfortable, or the Milk Bottle Lamp is not shining then the products are not functioning.
They are also designed as high-end recycled furniture items. The same quality fitting you would buy at a high-end lighting store is used on The Milk Bottle Lamp. Similarly, the foam, fabric and upholstery techniques used on a high end quality armchair are used on the suitcase chair.
That said, they are occasional chairs and are not designed for curling up with a blanket and watching a movie.
How do approach designing; is it collaborative, do you have a daily routine, do you sketch very much?
Like most creative minds, mine does not follow a linear process but functions more like a washing machine. It is a process of perpetual conceptualization and turbulent creative thinking. I cannot paint, or draw and I can barely sketch. I scribble. And my handwriting resembles hieroglyphics.
Share your advice for people wanting to bring their creative thoughts into tangible objects?
Nothing is impossible except falling upwards!