When Philip Watts launched a design business from his shed 15 years ago he little imagined where it would take him.
Watts, then a fresh-faced 25 year old and recent graduate, merely hoped to make a reasonable living designing furniture products from his home in Nottingham.
A decade and a half later he is one of the UK’s rising interior design stars with A list clients and a string of award-winning products behind him. He has long since moved out of his garden and now employs a dozen people in a spacious Victorian warehouse.
He’s created everything from door knobs for Sir Elton to luxurious West End clubs for celebrities and places for ladies who lunch in Harvey Nichols. The window portholes he designed for doors have become ubiquitous throughout the world and he has won awards for his radiators, lights, sinks and Gloo urinals - which illuminate when used.
It’s the sheer diversity of his work which dazzles and led to Philip Watts Design being named as the Interior Design Practice of the Year in 2007. Now he’s preparing to return to Nottingham Trent University’s Bonington Gallery to present a 15 year overview of his career, which he says is not characterised by conventional good taste but by his “sheer barefaced audacity.” Philip’s driving ambition is to revamp a functional item and give it form, to make the useful, beautiful. Even urinals.
He says: “It’s our guiding philosophy to take uninteresting, unloved objects and breathe new life into them, make them exciting.
“We’ve turned our attention to objects as disparate as urinals, door handles and cigarette bins. Anything unloved and uninteresting, let’s play with it and make it stimulating and exciting.
“I suppose I have a fascination with objects, I say, ‘God, you’re dull. Why are you dull? There’s no need for you to be dull. Let’s make you good.’
“People say we give objects personality. It’s like the X Factor for the uninteresting architecture of life. I am the Simon Cowell of urinals! We take boring objects and we turn them into stars and then send them out into the world.”
“All designers like to produce monuments to themselves. I haven’t come to terms with winning awards for my urinals and have a horrible feeling they might be my epitaph. There would be nothing wrong with that and some people would be perfectly happy and content with that but I hope that the retrospective show will demonstrate the variety of the work we have done.”
Watts’ designs have enhanced all kinds of environments, from style conscious VIP boltholes to workaday civic spaces. If there’s a theme, however, it’s that the Watts’ touch is hard to ignore. Among the most dramatic of his visions – and the exhibition centrepiece - is the “melting” metal spinal column spiral staircase, like something from science fiction. Compared to the work of Art Nouveau master Gaudi, they have previously graced the mansions of private clients and will be on show to the public for the first time.
Philip certainly knows how to make a visual impact. His brief when refitting Soho’s Kingly Club was to create a stunning one-off venue, something that could serve as ‘P Diddy’s local’. He must have succeeded: P Diddy has since become a fan and hired it out. The Daily Telegraph described the sleek modern lines of the club as: “the kind of place James Bond takes a lady at the end of a film.” But Philip doesn’t only do ultra upmarket: forthcoming projects include bronze street furniture in Nottingham and three glass bridges in a five-storey metal sculpture in the middle of the Custard Factory in Birmingham.
But as Watts points out, what’s showy or unusual today is simply part of the landscape of tomorrow.
“We invented a way of putting portholes into doors. Before that any portholes in doors were ship’s portholes which didn’t work very well. We invented a way of doing it and interior designers and architects went mad for it. It became our signature piece.”
As the fame of his range has grown, famous clients such as Sir Elton John have followed.
“I was approached by an architect who explained he had a very high profile client and thought my door knobs would be perfect for him. The client turned out to be Sir Elton John, which was a real thrill. We created door handles for his country property from solid cast bronze.”
Since 2005, Philip has designed 25 Yo! Sushi restaurants all over the UK and Ireland, from Harvey Nicks and Selfridges in London to stand alone restaurants in Dublin and Aberdeen. Among his typically inventive ideas were pebble-clad walls and half of a sawn-off ice cream van.
Philip is understandably proud of the extent of his company’s reach and ambition.
“Hopefully people will have a look at the show and realise there’s this little company in Nottingham with an extraordinary depth and breadth of vision. We’ve had a go at anything. We’re proof of what you can achieve if you believe in what you’re doing.”
“My design inspiration often comes from requiring a creative solution to a problem, helping to make life in general more interesting. All too often I find that the finishing touches on products and interiors are forgotten and mundane, and I believe even the mundane should be aesthetically pleasing and bring a smile with a sense of style. Fifteen years is a long time and a milestone worth marking.”
The retrospective will run for three weeks, from November 16, and will include some of the key pieces from the company’s history. For more information please visit www.PhilipWattsDesign.com
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