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Meet Mac Collins, the designer reappraising the chair

In the first of our designer Q&A series, Effect speaks to Mac Collins, an exciting new talent from Nottingham, UK

It’s been quite a year for Mac Collins, emerging from a lockdown that, by his own admission, had elements of “romantic isolation,” and straight into a succession of prestigious accolades, among them Winner of the Emerging Design Medal at London Design Festival and the acquisition of his ground-breaking Concur chair (top and below) by the London Design Museum – which is where we met Collins, allowing us to vouch first-hand for Concur’s stunning design and finish.

Mac Collins, photographed by George Howard Rees-Jones

Collins states an interest in “the interaction between human and object, and in the ideas that may be communicated through this experience.” Concur certainly succeeds in this; and while his pieces can easily be taken as you find them – in that they are beautiful and also functional – it’s clear the young designer also approaches his designs with not only a degree of humour and humility, but also with a sense of cultural narrative, drawing on his Caribbean lineage to “create artefacts that are often informed by the stories and the charisma of his elders.”

What comes across in his furniture is a deep respect for the materials he uses alongside that sense of interaction with the user. If you get the opportunity to see Collins’ work at exhibition, we urge you to do so.

How would you describe your style?
I wouldn’t say there is a distinctive description of style for my work – I’d say that the style follows the approach, and I would then describe the approach as being narrative-driven. I begin each project with the narrative, and the visual forms and intended physical experience of the piece will follow that.

Do you remember the first thing you made?
I was often making things when I was younger. I would carve characters out of sections of branches and intentionally leave them in random places – I found it interesting that a random person might spot this thing and find it intriguing enough to take. There was a similar sentiment that encouraged me to get into graffiti and street art when I was in school – I would see my tags in the daytime, and wondered who might have spotted my work in passing.

What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a new experience-driven installation that will discuss ideas around culture and play. I am using this current project as an opportunity to experiment with new materials.

Where do you take your initial inspiration for a piece?
I begin each project by defining the narrative and intentions of the investigation. I draw on a range of sources that will be specific to the defined narrative.

What’s your go-to material and why?
For the majority of my projects, I use various types of timber. I appreciate the versatility of wood and am drawn to the varying richness in grain detail between species. However, I’m keen to experiment with new materials and to continue to develop my understanding of the processes involved in manipulating them.

I appreciate the versatility of wood and am drawn to the varying richness in grain detail between species.

Mac Collins, designer

Is there a material you haven’t yet used that you would like to?
Though I have made smaller objects from brass, I’m interested in working with metals. I have cast glass before, but would be keen to try to cast various metals, and explore the scale to which this process could be utilised.

Iklwa Earth Orange, designed by Mac Collins (Photo: David Cleveland)

Did anything in the design world define or mark the past year for you?
Emerging from the lockdowns of the pandemic, London Design Festival (LDF) was a pivotal moment in the year for me personally – I won the LDF Emerging Design Medal 2021 which has been an important accolade. I also exhibited three projects during this week and had one piece acquired for the permanent collection of the Design Museum, London.

Is there another designer’s work you particularly admire, and why?
I appreciate the work of Max Lamb, who has been an inspiration since when studying design at university. Lamb’s practice sits comfortably between what is often defined as art and as design. This is a realm I also hope to exist in.

If you weren’t a designer, what other career do you think you might have had?
I would have always ended up in a creative position – it’s unlikely that I would have felt fulfilled in an entirely different field. Had I not been a designer and maker of this nature, I imagine I might have pursued creative expression through fashion or graphics.

Pro advice: what advice, insight or tip would you pass on to your fellow designers?
The advice I might give to others is counsel I tell myself: to work hard, but not to forget what it is you actually enjoy about the practice.

Do you intend to remain in the field of furniture design?
No. I would like to expand my range of creative experiences and expressions. At some stage in my future, I hope that my practice will be deemed to be multidisciplinary. Within this, there will be furniture, but this would be one specialism among a number of artistic disciplines and ventures.

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