Designer In Residence
Nick Ross and I are standing in front of two chairs. One, the Tearoom chair, is curvaceously appealing; the second, from the Arcadia collection, is contrastingly stark; comprised of intersecting sheets of solid Scottish oak. Like Goldilocks, I tried both chairs and found the oak chair inexplicably comfortable. The secret to this lies in the tiniest of adjustment, as Nick explained: “It’s all about the angles and height, you don’t have anything else to play with. Two years of changes, finally adjusting the angle by one degree to get it right.”
Nick is equally fascinated with adjustments of context. He refers to the ‘realm’ of a piece which encompasses where it has emerged from and where it will exist after its creation. Where Nick’s pieces have come from, conceptually, from Scotland’s indigenous population to Ancient Greece, is what makes this designer so fascinating. ÅBEN’s Designer in Residence confesses he could talk about this kind of thing all day. Nick is also adjusting to his own context, a Scottish-born designer working out of Stockholm.
Nick’s chairs were in Edinburgh as part of Design Exhibition Scotland. A project seeking to raise the visibility of Scottish designers. For Nick returning to Scotland with his work is an interesting process, especially with the Tearoom chair which was inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Once upon a time, Nick would have regarded using Mackintosh as a springboard for his work as ‘cheating’, but since moving to Sweden he realised Scandinavian design constantly refers back to past giants. Viewing Scottish design from a Swedish viewpoint made him refresh his ideas. He revelled in using processes Mackintosh would have loved but which were unavailable to him, such as bending plywood to create curved lines. Nick gained a deeper understanding of Mackintosh in the process.
When I first interviewed Nick for ÅBEN I was fascinated by the historical research that forms the backbone of his work. So I’m unsurprised when our conversation meanders to the original menus Nick poured over in the course of his Mackintosh research. Turns out, the menu from the 1904 Willow Tearooms could have been plucked from a city café today, each biscuit and cake locally-sourced, producers’ details all listed.
‘The stories need to be in them physically, whether in the shape or the function, when the text is not available.
Nick Ross, 2019
Nick’s chairs are just one example of how Scottish elements permeate his work. In his hometown of Inverness a circle of granite benches can be found outside the City Council. One is made from Scottish granite, the rest sourced from around the world; Nick celebrating both the ‘granite city’ and its increasing multi-culturalism. Another material the designer returns to frequently is sandstone. Edinburgh is a city of sandstone, its pale buff a constant; Mackintosh’s abiding legacy, the Glasgow School of Art was constructed of sandstone.
The material surrounded Nick all his life, to the extent it was almost invisible: “If I’d stayed here, I wouldn’t have figured this out.” Nick jokes he is almost a sandstone ambassador abroad now, introducing it to new contexts. “I want to talk about the material then connect that to a story.”
At this point there needs to be a light touch, channelling everything into the piece so it can be read there rather than having to be explained. If you purchase a Nick Ross piece on ÅBEN, it has to exist in its own right: “The stories need to be in them physically, whether in the shape or the function, when the text is not available.”
Nick’s self-imposed outsider status has given up a new perspective, allowing him to incorporate aspects of Scotland from the material to stories and history into his work.
So what’s next for Nick Ross? Bronze-age, boat building in Scandinavia of course. As we discuss that he ponders; “I wonder if the history of boat building is one of the reasons Scandinavian furniture is so good?” And he’s off again…. Nick’s version of the Arcadia oak chair for ÅBEN is made from pale sycamore, with a walnut back and cherry wood seat.