A Sit Down with Dan Preston
British designer and maker Dan Preston’s multidisciplinary studio is accountable for some of London’s chicest restaurant interiors. Working closely with chef Ben Chapman, Preston brought his sculptural design ethos to Soho mainstay Kiln as well as Shoreditch’s Smoking Goat and Chapman’s newest outpost Brat. Turnbull sat down with Mr Preston to talk in detail about his bespoke commissions, his opinions on office furniture and the romance of canoeing.
Turnbull: How did you first get into design?
DP: Since I can remember, I’ve always felt the need to make things. It’s an inherent part of me and something I've always been passionate about. I don’t recall a day on which I decided to 'get into design', it's just that designing and making 3D objects, spaces and interiors, has evolved organically.
Turnbull: Tell us a bit more about some of your restaurant commissions. How do the briefs differ and what’s different about designing for working restaurants?
DP: I’ve been fortuitous enough to work on several great restaurant projects, for example, Brat, Kiln and Smoking Goat – and more recently, Paradise in Soho. Before beginning the design of the space or object, I want to understand the restauranteur's story, their menu and where the produce is coming from, for example. This informs how the restaurant operates, its potential use of materials and how objects will work within it. It’s a very immersive approach.
For example, Kiln was such a brilliant project. I’d worked with the owner, Ben Chapman, on several occasions previously and we began by taking sanctuary in my studio. We created a concept for the interior, materials and furniture by questioning 'what is it that makes a workshop'? A kitchen is a workshop, right? A chef has an idea that they wish to investigate. For them, it's something necessary to progress. For Kiln, the materials were the ingredients. Combined with some tools, processes and creativity, you end up with a magnificent dining experience. One that subsequently supports an incredible network of sustainable food suppliers from all over the UK, all enjoyed inside an inviting, complementary space.
For me, restaurants are a celebration of the most ancient of crafts – cooking. Designing restaurants is about creating meeting spaces that allow us to socialise and enjoy the experience, through considered design and use of materials.
Turnbull: You create truly beautiful bespoke pieces, is your approach to commissions different from that of personal projects?
DP: Not really. Initially, I studied Fine Art Sculpture, in some ways, I see the most personal of projects as sculpture, however, nowadays, I don’t see the need to draw lines between interiors, furniture and sculpture; they all feed each other.
Turnbull: With many of us working remotely, what three things would you look for in a home office chair? What chairs do you use in your office and studio?
DP: No castors – I’m not a fan of these. There should be something interesting that you find in its design, for example, how it uses materials. Finally, and most importantly, a chair should make you feel invited.
I choose to sit on a bench in the studio office, as opposed to a chair, the others prefer chairs though. In our workshop, we don’t have any seating – far too busy making!
Turnbull: Finally, what’s the story behind the canoe?
DP: Ha, the canoe... I made this while my wife was away visiting her parents in Austria. Upon her return, I collected her from Heathrow, and we drove straight to the source of the River Thames. From there, we canoed for three days through the very beautiful, and remarkably deserted, countryside. On the second evening, while camping wild under an ash tree, several butterflies danced around us before, eventually, one rested on my shoulder. At this point, I thought I should probably ask if Katharina fancied marrying me. Fortunately, she said yes. Although, this may have been to avoid an awkward subsequent day's canoeing.