Man at His Best

A Rendezvous With The Romantic James Harrison On His Castlery Collaboration

The collection looks into the importance of proportions, and pays homage to history and loved ones.

BY Wayne Cheong | Oct 19, 2017 | Design

James Harrison is a young designer, surrounded by the trappings of modern time and yet he still finds inspiration in a backward glance to the past. We dip into his: as a kid, he was one of those curious cats who’d take everything apart before putting it all back together again. “It used to drive my mum crazy,” Harrison remembers, “the vacuum cleaner in a thousand pieces, all over the floor.”

He needed to know how things work. That’s the engine that led to a love of making things and pushed him towards furniture-making, that still drives him.

“I was drawn to woodworking and I spent a lot of time in the workshop of my university,” Harrison adds. When he graduated, he fell headlong into the industry; 11 years of designing for a great number of UK retailers, Harrison finally went cahoots with Singapore’s own furniture shop, Castlery.

Furthering its agenda to democratise premium furniture design for the masses, Castlery formed “Castlery Feat”, where it collaborated with six international award-winning design houses, including Harrison, who finds it fun to work with overseas clients like Castlery. “It’s a totally different market and influences since I predominately design for the Western market,” he adds. The collaboration between Castlery and Harrison was over a year ago and Harrison admits that he hadn’t heard of them since they were a new company at the time but he dogged Castlery’s Creative Director, Edoardo Arricale’s enthusiasm. “It is really infectious. And I really like the company’s ethos, the whole idea of making good design affordable and more accessible.”

He laments that the stuff he sells in the UK tends to be “of a higher price point because it’s handmade in the UK, a lot of it is bespoke. It’s a bit of a shame because everyone should have access to good design.”

The result is the Lily Collection, Harrison’s homage to mid-century modern furniture design. “So much beautiful furniture was made in that era and a lot of it was handmade,” he says. “Now, it’s finding the balance in the aesthetics and the production. It’s about working with factories and finding their strength.”

Take the sideboard, for instance: with the book matched veneer on its doors, the tapered timber legs are held together with an iconic cross metal brace design; the x-brace is a common feature in the collection. When weight is put on the table, the cross brace is placed under tensile pressure. While the x-brace adds character to the piece, Harrison isn’t the sort who adds embellishments for no reason. “Of course, I want my designs to be as beautiful as they come, but everything is there for a reason.” It also ensures strong structural integrity. You can find the same reinforcements in architecture; where diagonal supports intersect to increase a building’s ability to withstand seismic activity.

When designing for a region, another consideration that Harrison pays special mind to is the size of the furniture due to the space that we live in. “Across the UK, for example,” he says, “people have small apartments. Space is a premium so you have to think about how you can make products compact and efficient. In America, everything is big. Size and scale, we need to get that right, that’s the first challenge. Getting the styling right is the next.”

As we wrap things up, we pose a final question: “Why is it called the Lily Collection?”

Sheepish and with a small smile, Harrison replies, “it’s named after my girlfriend.”

Cue collective awww.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, October 2017.