Q&A with Jim Wright: The designer of our new contract range

Meet Jim. He’s the man behind Roger Lewis’s first ever contract collection – helping with our venture into this new and exciting land of furniture designed exclusively for corporate and hospitality. We sat down with him to pick his brains – asking him about the most crucial elements when designing for the contract market, as well as talking to him about where it all began and, more importantly perhaps, where he sees it going.

Jim’s enthusiasm for design is most definitely contagious – he’s passionate, focused and deeply immersed in the world of design for the corporate sector. He’s also been in the business for longer than we’ve been alive, so we’re all ears whenever he gives us advice…

Q. What features and considerations are important when designing a range for the contract market?

A. When I’m designing for the corporate sector I’m always thinking collectively – it’s a totally different world to the domestic sector where you think of standalone pieces of furniture like a living room chair.

For me, the most important thing is the versatility of a product range – we’re trying to provide a collection of furniture which is going to be suitable for hotels and leisure environments as well as corporate reception areas. So a comprehensive collection is vital as it’ll appeal not just to one area of a working environment, but a range.

Of course, they’ve also got to be fit for purpose – they’re going to be placed in hard-working environments so they really need to stand the test of time.

Because it’s a specified market I have to inspire the architect, the interior designer and the specifier – firstly, they must fall in love with the way it looks. It must excite them. Secondly, the price has to be in the right ballpark. And the clincher for me is that it has to be comfortable. This shouldn’t be a bonus, it should be a prerequisite.

If it ticks the four boxes – enticing, ergonomic, fully-functioning and within the right price parameters – then I stand a good chance. This is a tried-and-tested formula that has stood me in good stead over the years!

Q. Tell us about your collection for Roger Lewis and what excites you about it…

A. This collection starts with the ‘Upright’ chair for working environments – this could include boardroom use, in a hotel bedroom where there’s a working desk, and dining situations.

The chair then expands in terms of size and dimensions into what I’d describe as the ‘Compact Club’ chair – it’s a little bit wider, lower to the ground, deeper, and more relaxed in the angle of seating – more sumptuous I’d say. This means it can be used in breakout areas at work, hotel lobbies, airport solutions – a more relaxed collective area.

We then move on to the ‘Easy’ chair – again, it’s the same internal fit and posture as the Compact Club, but more generous in width – you can laze your arms on it, it’s got more body to the front and it looks more inviting. It’s a great collection, the nature of which means you can offer all three in one installation.

I’d say I’ve been almost flamboyant about the supporting frames with these chairs – but flamboyant for a reason. They’re beautiful to look at from the side and back; the steel frames not only support it from underneath but give a feeling of enclosure from behind. My analogy is that it’s almost like holding a newborn baby’s head – not a physical holding, just a presence. This makes them incredibly individual.

The timber version – with the legs projecting up and in towards the back – almost evokes an arts and crafts or a Scandinavian feel, whereas the steel version is very contemporary or could be linked to the Bauhaus period. The importance of this is that you can transcend or span periods of architectural delight; having the choice broadens the perspective and variety within architectural environments.

Q. When designing your new range for Roger Lewis, where did you draw your inspiration from?

A. I’ve designed 150 odd collections over the years, yet I find this question really hard to answer and always have done. I don’t really draw inspiration… I just draw! Sometimes things just flow.

However, very interestingly, when I was developing this product (from concept drawings through to model making) and I was honing in on this particular shape of the collection, I just happened to be watching Gardeners’ World with Monty Don – he was in an Istanbul garden surrounded by beautiful tulips (which is actually where tulips are from, not Amsterdam!). I saw these beautiful flowers and I thought to myself: ‘You know, that’s how my chair is evolving!’.

Rather than being my inspiration, tulips somehow echoed the beautiful simplicity of these designs.

Q. You have formed a relationship with Roger Lewis at the start of their journey into this market. Why did you choose to work with them and how did it come about?

A. It’s quite a funny story, actually! I’m oldish now, but I’ve very luckily been doing this for 35 odd years – and 35 years ago I’d just come out of university and was a buyer of furniture and lighting for Rossiters of Bath. It was during this period that I was buying from Roger Lewis himself!

Fast forward to 2016 and I went to visit my Father in Frome – I was taking his car for servicing in Trowbridge and had four hours to spare so decided to cycle around the area… and on my return stumbled upon the Roger Lewis factory! It could only be the Roger Lewis I knew! I was introduced to Nick and this sparked the dialogue between us. I explained what I did and over a period of six months Nick, Marc and I met and they decided to get a feel for the market. 18 months ago they commissioned me to come up with some concept work, of which this collection is the first piece.

Seconds into the meeting with Nick, I could see the quality of his designs and the quality of the manufacturing at Roger Lewis. I’m in a fortunate position where I can be choosy about who I work with, but I recognised the company ethos and knew we’d be a good fit straight away.

Q. What do you think the future holds for Roger Lewis as they enter the contract market?

A. Most companies I work with have an older management. These guys – Marc, Nick and Mollie – are young, intelligent and dynamic people who are driven and passionate about design. I’m excited to see what the future holds for them and am delighted to be part of their venture into the contract market. I’m more than delighted – I’m like a dog with a bone!