Interview with José

Today’s interview is with the very talented José, a designer who is lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Sydney. I wanted to feature José for several reasons, but largely because he is such an incredibly creative and interesting person – and he channels that creative energy into the things he loves, like decor, art and fashion. José also has a unique perspective on using the many beautiful, special items he owns everyday, for everyday things (like eating KFC wings, clearly a man after my own heart). You’ll see this philosophy and his overall aesthetic in the photos and interview to come – enjoy meeting José!

Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?

I’m still figuring out that first bit, but essentially I think I’m a hopeless aesthete! I’m a graphic designer by trade, and as a creative I tend to wear many hats, one being creative direction, another creative copy writing, and a smaller hat runs around in search of screen wipes. I like most of my hats. I also do some furniture and object design on the side, for the time being just for myself, tinkering in the combined laboratory that are my sketchbooks, dads garage, hardware stores, cabinetmakers and metal fabricators. I’m really just getting my bearings and having fun with physical design at the moment. And I live in Sydney.

José in fuzzy yellow socks and beloved Haut a Courroies 45 travel bag

A gift for José’s grandfather: Su Taller (your workshop), hand-painted on hand-made Royal Tichelaar Makkum tiles

You live in Sydney, Australia. What are some unique things about your city?

Sydney doesn’t have much of a literal influence on me as far as design and style influences go, nor does any one city – but I’m not the greatest follower of trends. That said, key international current and future trends are evident here, particularly the smart sporty/adventurer thing, as Sydney is a very active, physical, and somewhat casual city where people increasingly have less separation between their personal, professional and physical lives.

This idea is a big influence in my overall design thinking right now, particularly the idea of a certain light, sporty efficiency and punchy visual communication. Sydney is a wonderful place to live! That go-get ‘em Aussie lifestyle really is evident here, and a trip most anywhere in the world always never fails to remind me of the generally upbeat, positive nature of home – that’s a trend that I gladly follow.

Hermes coloring book

Being a graphic designer is a dream job for many people. Can you describe what you do day to day?

I work in a fairly conventional studio setting, with my head plastered to a computer screen most of the day. My day-to-day involves liaising with clients and taking briefings for projects, sculling many many cups of tea throughout the day, and generally working up between one and three concepts for presentation after some development time. I work within a government organization, where a lot of my work is branding for major city events.

José’s Chinese New Year work

Some of what I do I can’t divulge, but one of my biggest projects annually is Sydney’s Chinese New Year Festival brand, and associated campaign. The Festival is the largest celebration of Chinese New Year and the Lunar New Year outside of Asia, and I’ve been lucky enough to create the brand for three festivals over the past four years. I’ve an Ox, Tiger and Rabbit under my belt (yelp!) and am currently finalizing a concept for 2013’s Year of the Snake. It’s really the one project I work on that is the most fun, because of all the research I get to do into the animal of the year, Chinese and global cultures, and key influences from all sorts of places.

Plus I get to draw animals! That fact alone fills me with a child-like glee, I’m barely ashamed to admit. It’s also the one project that wrings me out, as I create every piece of collateral; from street flags, advertisements, to props and banners used as part of the festival and parades – a pretty unusual scenario for a project this size. I often give myself a little break at the end of it, this time heading to the U.S. to visit family and generally spend time away from my RSI-inducing Mac.

Home-made wooden ladder, silicone and metal wall hooks of José’s design, Comme des Garçons Homme Plus t-shirt,Vitra cork stool, Hermès silk scarves and stable bucket filled with sketches and material studies

I also know that you are a furniture and object designer. How do you approach your work, and how does that influence your personal decor? 

My design work is pretty unconventional, and would probably be better described as implements, rather than furnishings or decor in the conventional sense. There’s an emphasis on metamorphosis, modularity in a lot of what I make, with a strong emphasis on the hand-made in smaller pieces, and an idea of physicality, of a user being challenged by a piece of furniture traditionally intended to serve the user, in the larger. I also love re purposing, remixing (or “hacking”) objects, and archetypes. Giving them new guises, going so far as personification. My projects are gradually getting bigger and more challenging, which I’m really enjoying. I’ve been hand-making PVC sheets the past few weekends, just tests for now. It’ll either evolve into an upholstery project, or maybe clothing. I like to think of myself as a one-man laboratory.

The shot above of my baby pink “In the Pocket” scarf “ghost” shows how I’ll keep a scarf at hand in the colder months. Though my personal decorating taste leans towards the sparse and utalitarian, sometimes I’ll place something on display like this just to stir creative thought.

John Lobb (Hermes) City II Oxfords, Saint-Louis vase, Saint-Louis Tommy highball glass

Can you share a little bit about your wardrobe?

