Artisan Wednesday | Q+A with Thomas Jenkins

To gather a deeper and more intimate connection with the artists and artisans we work with, we asked each to answer a series of questions. We will be showcasing each Q+A in correlation with our familial content. Enjoy! 

x Shop Zung

 

Q: Without giving away your location, describe where you are right now. What are the things you see, smell, or hear around you? 


A: Right now we’re in a lovely studio retail space on the cusp of Soho and Tribeca. A mix of sculptural pieces and products I know from Scandinavia quite well. 


Q: Taste, touch, smell, sound, sight — which of the five senses do you rely on the most? Why? 


A: I think probably touch. I work with a Swedish company called Iris Hantverk. It is a company formed by the association of the blind in Sweden. They create work for partially sighted people so they manufacture brushes in a small little atelier. I have a small range of brushes with them; a back brush, a foot brush and a face brush for washing. What’s incredibly interesting about how they work is that it all comes down to the touch and the quality they feel through touch. They feel the whole object when finished, and they reject certain ones because they can feel when there are some imperfections that aren’t good enough. I think a lot of what I do with Iris Hantverk is very tactile. We want to create a simple aesthetic yet we want to appeal to the touch as a part of the sensory experience. We want you to really get to know the object and get in contact with it rather than it being solely outspoken visually. 


In my own work, we do a lot of prototyping as we work so it definitely requires that same tactility. The cabinet I have with Skagerak has little overhangs and little points where you can get a hold of the object and interact with it beyond just opening or closing the door. 

Jut Cabinet prototypes in cardboard

Door detail of Jut Cabinet

 

Q: We want to know more about your creative process, walk us through it. How do you begin your projects? Do you anchor it with an image, a material, color, feeling? How do you come to a stopping point and know your work is complete, if you ever think so?


A: It could be a number of things. There might be some kind of idea or observation that could be applied in a number of ways. I usually start off with some sketching. Maybe start with something quite minuscule in terms of the whole project but it could be the way something is constructed or the way a handle detail could work and then trying to extrapolate that out into a product through a sketching process. We have a small woodshop so we can easily work out small details.  

Sketch of the Jut Cabinet in two sizes

Thomas Jenkins in his woodshop carving out a piece of furniture by hand

 

Honestly, I would say we are pretty obsessive when it comes to finishing a project. It’s a maturing process as well because sometimes you think you’re finished but you put it away because there might be a pause in the project, then you come back to it. Once you’ve had that time to digest what you’ve done before, more often than not, you see a few more minuscule tweaks that’ll bring everything together. But you can’t carry on forever, there has to be a stopping point! You gotta get it out there.


Q: You are chairman at Klubben. What is the most rewarding part of this position? Any artists we should be on the lookout for?


A: I think the most rewarding thing is seeing this collective effort that was required to get Klubben to where it is and how it has helped a lot of my “compatriots” careers. Oslo is also quite special. Everyone’s competing with their own individual design studios but there is this sort of collective ‘we gotta get out into the big world’ mindset. The whole part of Klubben means ‘club’ and it’s all about creating an exhibition platform that has some level of curation or community within. It started out with a common brief for an exhibition and everyone has to answer to that brief. It was very successful because everyone had their own storytelling aspect and people could go beyond placing a collection of disparate objects together. There was more of an overall theme where people could read about how someone could interpret the brief in one way and others in another way, and so on. It has now grown into a much bigger thing now. We have a design council, if you will, that has taken the whole principle forward and which has become this exhibition called Norwegian Presence. It has taken place every year in Milan since we started in 2015. 


Bjørn van der Berg is someone who just has that “touch”. He’s definitely worth following. Falke Svatun also has incredible tactility in his work. Keep an eye out for these guys. 



Q: How would you describe your work? How do other people describe your work?


A: We’re trying to make objects that last and objects that have a soul in a way, which can sound a bit banal sometimes because there’s really more to them and you need to live with them to understand why they’re different. It’s a “low-key” ethos and what I like about this new Minus Furniture project I’m working on is that I can apply this minimal aesthetic but there is so much content and context with what is being made. It’s a great match in this respect. We can look at the refinement and the quality of the small details and the ergonomics of the object without having to scream about it.


Q: What is your favorite object or piece of furniture you designed? 


A: I’d say the Minus chair. I’m really happy with that. 

Sketch of Minus Chair by Jenkins & Uhnger

Q: Think of an object in your home that has the most significance to you. Could you share with us what it is and the memory behind it?


A: I have a Socrates Wine Opener by Jasper Morrison for Alessi. It’s kind of got this funny mechanism. You know those shaving mirrors that have the extendable arm, he uses that principle.

Socrates Wine Opener by Jasper Morrison for Alessi

 

You get all this extra movement and force when you pull the cork out of the bottle. It’s fun. 


Q: We live in a society where so much of our identity is surrounded by the things we consume whether that be the things we buy, the food we eat, or the content we see, along with the fast paced nature of it. How do you approach mindful living and sustainability in the context of your work and in your everyday life?


A: Using the minimum is very important and using everything, every ounce of it. We’re very lucky that I’m in a country where we have all electric cars now. We're very fortunate in that respect, where making the green change was relatively smooth and incentivized. Riding my bike and just living within your means. Not being too extravagant. Buying things built to last, less of churning through stuff. 


Q: What do you envision for yourself in five years? 

A: To have a space like this! 

I work with my partner Sverre Uhnger almost exclusively now under Jenkins & Uhnger. We also do some interior work but that’s more restaurant or cafes, more commercial interiors. We’re trying to work on this synergy effect where we can do one-off pieces for the interiors or a piece that’s created for that project that can then become commercialized and scaled. We’re looking for projects that give us this natural synergy and at the moment it’s going really well to the point where we have to expand and find new space. It’s very exciting. 

A working space at Jenkins & Uhnger studio with a monitor in front of a corkboard

 

Q: What do you want people to take away from your work? What is the legacy you imagine for yourself? 


A: We want people to see longevity in our work. We are considering the investment you are making in our pieces and we hope to create objects with enough of character but without overwhelming a space so that it can be lived with for a long, long period of time. 


Q: Are you looking forward to anything in the next few months? Any new exciting projects or plans?


A: The Minus Chair is the biggest and most exciting thing for me. We launched a new sofa for an English, London based brand called Case and it was very well received in Milan so we’re looking forward to that. We’re launching a table with DIMS which is coming in the fall now called Forty Five and it’s a solid wooden table series. Looking forward to seeing how that’s received. The final thing is finding this new studio space. Our prospective place is a studio of a retired metalworker, who spent his career making gutters and ventilation. It’s 3 floors and it’s just big enough to place a workshop, an office, and maybe a kitchen and a meeting room on the top floor. Fingers crossed.

Minus Chair in oak and another in a teal color 

Photo courtesy of Thomas Jenkins