F amed for his minimalist aesthetic, John Pawson CBE has been one of the leading lights of British design for four decades. Now he and his wife Catherine have collaborated on a new book, Home Farm Cooking, published by Phaidon, inspired by their converted 17th century Cotswolds farm. Here, they talking about working together, developing recipes and bringing clean, contemporary design to the English countryside.
Let’s talk a bit about your new book, Home Farm Cooking. It is very rooted in your home life and the rhythm of the seasons in the English countryside. What made you both want to write the book?
Catherine Pawson: John wrote a cookbook 20 years ago with the professional chef and food writer, Annie Bell. The book was called Living and Eating and it became a sort of a cult book in the US. John’s longstanding publisher, Phaidon, had wanted to commission a John Pawson cook book for some time and so the idea developed of making a follow on to this first book. Because the new book is based around our farmhouse in the Cotswolds and the food we eat there, it made sense to keep the collaboration close to home and for us to work on it together.
Can you talk about your individual creative processes when embarking on a new project, and how do you best work together collaboratively?
John Pawson: Collaborating is not a problem, as we have different strengths. Catherine chose and produced all of the recipes, while I obviously designed the house and most of the cookware and the tableware, which we use everyday and which appears in the photographs. I also did all the washing up!
In terms of creative process, Catherine is an amateur home cook, so to write and test 100 recipes was a challenge, not least during lockdown. Inevitably there was a good deal of trial and error, although many of the recipes are old family favourites.
Catherine, you have talked about minimal intervention in the approach to your recipes; is this ethos echoed in the interior spaces of your home?
CP: The house might look as if there has been minimal intervention, but the reality is that each and every choice during the renovation was painfully made. John is a perfectionist, so it was a torturous process.
John, was your time in Japan formative in your embrace of minimalism? There is a quiet, simple elegance to the spaces you create, and light seems to play as important a role as the more solid elements - almost like a structure in its own right.
JP: I think my years in Japan in the 1970s clarified what I already knew, in terms of the forms of space that make sense to me. It strengthened my understanding of the potency of light and atmosphere as the building blocks of architecture.
When you are starting project, from where do you draw inspiration?
JP: At the beginning of a project, I take time to immerse myself in the site and its wider context. I try to learn everything that can be learnt – from the details of the outlook in every direction and the daily rhythms of the light, to the geology, flora, fauna, the orientation of the constellations and local vernacular building styles and materials. The initial ideas are a consequence of instinct and this amassing of detail.
John and Catherine Pawson's Picks from Upcoming Sales
Does art play a part in the formation of your home, and how would you recommend people integrate paintings, drawings and sculpture into an interior scheme harmoniously?
JP: Once I have done a property for a client, I am very relaxed about handing it over and allowing them to integrate any art or furniture into the spaces I have created for them. It is my personal preference not to have any art in the house, as I feel it distracts from the white walls. Catherine loves art, so we do have a few carefully chosen pieces by famous minimalist artists – Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain and Carl Andre.
John, you have talked about your dislike of curtains and sofas – do the two of you disagree on many things aesthetically?
JP: Catherine loves the 18th century, although ironically she was brought up in a very modern house in Johannesburg that her parents built in the 60s and I was brought up in Edwardian splendour in Yorkshire, so I guess she got to minimalism before me. Crucially we respect each other’s tastes and I love the boiled, undyed wool curtains which are in Home Farm – this is the first house I have ever designed that has curtains.
What is the building or space you have worked on that are most proud of, or is perhaps the most memorable?
JP: The new Cistercian monastery in the Czech Republic is the building of which I am most proud, along with the bridge across the lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Do you have a favourite recipe from the book that encapsulates spending time in your Cotswold garden, as well as your broader approach to life?
CP: My favourite recipe is the ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers and John loves the nettle risotto, made from nettles weeded out of the garden.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of your London studio?
JP: For the past year and more, there has been no such thing as a typical day in the studio. I have been based at Home Farm and the members of my team have been working from homes across London and beyond. Collaboration is a critical aspect of the life of an architectural practice and we have kept in close contact with one another by email, phone and video-conferencing, but it has been challenging. Of course some stages of the design narrative benefit from conditions of uninterrupted isolation, but nothing quite replaces the creativity that comes from face to face interaction – from shared time and space together.
Sotheby’s readers can save 20% on Home Farm Cooking by Catherine and John Pawson. Visit phaidon.com/homefarmcooking and enter code PHAIDON20 at check out.