John Pawson is sat in his wife Catherine’s study at Home Farm when he dials in over Zoom. The couple’s renovated farmhouse, located in a small village in the Cotswolds, is the apotheosis of Spartan living. Here, sharp lines of design, a suffusion of natural light and the finest materials do magical things together, ushering in a sense of grace, warmth and visual clarity using an artistic language of subtraction that has been the British architect’s signature for more than four decades. The study, however, is slightly different.
Dominated by a large red glossy table and floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books, it’s perfectly tidy but patently “un-Pawson” – by his standards, it’s terribly cluttered. “My wife [an interior designer] is the exact opposite to me,” he said. “I love her madly but she builds this whole history next to the bed – magazines, dog toys, reading glasses... all ten pairs seem to end up there. She loves books, but she also likes looking at their spines. To me, it’s a reminder that we have 35 travel books on Tanzania, most of which are out of date.”
Pawson is as prolific in architecture as he is in the world of product design. He’s applied his purist principles to iconic buildings the world over from private residences, airport lounges and luxury boutiques to restaurants, exhibition spaces and places of worship including St John at Hackney, his first UK church completed in 2020. On a smaller scale, he’s emboldened everyday objects, including door handles, tableware, benches and lighting, with this same reductive and sleek approach.
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His branch of minimalism has a calm and immersive quality that arches seamlessly from secular to spiritual realms as proven by his ground-breaking 1995 Calvin Klein boutique in New York and his ongoing work for the monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic.
Now, Pawson has turned his hand to the restful sanctuary that is the bedroom with a newly designed wooden bed frame and matching set of bedding made in collaboration with Tekla, marking his third collaboration with the Danish homeware brand. The first projects were dedicated to two limited series of luxury blankets, which, like this third release, were stylistically influenced by the interplay of light, colour, shadow and space in and around his Oxfordshire home.
In this case, the sheet, duvet cover and pillowcases are crafted from 100% off-white cotton with a delicately crumpled texture like linen to evoke Home Farm’s palette of timber, stone and plaster, and especially the way natural light dances on these surfaces. “The bed linen starts off in the state that it finishes in, which I think is very attractive,” he said of this tactile detail.
Meanwhile, the linear bed frame is set low to the ground with an elegantly slatted base, echoing his love of “silent” furniture. “Beds can be these big clumsy things that fill a space, and they rather spoil a room,” he explained. “The more discreet the bed, the better the space, in my opinion. Crucially, the design has an adjustable headboard that can be raised and lowered thanks to a conspicuous brass hinge. I do hate headboards. There’s a sort of finality to them. They create an L-shape that stops the eye immediately, so the idea was to have one that you could fold away during the day.”
Although a mattress is not included in this Tekla collaboration, Pawson said he chooses his with great care and attention: “I particularly like horse hair and I don’t like springs.”
With sleep hygiene being such a hot topic, are there any other no-nos in the Pawson rulebook of bedroom design? “Catherine often complains that there aren’t enough sockets near the bed,” he said. “There’s one for the light and a spare, which I think is double what you need. So what turns up? A huge adapter with six sockets for the hairdryer and everything else!” he says laughing again, just as Catherine pops into the room to reclaim her handbag from the red table. “Oh look, here’s the boss!” he says affectionately.
Despite the lack of electrical sockets, the couple clearly still have that special spark. And in terms of neatness, they may not be so different after all, as Pawson suggested: “The reason I love visual order is because I am so disordered myself. My brain is busy and I can’t fix for long on the same thing.” No wonder, then, that the more you take in his striking minimalism the more it reveals itself to be an expression of complex thought.
As the architect once famously said: “Minimalism is not defined by what is not there, but by the rightness of what is, and the richness with which this is experienced.” That’s definitely a poignant message to sleep on.
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