My wardrobe is kind of all over the place. My staples are indestructible clothes that is cemented in utility (generally), because if I’m not on my bicycle, I’m brushing up against paint or materials; both being regular activities that can be damaging to “investment” clothing. Because of the cycling, most days I’m in sub- $40 Nike, Adidas or otherwise brandless casual shorts and only wear my “good” trousers when I’m not biking.

Jose in a silk + cotton tee by Lanvin with Haut a Courroies 45 travel bag

I’m generally super casual. Oh, and I’m rather kid-like in that most of my footwear is made up of sneakers. Mostly Converse Chuck Taylors, some Nike Blazers, with some Martin Margiela, Hermès (Pierre Hardy) and Raf Simons thrown into the mix. I got my first pair of very nice, very grown-up John Lobb oxfords earlier in the year, and am working on wearing them more regularly. My “nicest” clothes; a few McQueen, Prada, Lanvin shirts, Hermès, Versace, Comme des Garçons sweaters and jackets.

My favorite piece right now is a Carhhart x Adam Kimmel artist overshirt, that fits more like an overcoat. on account of “small” American sizing. I’ve just folded and pressed the sleeves and now wear it all the time, it’s pretty awesome.

Devore sweater in menthe, Mosaique au 24 creamer, Barenia tape measure, Barenia Swiss card, gold Filou glove holder

What are some items and designers that you collect?

I’m a big fan of Raf Simons aesthetic not specifically in the fashion sense, but for the supremely clever, efficient use of line and cut. I think he’s an example of very intelligent designer. If I had much more disposable income, and the frame to do it justice, I’d buy much more of his trousers, shorts and jackets, no doubt.

Like many people these days, Hermès and the orange box has me hostage. I’m a little embarrassed by this admission only because Hermès is such an easy, accessible gateway to “the beautiful object” of almost every description for the aesthetically-inclined. One example – a search for a meaningful, special gift often ends for me at Hermès, where the allure of any of their items made so well sometimes obscures the fact that another (certainly less expensive!) item elsewhere may make a better gift. So, I think the brand, like many high brands, is almost fast food for the luxury-hungry masses. But hey, sometimes fast food is great. I have something like 130 orange boxes stashed away as paper proof that I’m that fast food junkie.

Hermes Les Maisons Enchateès bowl

My favourite Hermès things are most definitely my natural Barenia leather and crinoline (horsehair) Haut a Courroies 45 travel bag (it has been my holy grail item for over a decade, and I finally found the right one last year), and my Les Maisons Enchanteès large salad bowl that I used pretty much every day to eat my dinner from. My sister calls it my dog bowl, and I’m not disputing that.

Hermes Kachinas GM shawl

Are there any designers that you find overpriced? 

Value is such a relative thing, so I’m not inclined to negate any designer for their pricing or the commonly perceived value in their items. If I had to give an example, I’m a little saddened that classic black Prada is no longer made in Italy, particularly when I see the holes under the arms of all those awesome-fit $180 t-shirts. Otherwise, I don’t dwell on these things, as I have better things to do.

Hermes oak bucket used as planter

What are some key pieces for a home that you think are great pieces to buy and invest in?

I don’t really believe in key pieces, or must-haves. I think it’s up to the individual to determine what they believe to be important to them, what they feel they should invest in. To me, it was a media base; so I splurged on my Vitra Level 34 TV bench that houses all my media needs in a very unobtrusive, beautiful design, plus I had a custom top made as the off-the-shelf option wasn’t 100% to my liking.

I’ve got a stack of $14 IKEA Rast pine nightstands (possibly my favourite design of all time) reconfigured into tall shelving on top of this. So I’d suggest that any person simply evaluate the activity they spend most their time doing at home (for me it’s eating, lying down, watching Netflix!) and spend their hard-earned accordingly.

Biking with Sac a Depeches 38 Thalassa Blue Courchevel

What are some of your other hobbies and passions?

I’m a super keen cyclist (non-competitive), for fun and for my basic commute. I’ve rather an anti-car stance, and figure that as long as I have legs that can walk, run or pedal me to a place I’m gonna use them. Cycling is the one thing I need for mental well being, so I guess you could call it a passion of mine. Actually, let’s call it my oxygen. I cook a lot. I’m a keen carnivore, and roast a mean slab of animal at least once a week. I’ve been doing the Warrior Diet (this is not a plug!) on and off for the past year, and it really encourages voracious eating of “good” foods at dinner time. There’s a definite ritual of making and eating the meal that is actually rather fun. It usually ends with me sitting cross-legged on the floor eating from a big bowl, watching a movie.

And I like movies, of most genres. And video games. From the eating and feeding thing comes a bit of an addiction to tableware, which I’ve been collecting for years. First came an attraction to Iittala’s classic Teema pieces, which I’ve accumulated a little of, with no two pieces in the same colour. Then came fancier Rosenthal, namely Coup, designed by my favourite designer, Konstantin Grcic, then came (surprise, surprise) a spell with Hermès and La Siesta Hermès “Asiatique” pieces which are really nice, followed by rather the ultimate with Cristal Saint-Louis for barware.

