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An interview with designer Rodney Kinsman

4 September 2017 Will Rathbone

Rodney Kinsman is a world-renowned designer, whose career spans home-ware and mass industrial production. Having spent the early part of his career working closely with iconic British store Habitat, Kinsman went on to design public seating for mass-production – with his company OMK most notably winning the Queen’s Award for Service 2016. This year, Kinsman is re-launching some of his original retail designs via designjunction, and in time for the 2017 London Design Festival. He spoke to London Calling about the re-launch of some of his early career classics, and the inspiration behind his aesthetic.

London Calling: Hi Rodney, thank you very much for speaking to us! Please could you start by telling us a bit about the re-launch of some of your classic furniture lines with designjunction?
 
Rodney Kinsman: On leaving art school in 1964 and forming OMK I designed my first chair, T1, and presented it to Terence Conran. He loved the chair and bought it for his embryonic Habitat shops. The chairs proved extremely successful and as a result I designed many products to be sold by Habitat throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.
 
In 1982 I was commissioned to design a seating system for Gatwick Airport, which signaled OMK’s move out of the retail market to begin specialising in an industry that, in design terms, I perceived to be under supplied. This led to the company’s international success in the area of public seating - focusing on international airports - and also resulted in OMK receiving a Queen’s Award for export achievements last year. My in-house team, lead by Matt Osborne, wanted to re-establish OMK in the retail market and believed that many of my original pieces, which are still in production, have a cult following. They form part of a number of international collections - including one at the V&A Museum.
 
This new collection is formed of classic pieces that we felt were right for the current market, as there is a focus on British heritage brands at the moment. All of the products in the range have been refreshed with new colour palettes and material finishes.


Rodney Kinsman
 
LC: Why did you choose designjunction for the re-launch?
 
RK: As a British brand it was important for us to have a UK launch. London Design Festival is one of the best international design celebrations and designjunction is the key hub within LDF for showcasing design-lead brands such as ours.
 
LC: What’s the thinking behind your design aesthetic?
 
RK: I don’t think I have any main influences apart from the fact that I’ve always been interested in mass production; industrial design as opposed to craft. I like developing things technically, informed by a material that I might be interested in.
 
LC: Who are some of your biggest influences?
 
RK: Achille Castiglioni - I admire his work, although he’s now no longer with us - and Antonio Citterio, who’s another Italian with a similar ethic to me: they design to suit, to fit the purpose. And of course the original inspiration for a lot of this was the Bauhaus, and the German school of form and function.


OMKSTAK Chair
 
LC: In your 50-year career in design, how do you feel the industry has changed?
 
RK: Technology has moved on, the ability to access and find products has moved on, and the finding of materials has moved on - which is the most important thing. Finding suitable materials from wherever they originate drives this company, and that’s become easier; the research used to be bound into going out and literally finding it. Now you can search online and find things very rapidly, which eases the process of design.
 
LC: How have you adapted your approach to design over the years?
 
RK: My approach hasn’t changed: it is still “form follows function”.
 
Rodney Kinsman’s T1 chair re-launches, along with the Omkstak chair, Orbit mirror and Tokyo stool, at the designjunction hub of London Design Festival, from 16-24 September, and we have a competition to win one of his custom chair designs here. Rodney Kinsman is part of a panel talk with Deyan Sudjic and Kenneth Grange at designjunction on 21 September.
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