SmithMatthias was founded by Jack Smith and Gemma Matthias in 2014. The multi-disciplinary design studio applies a rigour and thoughtfulness to create soulful and impactful work.
The team at Allermuir caught up with SmithMatthias for an insight on their new collaboration with Allermuir that brought us the Ooty stool.
This is your first collaboration with Alllermuir. Tell us about yourself, are you both from London?
CC It is our first collaboration and we’re really excited to be working with Allermuir. Jack is from the Lake District and Gemma is from North Wales. We met at Sheffield Hallam University studying furniture design. We hit it off and then moved to London soon after for work.
When did you discover your passion for furniture design? You started in Architecture, tell us about that transition.
JS From before I can remember really. I always made stuff as a kid. I got a sheet of plywood for Christmas when I was around eight and made some shelves for the garage. Furniture was something to make which has a purpose. I struggle to create things unless there is a purpose. I also had 2 grandfathers who were great makers. From boats to violins, I loved spending time in their workshops, just hanging around/watching. The smell is something that never leaves me and occasionally when I visit a workshop it transports me back to that time.
GM Since I was young, I’ve made things - I guess I get a buzz from creating things for people. I thought I’d be an interior designer until a teacher introduced me to the idea of being a furniture designer which I hadn’t considered before. The furniture design course at Sheffield Hallam really confirmed my passion for the discipline, bringing together storytelling, design and making.
What led up to the two of you establishing your studio here in London?
CC There was never a conscious point where we decided to establish a studio in the early days. We were approached by a new Italian brand to design some pieces after they saw a lamp Jack designed at the RCA and SmithMatthias grew organically from there. London was the natural place to set up a studio. Our first studio was in an old science classroom in Battersea. It had lovely parquet flooring, gas taps and science posters on the walls. We also had a studio in France for two warm, idyllic years.
Tell us about your studio, what is it like to design as a couple?
CC It’s mainly positive to design as a couple. It sounds quite cringey but as we’ve been working together for around 15 years and have grown in design together, we have a very similar approach and focus. We both bring complimentary skills to the studio, and we can be really open and honest. It can be all consuming, because we’ll talk about projects all the time, when usually you’d switch off.
What values and elements do you feel summarise the approach of SmithMatthias?
CC We take a ‘Less is More’ approach, and our focus is quality, craftsmanship, timelessness and attention to detail. We seek a balance of simplicity and richness. We want to create thoughtful products that will endure and have a low impact on the planet.
What is the best piece of design advice you have been given or read?
JS A friend at the RCA asked me while I was designing a light, “where’s the bottle opener going?” It was a remark about over complicating the design and only including what is necessary. It’s a line we say regularly in the studio.
Another friend would pick up random objects and whisper “inspiration!”, a salt packet from the canteen, a leaky pen, the sound a door made when closing. While mainly joking, there is truth to what he was saying - look for inspiration and improvement on everyday objects . It’s another line I use regularly.
GM I’ve had so much good advice over the years. I’ve really appreciated the encouraging advice to persevere in this industry. It can take time to establish a studio and you have to be pretty resilient. We’re a bit addicted to design and so we keep working hard to make our studio flourish.
What was the original inspiration for Ooty?
CC Ooty began with the idea of repeating one component. We first thought about sheet metal, but plywood felt softer and more friendly. We started the project with lots of paper models, trying 3 or 4 legs and different forms.
What challenges did you face in creating Ooty?
CC We did a lot of thinking around joining the three legs together. We tested different methods but finally settled on a lap joint, a strong and neat solution.
How would you define what makes an Allermuir product unique?
CC Allermuir products have a confidence that’s borne from great quality, consideration and attention to detail. We need to mention sustainability too. We are really excited about Allermuir’s commitment to reducing the impact of their furniture.
When not designing furniture, what do you do for fun? You do a lot of work for our local London brewery Camden Town - do you enjoy a lot of free samples?
CC We have just moved to Liverpool where we’re setting up studio. We’re really excited to be near the coast and looking forward to summer evenings spent swimming. We’ve loved working with Camden Town Brewery over the past few years and continue to do so. We’ve had a fair few Hells and Gentleman’s Wit over the years. Cold water swimming, gardening, cooking and cycling are other activities we love doing.
Last question - inspire us, what have you been listening to lately? Visited any noteworthy exhibitions in the city?
CC We’re feeling really inspired just now. We’ve just got back from Japan which was amazing and inspiring in so many ways. We saw ‘The Original’ Exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight Gallery Tokyo, which explores products that have exerted a deep influence on daily life. We saw Paul Cocksedge’s Coalescence at Liverpool Cathedral which was really thought-provoking, and we have plans to visit Chatsworth House to see Mirror Mirror. Today we listened to ‘The Haeckels podcast’ (Gemma loves their skin products and approach). Grant Gibson’s Material Matters and How I Built This are old favourites.