Design Catalysts: Kjell Grant

April 7, 2009

One of 10 designers profiled in the Design Catalysts issue of (inside) we ask Kjell Grant about his life and work as a major player in the Australian design scene over the past decades.

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JH: You studied fine arts and sculpture initially. What propelled you into architecture and product design?
KG: During my stint at RCA London, I observed that my teachers seemed not to make much money from sculpture, even the luminaries, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. But that was back in 1947/48. I needed a profession, so I went to IIT Chicago and Moholy’s School of Design.

JH: Working with Raymond Loewy in the early 1950s in the US must have been an exciting experience for a young designer. How did this time influence your career?
KG: Enormously – Loewy was a master entrepreneur and negotiator; I learned so many skills from him.

JH: How and why did you become involved with the specialised designing of auditoria interiors throughout Australia?
KG: I’ve enjoyed a long, happy and incredibly lucky life. My career has consisted of a series of lucky happenings (I used to call them accidents). One such began with a beaten-up cinema seat from Hoyts sent to a client of mine for costing. I proposed a new design, which resulted in a flood of cinema and theatre seating, starting with the Hoyts Adelaide complex, the Hoyts Bourke Street complex, the Festival Theatre Adelaide, the Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne and concert halls in Tokyo and Osaka.

JH: As an educator, if you had the power, what would you like to change in the present education system and why?
KG: I would introduce design thinking and three-dimensional modelling/sculpture to children from an early age. Students would be greatly advantaged in so many other areas of learning, as well as life experience generally.

JH: Of all the products you have designed, which are you most proud of and why?
KG: Too hard!! It used to be a joint reply of the Montreal chair and the porcelain dinnerware for Rosenthal, both of which are still beautiful and up-to-date, and Mies [van der Rohe] would have liked them (he was my head of department in architecture at Chicago). I now have to add my fun piece, Jigsaw seating, and the brand new Zed tables for Corian.

JH: Are there things that you would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
KG: No, I still respond to happenings. Some things I would do better, because I’m better now.

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