When he moved back from Denmark to Hertfordshire Adam Christopher super-sized his work, swapping a career designing tiny plastic toys at LEGO for giant flower pots. We were intrigued by this rebellion, and fascinated by his ability to grow huge concrete pots from small origami maquettes…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Adam, and I’m a designer from St Albans in Hertfordshire. I recently broke out of the 20s club (I am now 30) and I am pushing forward with my design and manufacture company specialising in custom and off-the-shelf concrete feature products. After studying car design at university in 2008, I did a placement for Ford and then got a job with LEGO over in Denmark. I’ve had a close connection with the country ever since as my girlfriend, Marie, is still studying and living over there. It’s a great source of inspiration to follow the Nordic design culture.
What did you do at LEGO?
I designed toys for several different lines, including Racer, Ninjago and World Racers. The first project I did was the air pump shooter for Power Racers. People often ask: “How can you design LEGO? Isn’t it already done?” But the quick answer is no. It’s a lot more complex than people think and depending on which department you work in, the creativity varies from pen on paper to problem solving. You can build the most amazing stuff, but it has to be buildable for a certain age group, logical for building instructions and to a particular price. The chaps in Technics are a different breed with more technical degrees – the complexity of some of their models blows even internal LEGO designers’ minds.
Has your experience at Lego influenced your own work?
I would say that when I first left, my curvaceous sculptures were a bit of a rebellion against the rigid rules and straight lines of the LEGO platform, but I find myself more influenced by the country than by LEGO. There are some great design brands like HAY and Le Klint that offer me better inspiration, however I do love the LEGO idea of a basic simple platform to create many things and I think it could be used elsewhere.
Is there a difference in attitude to craft and design here and in Denmark?
There is a massive difference. The Danes quite happily pay a fortune for stuff as long as it looks ‘flot’ (pretty). They keep their designs forever as their style rarely changes. My girlfriend’s parents have had their Hans Wegner dining chairs since 1983 and they are still in excellent condition – and still cool! They are just average Danes, but the average English person would faint at spending £700 for one dining chair. It’s not just the big items either – they love their little ornaments too, like Kay Bojesen’s range of wooden animals (£11,500 for the largest monkey).
When we’re in Denmark, Marie and I always go out in Aarhus and look around the design shops, which you can’t really do in England because they aren’t as prevalent outside of London. There has been little in the way of Nordic style evolution in the last 50 years though, and while it is great and very stylish, it is everywhere in Denmark and in some ways you get a little desensitised to it, which is a shame. It could do with a bit more variety, I think.
What is the inspiration behind your current collection?
My current collection is inspired by origami and lamp manufacturer Le Klint. I started to think about producing a range of flower pots last year as I didn’t see anything particularly striking and stylish in the market. I wanted something that tapped into the expanding craft scene, but with no knowledge of wood and not enough money to get my designs milled out of high density foam, I took to making models of pots in origami paper. My studio is a mess of white paper maquettes, stars, folded wall art, pots and all sorts!
Can you talk us through one of your pieces from start to finish?
The Kronen Bowl was originally folded from a sheet of A3 paper, which I enlarged and printed out (on to about 50 sheets of A4 – a nightmare to align!). I then traced these fold lines on to the sheet material and scored them to fold. This model became the master I used for the mould. The moulds all take time to make (especially for the flower pot which has 10 sections!) and involve at least four layers of fibreglass. Once a mould is ready, I polish it with lamb’s wool, so it’s ready for reproductions.
Mixing the concrete for the pot can take a while too as the quantities are precise: concrete doesn’t stick to walls very well when it’s wet and I’ve had a long battle with that, but I now have a mix that is runny enough to avoid too many air bubbles but still stays on the mould walls. Kronen, like all my work, is made from a double skin. The surface coat has no fibreglass in so it looks nicer, and this is the first layer to be added. I take a handful at a time and massage the mix on to the surface and corners, while trying to get rid of as many bubbles as possible – which is why each pot takes about five hours to make. I then repeat the process but with fibreglass in it to give extra strength until the thickness is about 15mm. The pot is left to cure for two days before being released from the mould.
Once it’s dry, I inspect the flower pot for any imperfections like large air bubbles and fill them in. I like to leave the smaller ones because I think they add to the character of the design. When I’ve added drainage holes, rust-effect sealing or tanking, the pot is ready to go!
What are the qualities of concrete that you find particularly appealing?
In all honesty when I started using it I thought it was going to be easy, but it soon became clear that it wasn’t! So I saw it as a challenge to get a material doing something it wasn’t meant to do. I find it fascinating that there are so many additives you can add to concrete to make it work in different ways. I have one that makes it runny, but it’s a powder. So you take a damp mix of concrete which still looks pretty dry, add a dry powder and it come out wet and runny – I think that’s just brilliant!
Can you describe your studio?
I used to have a tent down the garden but that blew away! I wasn’t sad to see it go because it was freezing out there – I remember doing mixes and sculptures when it was snowing, which wasn’t fun! After the next door neighbours took delivery of my upside down tent, my dad decided he needed another shed, so I now work in a large shed which is very nice, and wind proof.
What do you listen to while you work?
I love a bit of deep house or old trance from the early 2000s/late ’90s. I quite often find it hard to crack on when a tune comes on!
How would you spend your perfect day?
Well, I only get to see Marie once a month, so I think it would be a nice picnic on a hill top with her, just chatting. Spending quality time with her would be my perfect day.