Interview with Marc Newson

Living legend Marc Newson established himself on the international scene with his adaptability and his signature fluid lines. I caught up with Newson to discuss a collaboration with Caroma, his latest book, and not taking yourself too seriously. I produced a story for Vogue Living and a two-part interview for Canvas on FBi Radio in December 2012.

Marc Newson is to design what Madonna is to music –an undisputed international star. His designs can be found in the permanent collections of most major museums – MoMA in New York, London’s Design Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou. He also holds the auction record for the highest price paid for a living designer’s work – $2.1 million in 2010 for his Lockheed Lounge.


Newson also happens to be Australian. Born in Sydney in the 1960s, Newson left Australia in his mid-twenties. After stints in Japan and Paris he relocated his studio to London and has been based there since the late nineties. In the three decades since he left the country, his accent has softened into a transatlantic drawl with an Antipodean edge, but he remains the laconic Aussie, relaxed and easy to talk to. In reality it doesn’t matter much where he lives since he spends most of his time in transit. “Designers have to work everywhere now, that’s the nature of the business. It is just the nature of design to be international, and that has pluses and negatives, because you have to travel a lot.” 

Recently he was in Australia to promote a 22-piece bathroom collection that he has designed for Caroma and will be released to market in the next few months. 

He has a definite soft spot for bathrooms. He told Vogue Living in 2010 that the bathroom was his favourite room in the London apartment he shares with his wife Charlotte Stockdale and their two children. Photographs published by the magazine reveal it to be a showstopper of a space, with optically dazzling wall to ceiling marble and faintly old-fashioned bath and fittings.

“I love it because it is so big. Bathrooms are often small and slightly forgotten about rooms but they are probably one of the first rooms that you see in the morning and one of the last you see at night. So it is a really important place. From a technical point of view they are also the closest thing you would have to a machine in a domestic environment. They are very functional places, they have to work.”

Newson’s collection for Caroma is deceptively simple, the design hiding complex engineering that makes it possible to fix the tapware to the wall without back plates. The forms are familiar but mildly futuristic with aspects emblazoned in the tangerine orange that Newson has played with for years. There is a definite humour to the designs most evident in an almost bovine freestanding bath with a fully belly and legs reminiscent of hooves. The bath steers very close to being full-blown kitsch in its cartoonish curves, but ends up feeling more friendly than anything.

The humour he says was key. It was important to both him and Caroma to keep the designs relaxed. Balancing functionality while maintaining a lightness of touch however is one of the most difficult parts of his job. “At the end of the day these are serious products in that they perform a serious function but people don’t want to be surrounded by serious products. They need to be light in some way, they need to be friendly, they need to be liveable, they need to put a smile on people’s faces at the end of the day they need to not piss people off. All of those things are always at the back of my mind. I keep reigning it back to make sure my things don’t take themselves too seriously because I think a lot of design does and that’s the kind of design that I don’t like.” 

Throughout his career, Newson has created an astoundingly diverse cross-section of products with a raft of brands, from Capellini and Ford, to Nike and Qantas. A new book Marc Newson: Works, an encyclopedic style monograph of his work released by Taschen in September reveals the breadth of his ouvre. It documents his career in its entirety – from the false starts to the runaway successes. Over 600 pages long and limited to 1000 numbered and signed copies, each in a linen-covered slipcase, it’s the first monograph of his work to be released in a decade. It proves how with Newson it’s more a question of what he hasn’t designed that what he has. His portfolio includes interiors of restaurants and planes, salt and pepper shakers, watches, furniture, shoes, speedboats, even a spaceship.

He says much of his drive to design comes from being a frustrated consumer. “Very often it is a frustration that certain things don’t exist or that they do but are poorly designed and could be a hell of a lot better. A lot of the time there is no excuse for bad design.” Marc Newson, redesigning the world one item at a time.