It’s late afternoon and Jasper Morrison is picking at a slice of apple cake. From his spot in a leather booth in west Berlin’s Café Einstein Stammhaus he surveys the room, taking in the globe ceiling lamps and the warm beige walls. “It’s all how it should be,” he says. He particularly likes the dark-wood, slatted chairs, which he thinks are “mildly humorous”. Then again, “maybe it’s just because I speak chair language”.
For the past 29 years this Viennese-style café has been the acclaimed designer’s hiding place in the city, ever since one of his exhibitions was held in the space upstairs. “It was one of the main events that kicked off my career,” he says.
Although he lives in London, Morrison follows projects abroad. He’s in town for the opening of a major retrospective at the Bauhaus-Archiv but the German city isn’t just another stopover: Berlin was home in the early 1980s when he studied at University of the Arts during a year abroad.
Back then Morrison cut a different figure from the unflappable man today, dressed in a checked grey suit and sipping tea. He was a rebel at university, both in Berlin and London’s Kingston Polytechnic, regularly arguing with his instructors. “The director wanted us all to follow the same method but my approach was very different,” he says. “Once he said: ‘One day you’ll run out of ideas, Morrison.’”
That day hasn’t arrived. More than three decades on Morrison has designed hundreds of products, including trams and cutlery. And, of course, a stack of chairs for firms such as Cappellini and Vitra. “It annoys me when people ask, ‘Do we need more chairs?’” he says. “The chairs that I design today are superior in many ways. There is no comparison between one designed now and one designed in the 1980s.”
He might be one of the industry’s most recognisable names but Morrison has consistently paid homage to the discreet. One of his earliest memories is being in a Scandi-style room with “bare wooden floors, lots of light, clean lines – and really feeling physically good in that space”, he says. “When it came to finding something good to do in life, the mission was to recreate that atmosphere.”
His aesthetic has stayed coherent, seemingly favouring the pared back, yet Morrison has never described himself as a minimalist. “Design is like cooking: too much of one thing knocks the balance off.”
1959 Born in London
1985 Graduates with an MA from London’s Royal College of Art
1988 Some New Item for the Home, Part I exhibition at Daadgalerie (then located above Café Einstein Stammhaus)
2006 Publishes Super Normal with Naoto Fukasawa, a manifesto of their appreciation for anonymous product design
2008 Joins Petter Neby’s electronics brand Punkt as creative director and later designs its anti-smartphone MP 01 mobile
2017 Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv shows Jasper Morrison. Thingness, a retrospective of his work