London Design Festival

Jasper Morrison's Library of Design


19 September 2013

Over the past years, many of the most interesting exhibitions at the London Design Festival have been hosted in the studio of Jasper Morrison.

The exhibitions, like Morrison's own design work, have been unfussy and rooted in the everyday. Each show has explored a design typology - drinking glasses; jugs, jars and pitchers; and, last year, sticky tape - with the studio stocked with countless versions upon such objects, all sourced from the studio's collections. Morrison's studio has been filled with glasses and filled with tapes, all set out in neat arrangements with little active curation or background information. Now, it has been filled with books.

Morrison's contribution to this year's festival is a design library, a 150-strong collection of design books taken from his own library. Some books are rare, others more common, and guests to the studio are invited to sit and read at their leisure.

Chairs that Morrison has recently designed for Mattiazzi and Nikari are provided for guests to sit on and the books, bound in cellophane for protection, are set out throughout the studio in no particular arrangement; "In whatever way looks nice," says the designer.

Below, Morrison speaks to Disegno about his decision to create a library, his own past as a book dealer, and the importance of books for young designers.

Why did you deviate from the format of displaying the variety of an object within a given typology?
I think after the tapes we wanted to try another subject. We’ve done drinking glasses, jugs, jars and pitchers, the tape thing. I thought we should just change things. If it’s always the same formula it gets boring. So we wanted to do something equally non-commercial, but with a different angle. The library seemed like a nice way of changing it, because it remains uncommercial. But mixed in with that are some commercial things, like the Fionda chairs we made for Mattiazzi and we’ll also be showing the December Nikari chair. So there are a couple of product launches. It’s all about balance. If the festival is only about trendy, new design, I think it could become a bit shallow. The idea is to try and do something a bit cultural. Although maybe that sounds a bit arrogant.

Where have the books come from?
They're all ones that have been with the office from the earliest time. I used to be a book dealer at college. A lot of the library of the office is old stock I picked up and didn’t want to sell. There are some extremely good books. They’re the books that inspired me and informed my view of what design should be. That’s the other angle of the library: to show to young designers some great books. So there is a book about Marcel Breuer by Christopher Wilk, which was a very good one for me. Marcel Breuer was well known for a couple of chairs, but was better known as an architect. But he actually did a lot of furniture and it’s very good to appreciate that. A book can be done well or badly and then you have its subject matter, which is either interesting or not. Its when those two come together that it does something.

You were a book dealer when studying at Kingston?
I had a Honda 90 and I had my lunch breaks. I would drive off from Kingston and go around bookshops in south London. In those days there were a lot of second hand bookshops and generally they put things in order. I would walk in and take a look around the art and design bits. I had more knowledge than most of the shops, so you could easily find something that was worth more than it was on sale for, or which was just a really nice book for a reasonable price. I bought them up and then sold them to other dealers.

But how did you have the contacts to do that?
There was, and probably still is, a crazy magazine called the Bookdealer, which was an A5 newsprint. It consisted of two halves: the books on offer by dealers and books sought by dealers. You’d pay for your section and that got me in contact with a lot of the better bookdealers in art and design. So I was middleman. The job is called running - running books. You’d find a book and then pass it on. A lot of them I kept though, especially the ones about design. I was educating myself through those. In the beginning it was a way of studying. In the library for instance there is a book on plywood that, although maybe a little out of date now, would give you a lot of technical information on what you could or couldn’t do with the material. The colleges, as good as they were, weren’t teaching you this stuff. The detail was missing.

Why did you stop?
Design. Eventually I had enough income that I didn’t need the dealing. Some books I really regretted that I sold. So I said "Ok, I’ll stop selling them, but keep buying them." It’s incredible what books contain, that history otherwise forgets about. How much you learn by looking at books and the associations you make is powerful.

Do you regret selling certain books?
There was one very, very rare book on Picasso published in Japan in the 1930s. That was spectacular. Another of Brassaï’s photos, Paris De Nuit. That was a really beautiful book, which I found in a garage. That was where this other bookdealer kept his books. It was miles away, but I saw that he had some interesting books so it was worth the effort. I went to inspect his stock. None of this exists anymore because of things like AbeBooks, the second-hand book website. It makes every dealer think every book they earn is worth a fortune, so they just stick it on there.

Do you visit libraries?
I used to sit in at the V&A library but I don’t have the patience. I’m more of a browser than someone with a booklist to work through. A good bookshop is always better than a library, because it’s more surprising. Libraries tend to stock the obvious - the classics, the monographs. Bookshops take what falls between. There is a power in searching through books. If you think how we search for information these days we do it all online, predominantly on Google and get back whatever Google chooses to give us. That’s such a different way to the older way of looking in books and searching things out. That is physical and takes time. You encounter things that may be relevant to the quest you’re on.

How important are books for young designers?
As you’re trying to understand what design is and how to do it, if you’re doing that blind, then you have nothing to evaluate what you’re doing against. But knowing what historically has been achieved in furniture design, then you pretty quickly find out what your design is. Whether it’s a contender or a piece of crap.