John Pawson | Monocle

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“I grew up in Halifax and remember mum’s Yorkshire pudding and dad serving Romanée Conti wine. I went into my father’s textile business after school but when I was 23 he said the company was failing. I was basically fired but by chance I was offered a discounted first-class ticket around the world at a party. I was originally going to stop in Japan for a week but ended up staying four years – three in Nagoya, one in Tokyo.

I was interested in architecture from an early age. I was introduced to Domus magazine where I saw Shiro Kuromata’s work; it was the first time I had seen something I really liked. When I moved to Tokyo I rang Kuromata and asked if we could meet. It was the early 1970s and there weren’t many foreigners knocking on his door so he agreed and got Masayuki Kurokawa [the celebrated ­architect] to come too. They were design aristocracy and introduced me to people like Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. Eventually, Kuromata got fed up with me hanging around and made me enrol at the Architectural Association in London as I hadn’t studied architecture.

I like the iconic 1960s Smithsons’ building here at Saké no Hana. It has a beautiful piazza, gorgeous Portman stone and inside Kengo Kuma’s screens are exquisite. Alan Yau, the owner, and I came up with the idea of communal tables for his restaurant Wagamama [see CV] in 1992. He was initially resistant to people sitting together but I was used to it from Japan. My schoolboy dream would be to have a Japanese chef at home as it’s not practical to go to Tokyo for my last meal. I like that I can get a table here. Other Japanese places like Nobu are a nightmare. When a restaurant says it’s full, my wife Catherine says I shouldn’t be annoyed, I should congratulate them.

Catherine and I got married when I was 40 and had Benedict. I had my other son, Caius, with my first wife Hester. They aren’t Samaritans or anything but my children were born with a ‘kind gene’. I often get frustrated about small things and they make me see how ridiculous I am. In 2002, I was in a car crash in India that killed my friend. Very few look death in the face and I felt so elated to be alive. I realised life is short and decided to only do projects I really want to do.

At my age you don’t think about ideal projects but the monastery in the Czech Republic is the project of a lifetime – the monks are the ultimate minimalists. What’s important to me is the idea rather than the decoration. It was the same with my own house or the cookbook that I did with Annie Bell. Caius is manager of a band and when his friends came home before the concert, they couldn’t believe how minimalist it was. For me there’s far too much furniture in it – that’s why I was happy in Japan.

Eating is like reading, there just isn’t the time to indulge. Catherine is a great cook, mostly fish as I don’t like meat much. It’s important for me to eat at home with the family, just like the memory of mum’s Yorkshire pudding served whenever I came home from school – or Japan.”

Course 1

Seared razor clam with wasabi and soya dressing

Course 2

Three kinds of sashimi – Otoro, scallop and turbot on a shiso leaf

Course 3

Aged rib-eye beef tataki dried for 42 days with sesame dressing

Course 4

Seared tuna and green tea soba salad with wasabi jelly and tonburi

Course 5

Braised aubergine with duck sauce

Course 6

Yellowtail oden with daikon, abura age and egg

Course 7

Miso Chilean seabass toban yaki

The Venue

After teething problems with location and layout, Alan Yau’s Saké no Hana was refurbished in April and gained a new head chef (right) from Tokyo’s Kikunoi restaurant. 23 St James’ Street, London SW1

John Pawson's CV

Born in Halifax

Joins the family textile business

Enrols at the Architectural Association, London

Sets up his own practice

Designs Waddington Galleries, London

Designs first Wagamama restaurant for Alan Yau, London

Designs Calvin Klein’s first flagship store, New York

New Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Novy Dvur consecrated in Bohemia

Designs penthouse apartment for Ian Schrager in Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond, New York

The exhibition “John Pawson Plain Space” runs from 22 September to 30 January 2011 at the Design Museum, London

Put a lid on it


“John Pawson approached us in 1999 to develop a range of cookware to fit in with his home kitchen that he ­designed,” says Maurits Demeyere, grandson of the founder of the specialist Belgian firm that produces high-performance pans. Demeyere trained in electromechanical engineering and metallurgy and applied this know-how in developing new Demeyere lines that are now being adopted by professional chefs.

It normally takes the firm a minimum of three years to create a new range and Pawson’s saucepans were no exception. Demeyere says, “We spent five years developing the line with him. Although we knew we could do it, the type of handles and lids that he designed meant we had to do a lot of development.”

Aside from their simple ­designs, the range of 25 pots, which ­continues to expand depending on consumer demand, allows users to cook food without water or oil and retain maximum nutrition.

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