In just a few short years London based architect turned designer Jen Taylor has built a brilliant brand for the home, encompassing bright colours and bold patterns that have been influenced by her unique multicultural outlook. Time to meet the lady behind Hokolo (which is an amalgamation of the words Hong Kong and London.)
How long did you work as an architect, and what were the best (or most enjoyable) parts of your former career?
I graduated in 1999 and quit my full time job beginning of 2012. I have worked on many projects over the 12 years but not all projects got built. To be able to follow a project from early design stage through to completion is pretty amazing. Design is just a small element of architecture, I actually really enjoyed working with different trades on site, developing construction details, learning how materials come together. To be able to walk into a building that I helped built is a pretty special feeling.
How has your training as an architect informed your approach to product design?
As an architect I love working with materials and considering how things come together. Now running my own design practice, I adopt the same ethos and process, turning initial concepts into tangible products.
What initially brought you to the UK and why did you decide to stay and make this your home?
As a typical 15 year old, I thought I was invincible, independent and dreamt of an adventure abroad so I begged my parents to send me to school in the UK. Oh boy, I was so wrong, I was really home sick and it took me a good 6 months to settle in! In 1997 I moved to London ( I studied in Surrey, Kent and Sheffield before) for my post graduate diploma in architecture and for the first time felt like I have found a city I can really relate to and feel at home. London is so full of energy and opportunities, really diverse and I just love it, I will never get bored of London, for me it’s the best city on the planet.
How often do you return to Hong Kong and what kind of things inspire your aesthetic sensibilities when you visit?
As my family lives in Hong Kong we try to go back once a year. In recent years there has been an increase focus on the arts and culture in Hong Kong. The West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world, blending art, education and open space. The M+ building, will be a world class Museum for Visual Culture, when complete in 2018. Growing up in Hong Kong we had very little exposure to art and culture so it is very exciting to see this big shift happening. There is also more sensibility towards our heritage, old buildings being restored rather than being pulled down. Last summer we visited PMQ, which used to be a police married quarters, now a creative hub with studios and shops. As my husband is also an architect, we are both very interested in architecture and urban living. Mei Ho House was one of the first social housing block constructed in the 1950s and is now a museum documenting the development of Hong Kong housing policies and in turns the way of life through the decades. In a fast moving city where most people see Hong Kong as a financial hub and consumer haven, it’s really good to reflect back to our history and culture. It’s funny that I have become a tourist in my own hometown. I particularly love all the reference back to the 50s 60s period of old Hong Kong and you can now see that nostalgia filtering through interior designs in cafes and retro vintage shops popping up in Hong Kong. It’s the coexistence of old and new which I always love.
When I first encountered your brand you were making baby clothes – what prompted the move into interior design and what kind of products do you most enjoy designing?
The very first pattern I designed was the crown and orb while I was doing a screen printing course in Brixton. At the time our son was 3 and I thought it might be nice to print my design on a T-shirt for him. It was how it all started with children clothes but I soon realised many people who like my designs do not have children. My patterns were never really designed for children, it was the products the patterns were on that were limiting. So I started printing my designs on accessories and homeware which appeal to a broader audience. Design and interior is much more aligned with my architecture background, I was actually a bit clueless with fashion, so that was definitely the right move.
So far the products I enjoy most are the woollen products, the knitted scarves, woven blankets and fabric. The designs started off as simple geometric surface patterns, I then worked closely with textile designers to develop the designs. My manufacturers are based in Scotland and depending on the loom they use my surface patterns will be adapted according. We will test out different weave structures. Although computers are used at the design stage, we can only see the final results when the sample blanket comes out from the loom. There are some degree of trial and error to get the desired results. I just love the tactile quality of wool and the reference to the traditional textile heritage of this country.
You have recently launched a range of woven textiles – how are these put together and where are they made up?
See above. The cushions are then made up in London by Working Well Trust, a vocational training social enterprise working with mental health patients. The lampshades are made up by independent makers in England and I have a couple of upholsterers based in South London helping me with the vintage chairs.
What new products do you have planned?
I am currently working with Make International on a range of ceramic tableware based on the English Breakfast collection. I will also be sourcing mid-century chairs (has always been a hobby of mine) and restoring them with beautiful fabric (both Hokolo and other designs)
I understand you are curating a special exhibition of products designed by architects, can you tell us more?
We are a collective called Katalog, currently we are 8 designers who are also architects. Some of us are still practising architecture. I first had the idea of doing a group show after meeting fellow designers at fairs and events when we realised we are all architects, they are so many of us! A couple of them are my ex-colleagues who started designing products as a creative outlet from the daily stressful job. As we all came from a similar design background we shared a distinctive design aesthetic. I am hoping to curate more shows with different designers taking part in the future. The architecture scene is very small and we often crossed path with other design disciplines, it’s exciting to collaborate and share our passion. The first show is at the Gallery at Craft Central, 33-35 St. John’s Square, 23-28 June.
What have been the highlights of Hokolo so far?
I am a people person, it’s amazing how many people I have met since setting up Hokolo who have inspired and shaped the directions of the brand, many I am now working closely with. From designers, manufacturers, retailers, customers, bloggers, journalists to mentors, I am so grateful for everyone’s support.
Looking back on the Sunday morning I created my first pattern on the iPad I have never thought in the following 3 years I would have developed a strong collection of products which have made a lot of people smile along the way. I love seeing photos of my customers using Hokolo products and then one day I bumped into someone using the Hokolo tote bag on the tube, I couldn’t resist approaching the lady and said hi. I might have made her jump!
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