Large porcelain tureen, circa 1970, by Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg

…and the incomparable Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg, which is really less tableware than the finest hand made and painted art object. White gold. I save these special occasions, namely eating KFC wings from, cross legged on the floor, every other day. The designer/hacker in me really wants to transform these pieces. I’m thinking I’ll design and clad a tureen I just bought in garish NASCAR-style decals, completely contradicting the baroque style of the pink flowers. Traveling is also a burgeoning passion of mine. I’ve seen a fair bit of Asia over the past two years. A long-awaited trip to the U.S. is next year to visit my brother and relatives, then I’ll work on a grand tour of Europe.

Porcelain pharmacist’s jar, circa 1850, by Porzellan Manufaktur Nyphenburg, ceramic spoon and candlestick holder by Royal Tichelaar Makkum, silver-plate military cup by Hermès

I’m a bit of an amateur photographer in my own mind,too. Amateur because the only camera I’ve ever operated is an iPhone! I can style a photo just fine, I’m just not all that technically minded and don’t know my aperture from an aperitif.

Hermes scarf used as a picnic blanket

Finally – please share something surprising about yourself!

I don’t watch television, ever. BUT I do catch Keeping Up with the Kardashians every now and again. It’s like a warm, gooey thirty-minute lobotomy session, guaranteed – sometimes a person needs that.


I wanted to end with that last image, because to me it just shouts José – the whimsical nature, the creativity, and the use of very luxurious objects (in this case an Hermes scarf) in ordinary, day to day ways. So often we put luxury items up on a pedestal, and it’s refreshing to meet somebody who is so free and honest in adapting these items for their everyday life. And how cool was that Hermes tub-as-planter? Thank you very much to José for sharing some of his passions, his life, and his fantastic art with us here today. For more of Jose, you can find him on Facebook, here.

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  • adele
    October 17, 2012 at 8:13 am

    What an interesting guy! I used to work with a lot of graphic designers & they always had such a great sense of style.
    Happy Wednesday Hun xoxo
    Enter my Michael Kors Giveaway!

    • Katherine
      October 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

      I work with graphic designers too…they’re very fun to work with and a great balance to all the biz people I work with otherwise!

  • Irina
    October 17, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Katherine, my name is Irina and I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now:) I think this is by far the best interview you’ve done. Amazingly funny person!
    Thank you !

    • Katherine
      October 17, 2012 at 8:39 am

      Irina, thank you – you are too kind! Yes Jose is incredibly funny and I adored having him. Thanks for your kind comments!

  • Tabitha
    October 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Fascinating, he really is a true aesthete, it comes out in everything he does and everything he surrounds himself with.

    • Katherine
      October 17, 2012 at 9:37 am

      You hit the nail on the head Tabitha – he is a true aesthete!

  • Ammu
    October 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Wonderful! He seems so cool and self-assured. And I love his attention to the beauty of everyday objects.

    • Katherine
      October 17, 2012 at 11:41 am

      Yes – he makes me want to drag out all “my precious” items and for them to get some more use!

  • Prêt à Porter P
    October 17, 2012 at 11:18 am

    hey alber elbaz watches the karadashians too for the same reason. so he’s in good company.

    • Katherine
      October 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

      LOL. Love this, thank you for adding this tidbit 🙂

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    October 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    This is such a fun read. I love his total disregard for convention and just pedal (pun intended!) to his own rhythm. I must show my husband this interview. He’s crazy about cycling and all the paraphernalia that accompanies the sport as well as John Lobb and suits.

  • Kiki
    October 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    That’s a great interview, he seems such an interesting character.

  • audrinajulia
    October 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    He had so many precious items. Such an interesting person.

  • englishvers
    October 18, 2012 at 3:34 am

    I so enjoyed this interview – such an interesting and creative fellow.
    His spirit shines thru here.

  • Anouka
    October 18, 2012 at 10:48 am

    A very interesting person; I can relate to his aesthetic sense. I like his creativity that is shining through these photos. Great to read that he is not ashamed to admit that he watches KUWTK.


  • José
    October 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks again Kat for the chance to share 🙂 And thanks everyone! I just figure if a person is lucky enough to own something of beauty, of a wonderful make, they should be open to having a swell time using it any which way they please, every day they’re living and breathing. I sure didn’t sign up to be a hyper-cautious life-long museum curator of my own possessions. How boring!

    • Katherine
      October 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Hi Jose, love your statements 🙂 Thanks for coming back and commenting! You were wonderful.

  • Desert heels
    October 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I love the fact that this man loves and abuses his Hermès bowl. It’s so honest and brilliant that it’s not propped in a pedestal behind glass doors with spotlights for display (as a conversation piece).
    I enjoyed this interview. Thanks!