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The Former Journalist Turned Designer, Making The Furniture He Couldn't Find

Furniture

When James Howe was unable to find the beautiful handmade furniture he was searching for in the city’s stores, he went home to research online. It was then that he stumbled across the work of Danish modernist designer Børge Mogensen, whose work triggered a deep, emotional experience James couldn’t ignore. The former journalist decided to make the furniture he couldn’t find for himself, and completely change his career path!

A year later he won an international design award for nursery furniture made for his new baby’s room, and just this year he exhibited his latest work at Melbourne Design Week, to wide acclaim.

Leaving behind an established career in magazine journalism in pursuit of a new-found passion has turned out to be the best decision James ever made!

28th April, 2020

The Hubble Lamp by James Howe. Photo by James Howe.

The J5 Cabinet. Photo – Peter Ryle.

The J5 Cabinet detail. Photo – Peter Ryle.

The Danish weaving technique James has been perfecting for years. Photo – James Howe.

The Rushcutters Bench. Photo – James Howe.

James Howe, furniture designer. Photo – courtesy of James Howe.

Sasha Gattermayr
Tuesday 28th April 2020

‘One of the things I love about being a furniture designer is you get to work with any material you like, on almost any scale.’ – James Howe

Before he was an award-winning furniture maker, James Howe used to be a journalist. He knows what it means to make something from nothing.

‘I really had no interest in furniture growing up, and hadn’t even heard of furniture design as a discipline until a few years ago!’ James recalls. ‘Having said that, I realise now I had some solid role models in design.’ He explains how his grandfather and uncle migrated from the Netherlands to Tarlee, South Australia, and promptly built a farm from the ground up. The resulting buildings were beautiful and now, with an appreciation for design, James revels in the property’s meticulously organised floorplan. Craftsmanship and great design is in James’ blood, even if it isn’t in his training.

‘I don’t have training in any design or craft discipline,’ he explains, a fact which seems unbelievable when you view his perfectly proportioned designs. His minimal, tactile furniture pieces are light and unobtrusive, with exquisitely clean lines. ‘One of the things I love about being a furniture designer is you get to work with any material you like, on almost any scale’ the designer says. ‘It’s tremendously free and exciting.’

Despite a lack of formal knowledge in furniture making, James’ career in design has gone from strength to strength. He won an international design award for nursery furniture he made for his new baby, just a year after discovering his new discipline. This award spurred an associateship at the JamFactory in Adelaide, where he stayed for four years. Now, with a new workspace in Edwardstown, SA, he’s taking his own steps.

‘I organised an exhibition called Monolith, kind of a vent for how irritated I feel about the cheap wastefulness of modern building practices,’ he explains of his presence at Melbourne Design Week this March, just before current events unfolded. He invited ceramicist Ebony Heidenreich and stone sculptor Steven John Clark (Den Holm) to present Monolith alongside him, and he exhibited a 2.4 metre-long coffee table that weighed several hundred kilograms! ‘We all made work in celebration of the themes of weight, beauty and permanence, three things I feel are fast disappearing in modern city building,’ James says. His contribution to the show was crafted from a slab of Mintaro slate – and took five people to move!

Despite the hefty commentary embedded in Monolith’s concept, it’s actually a deep emotional attachment to the creative process that is at the foundation of James’ practice. ‘I’ve been on a big growth curve personally and creatively during the years I’ve been designing furniture, and each piece reflects the unique circumstances of the time I made it,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to create this profound emotional experience for others.’

James Howe furniture is made to order and shipped Australia-wide – enquire via his website.

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The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.