Balance and Simplicity – Simon James

Words by Rose Onans
Photography by Scott Hardy
Interior Design by Simon James

Since launching his eponymous studio 18 years ago, Simon James has honed a refined, pared-back design sensibility. From the curated collection of furniture, homewares, accessories and fashion found in the Simon James Design Auckland retail stores to the globally-focused furniture and lighting brand Resident founded in 2011, an emphasis on simplicity is a running thread that informs all his work.

Underlying all of Simon James’s work is a running thread of simplicity and restraint.

This approach and its resulting aesthetic language are grounded in the practice of sketching designs on paper. Simon explains that “I have always started with pencil and paper and tend to redraw the same idea over and over until it feels right. This is then taken into a 3D modelling program to understand proportion better before committing to the first series of prototypes.”

Such an established foundation has enabled the studio to successfully move between disciplines and also informed the curation of pieces by other designers that are stocked in the three Auckland retail stores. “We always stay true to our core values, so don’t have a problem moving between design disciplines when appropriate. If we do, we tend to engage with specialists in that field as part of the learnings [involved in a project],” Simon reflects.

Collaboration, and the exploration of new ideas that comes with working with other designers, is a source of inspiration.

Furniture is where it all began, and, while it remains a key focus for the studio, there has been a natural progression in the retail-focused design stores towards a diverse range of homewares, accessories and fashion. These stores are themselves deeply considered spaces, with the Newmarket concept store designed in collaboration with Cheshire Architects and Knight Associates. The result is a sense of continuity, both of ideas and design language, that flows throughout.

The launch of export-focused furniture and lighting brand Resident, which Simon co-founded with Scott Bridgens in 2011, provided a further opportunity to expand both design and geographic horizons. “This is something I have always enjoyed, and I get just as much of a kick out of being involved in this as I do working on my own projects. It is the same problem solving but with more heads involved,” said Simon. “As a designer, I always find it enlightening to take the blinkers off and focus on something other than your own work.”

As his design studio approaches its 20th anniversary and Resident continues to provide avenues for engagement with the design industry globally, Simon is looking towards the release of a new collection and also responding to the sudden shifts heralded by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are looking to release our first outdoor collection, which has been in development for over 18 months, that will be based around a modular sofa system, lounge chair and complementary items,” he says. “We are also researching how the workplace might change in this current environment and whether we can offer design solutions. We have always supported local manufacturing in the markets we work in, and I can see this happening more and more.”

With the combination of a local production focus and a global, collaborative design approach as a foundation, both Simon James as a studio and Simon himself will be well placed to continue exploring balance and simplicity in design – in all its forms.