MEET Zoë Mowat
Zoë Mowat prefers to define her design aesthetic as a language rather than a style—when examining her body of work, one is immediately fluent in her language of color, form and unlikely combinations of materials.
Inspired by her mother, a sculptor.
Works within a design language.
Teaches at University of Oregon.
"My mother taught me how to speak in three dimensions at a young age. The exposure to her work, to the process of making, the consideration of scale, proportion, material, and philosophy, was incredibly influential to me."
These diverse works reflect the hungry mind of their curator. Founder of his eponymous design workshop, Saif has distilled his diverse interests into coherent designs that, though restrained, embody the “humour and seriousness” with which he approaches his work.
Designing opposite the pervading sensibility in India— ‘Jugaad,’ a culture of work-around solutions— Saif is part of a generation focused on quality and longevity. In his own words, it's a group of “avant-garde designers with fresh perspective, taking a sensible and progressive attitude towards design.” With architecture skills honed in the classroom and mechanical skills perfected on the racetrack, Saif’s socially-conscious design looks towards a bright future in which technology and craftsmanship peacefully coincide.
Your mom was a sculptor, and you also wanted to be one when you were young but decided to become a furniture designer instead. Can you remember the situation that triggered that decision?
I think it was more of a creeping realization than a clear lightbulb moment, but I found my place in design at the intersection of sculpture and architecture. I was always engrossed in both, and I think it was when I recognized that similar principles—the manipulation of form and material, refined planning and the consideration of space, can be applied to a very direct, very human scale: furniture. The intimacy of this scale and the immediate feedback that's possible when interacting with objects—essentially the human element—is ultimately what I was drawn to.
How did growing up with a mother that has an art related profession influence you in the past and how about your work nowadays?
Whether this was directly or indirectly (likely both), my mother taught me how to speak in three dimensions at a fairly young age. The exposure to her work, to the process of making, the consideration of scale, proportion, material, and philosophy, was incredibly influential to me and my practice early on and it continues to be. Playing with these elements in my own work feels natural at this point, and I still rely on the sculptor in me throughout my design process. I trust my intuition as much as I trust the data and the research to make design decisions. My father is a psychiatrist, so I often joke about how my future in design was almost predetermined. Either way I have found a nice balance between their worlds: artful output concerned with the human experience.
How did you find your personal style?
I tend to call this a language in lieu of a style, and it’s one that i’ve been exploring, refining, and developing through the years. I imagine that I was influenced by my mother and perhaps recognized and interpreted her own expression as a language or way of communicating. I think I initially identified the components (or vocabulary) while I was in design school and quite simply, I began to explore and manipulate the proportional relationships between material, color aund form alongside design function and the human element that I referenced earlier. This expression isn’t necessarily formulaic and I rely on each new design brief to guide the process (and language) along.
Why did you decide to start your own business instead of joining in a bigger company?
I realized that I needed the space and the freedom to explore this design language and expression and so I decided to start my own studio.
How did you finance it?
In the beginning I was incredibly selective in the projects that I took on—I still am, however, I learned how to say no to the projects that weren’t suitable to the development of my studio (which was often challenging). Instead I sought out and chose to work with clients who really trusted my vision and approach, and from here I was able to develop new works that would help fund the development of future designs.
Looking back at starting your own company: What was the most difficult situation here and how did you solve it?
Managing all aspects of a business is a challenge, especially for a creative person who just wants ‘to make things.’ This was a steep learning curve for me at the start but I've grown more adept at balancing the less alluring parts of my day (administration) with what I prefer (designing).
You are also a teacher. What new things have you learned yourself in the past month?
I really enjoy teaching and I learn a lot from my students. It’s a very active process where you are watching the learning happen and evolve in real time. The ability to witness a student’s engagement, their questioning and thought process, can be incredibly refreshing.
You are based in Montreal but staying at Oregon at the moment: How do you manage to keep your business running while you are gone?
It’s possible with a very organized schedule from day-to-day and a lot of emails to a number of very dependable individuals in various timezones that i’ve grown to trust and rely on over the years. My design process and practice has taught me to balance a number of varied projects at once and I enjoy that i’m never doing the same thing every day. Teaching in Oregon has been a good opportunity for me to step back and think about design instead of only simply producing it–to consider the inputs as well as the outputs in the design process. And it’s been wonderful to miss out on Montreal’s trauma-inducing winter months!
How did you first discover OTHR, and how did working in new technologies affect the way you thought about your design?
I heard about OTHR during in New York during Design Week last year. It was nice to work with materials that I was familiar with—porcelain and metal—but in a new way. I had to recalibrate what I knew about these materials in this new context, which then fed into my design thinking and process.