New exclusive design for John Lewis
Matthew Hilton has earned his reputation as Britain's foremost furniture designer with a series of influential pieces. Now he's produced the Eos outdoor collection exclusively for John Lewis.
His name is, for many, synonymous with the curvaceous Balzac chair he designed in 1991. Originally created in leather for the London-based furniture manufacturer and retailer SCP, it turned Hilton into one of the UK's most respected designers, and saw him hailed in glossy interiors magazines the world over as a creative genius.
In the 20 years since the launch of the Balzac, he's built up an impressive body of work, with many award-winning designs. Among the influential pieces of furniture to bear his name are the glass-topped Flipper occasional table, and the recent multipurpose CaseFile storage system. He's also produced the Valentine bedroom furniture range for John Lewis.
Hilton's latest project is his first garden furniture range created exclusively for John Lewis. He and his team trawled trade fairs in Hong Kong, China and Italy looking at different types of outdoor furniture.
He says "I don't follow trends, but of course I absorb them and I can't claim that I'm not influenced by them. I design with practicality, functionality, price and aesthetics in mind. We wanted to produce a simple, clean and functional product that was hard-wearing and well priced. We ended up with aluminium, which is a great material for outdoors, and is stackable, recyclable and affordable."
Matthew says "One of the reasons I'm so pleased with this collection is that it works really well in smaller, urban gardens, or for people who have terraces or balconies. The fact that you can stack it and stow it outside is very appealing. People want to spend their money on something of value that will last the distance. I think this range does exactly that."
Matthew Hilton grew up in the 1970s in a house filled with antique furniture and very traditional décor. "But I had a friend whose dad was an art teacher; their house had orange wallpaper and globe lights. It was a two-up, two-down but really modern and I thought it was great!" he remembers.
Having graduated from Kingston Polytechnic in 1979 with a degree in furniture design, his work was quickly picked up by fashionable designers Paul Smith and Joseph Ettedgui, and sold in their London showrooms. From 1980 to 1984, he worked as an industrial designer for the product design company Capa, simultaneously creating sets for the renowned Japanese fashion designer Koji Tatsuno's company, Culture Shock.
People whose work he most admires include Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames and the 'foundation builders' Le Corbusier and Vico Magistretti. "When we had less access to information, I would have named just 5 or 6 people as influences, but it's harder now, because there's so much good work out there" he says.
These days, Hilton heads up his own company, Matthew Hilton Ltd, and his furniture is displayed in permanent collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Geffrye Museum and the Manchester City Art Gallery. He's a director of Case, and continues to collaborate with them and other manufacturers. The way he works now is different from the early days though. "It used to be me in the studio with a drawing board, polystyrene and cardboard." he says. "But I don't really make things any more. Instead, I think things."
A longer version of this article first appeared in the spring 2011 issue of Edition magazine.