‘Current western dogma says that whiteness and emptiness helps the mind,’ explains Adam Nathaniel Furman from lockdown at his London home. ‘But if there’s nothing around you, all you have is the tumultuous nature of what’s going on internally.’ To those familiar with the artist and designer’s unfailingly exuberant work, it will come as no surprise that he considers visual busyness a kind of balm. ‘Think of the complex patterns of mandalas or yantras – through their complexity, they help your mind escape itself.’
The north London native has applied this style and spirit to a diverse back catalogue of expressive interiors, objects and public art commissions, often layered with references to Furman’s Argentine, Japanese and Israeli heritage and charged with themes of identity. The mix of classic and contemporary elements – think columns and domed crowns transplanted from ancient Rome and presented anew in punchy pastels – has been a source of endless inspiration.
‘The classical language is this fantastic treasure trove of forms, myths, decorations, colours and buildings,’ says Furman. ‘The British Museum is a place of joy – I would disappear in there from a young age.’
Bold geometrics define recent tile collection ‘New Town’ for Italian artisans Botteganove, inspired by an unlikely marriage of ‘exquisite’ paving by architect Carlo Scarpa and British urban planning. So too, ebullient new ‘Chomp’ chair and ‘Lounge Hog ’ coffee table designed for Italian furniture maker brand De Rosso in collaboration with surface specialist Abet Laminati. The key to keeping things fresh, says Furman, is often colour. ‘A new palette brings everything to life. It’s like those old clips from 1970s comedies that suddenly appear all over TikTok,’ he laughs. ‘I do the same with history.’
It’s a thread that runs explicitly through his latest project, a five-strong collection for east London rug specialists Floor Story named ‘Mediterranean’. Designs include Rome-inspired ‘Pantheon’ and ‘Hesperides’, which captures a vivid impression of Greek islands disappearing into an oncoming dusk in startlingly simple lines.
Rugs, he says, had always been top of his wishlist. ‘They’re like little pieces of art for your house that you get to roll around on with your dog and your kids. I love the idea of people being that close to my work.’ He found kinship with Floor Story’s head designer Gill Thorpe – ‘I call her the colour whisperer’ – as the pair pored over swatches in the studio. ‘Everyone has that golden memory of Mediterranean holidays,’ he suggests. ‘Why not have a reminder on the floor of your living room?'
Furman’s interest in classicism draws in part from the notion that queer artists could ‘hide in plain sight’ if their work was shrouded in classical motifs, noting the historic erasure of female and queer designers in favour of a narrow creative mainstream. ‘Officially, 1940s and ‘50s design was all high modernism and minimalist interiors, but it was also an exuberant period of wild decoration. That just didn’t become part of the canon.’
This sense of exclusion extends to architecture: he campaigned tirelessly to get the first postmodern British building listed, though he finds the descriptor itself problematic. ‘Postmodernism is a label people often use to dismiss things.’ He's on the fence about using the term in the context of New London Fabulous, a kaleidoscopic architecture movement Furman's spearheading alongside Yinka Ilori, Camille Walala and Morag Myerscough that celebrates diversity in design.
The designer’s generation of creatives perhaps didn’t get the easiest ride of it either. Enrolling on his art foundation course at Central St Martins on the day of 9/11, he then graduated from a subsequent degree at the prestigious Architectural Association straight into the 2008 recession. ‘Architecture was absolutely devastated, but I think it led to a generation who are quite broad minded – everything becomes a possibility, which is quite exciting.’
2013 marked a turning point and the start of a particularly triumphant two years, which saw Furman selected for the Design Museum’s Residency programme and awarded the 2014 Rome Prize in Architecture. He cites the two, plus the mentorship of fellow colour fanatic Morag Myerscough as life changing. ‘Until the day I die, I'll be proud of those projects.’
In true eclectic fashion, Furman’s upcoming ventures include a series of ‘big and colourful’ sculptural installations at Croydon’s new Fair Field site, a collaboration with London-based hardware brand Swarf, and a ceramic stove for Cumbria’s Grizedale Arts Centre. Though the public’s capricious relationship with colour and pattern are a lingering worry, the success of mentor Morag Myerscough grants Furman hope and resolve. ‘I look at her career and think “fads had come and go, but people recognise when something is just good in its own right.” And I’m one of those people who will not change!’ adamnathanielfurman.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration August 2020
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