From a mesmerizing table that mirrors ocean depths to a playful glass table top being supported by balloons, the name of Duffy London is unmistakably linked to quirky furniture designs that all carry founder Christopher Duffy’s signature. We chatted with Duffy about the origins of his design studio and how he constantly comes up with original ideas in a crowded design world.
An idea that was sparked in Duffy’s own kitchen in 2002 has since expanded into a spacious studio located in East London, where Duffy and his team craft their innovative furniture pieces from eco-friendly materials by hand and made to order. Despite the fact that the studio’s quirky design pieces have the ability to transport you back to childhood, Duffy emphasizes that the studio’s success all comes down to hard work: from customer service, design development and manufacturing to packing and logistics, furniture finishing and photography, everything at Duffy London is done in-house.
Since the launch of the studio’s first product, the Glo Canvas range, Duffy names its most popular products to date as the Swing Tables, UP! Balloon Tables, and the Abyss Table range.
Tell us the story of how you launched your design career.
Christopher Duffy: “I studied design at college and then at university. After uni, I worked as a furniture maker before taking a year out to travel. After I returned, I landed a job as a furniture buyer for a chain of stores. While I was working the buyer’s job I started my own company, making my own products and design, which I first sold to myself as a buyer for the stores. I also had two market stalls, one in Camden and one at Spitalfields, and quickly expanded to selling into three other London furniture design shops. As soon as I was making just enough money to survive on, I went full time and ran the company from my bedroom and kitchen in the shared flat I was living in at the time. After a year of working this way, I opened my first studio in east London.”
"As soon as I was making just enough money to survive on, I went full time and ran the company from my bedroom and kitchen."
The designs of Duffy London always seem to challenge perception by experimenting with gravity and illusion. Can you tell us a bit more about your design philosophy?
Christopher Duffy: “I simply design what catches my imagination at the time. My only philosophy is to design something that gets me excited and to be as original as it is possible to be. I then send it out into the world to see if it reflects the personality of anyone else, and to see whether they feel that owning one of my pieces would help them to express who they are in some way. Ideally I want my work to find a home in other people’s environments.”
How do you typically approach a new creative brief?
Christopher Duffy: “I don’t usually work with a brief, I keep a work diary and on the weekend pages I sketch any new ideas that come to mind, ranging from anything from future transport vehicles, to buildings, to furniture. I then develop the designs I get a strong feeling about and for which we have the resources to manufacture into real life products, which can then be purchased.”
Your designs have an unmistakably quirky touch, and in describing them, you often use quotes by famous writers like this one by George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Who or what inspires you?
Christopher Duffy: “Anything and everything inspires me, and it all goes into my diary. Most of the time the quotes come after the designs are completed, however the quote I used with the Abyss Table – ‘And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you’ by Friedrich Nietzsche – was going through my mind when I was designing the piece. It was actually a friend of mine that sent the quote to me saying I should put it with this design, which then locked it in and confirmed it for me. I told her at the time that she had read my mind!”
What does a typical day look like for you?
Christopher Duffy: “Get up, go through emails over coffee, go to work, sit at my desk answering emails for a few hours, then oversee each designer’s work and progress on each new product we are working on at that time. Then I check the quality of each new piece we are assembling and shipping that day, check the quality of the packing and the crates we are getting ready to ship, check that each component that has been sent to us, chase suppliers, chase shippers and look at new releases we are preparing. There is usually time in the day for a 20-minute lunch break and five cups of tea throughout the day, while sitting at the computer, of course. One afternoon per month, I may have an hour or two to sketch out and start some new concepts and designs.”
You’ve included ‘London’ in your company name – what does the city mean to you?
Christopher Duffy: “Well, I was born in London and grew up here. My family on both sides goes back approximately five generations, all Londoners. I live in a flat in the center of London, on the banks of the Thames. London runs through me and I draw everything from it. I’m not so much from the UK as I am from London. London is a city of the world with every culture of the world living here and contributing to it, so there is a lot to draw from. One of my closest friends even calls me Mr. London!”
"London is a city of the world with every culture of the world living here and contributing to it, so there is a lot to draw from, even one of my closest friends calls me Mr. London!"