November 01, 2014

Designer in Focus: Kirsten Johnstone - Issue 4

デザイナーインタビュー <br>Kirsten Johnstone

Interviewed by Meri

All photos by Kirsten Johnstone


When planning and compiling this issue, amirisu was thinking about architecture a lot. We invited several designers who are also trained architects. Kirsten Johnstone is a perfect example, drawing her inspiration from architecture, various forms of art, and from Japan.


amirisu: Hello, Kirsten!  Thank you for doing this interview. We've been curious about your choice of names for your designs.  Do you have a Japanese friend, or have you lived in Japan?

Kirsten: I have had an interest in Japan for many years. My first connection with Japan was while I was studying my first Architecture degree – investigating aspects of traditional Japanese architecture and timber construction piqued my interest. This then developed into an interest in traditional Japanese arts and crafts, indigo, Japanese history and Japanese kimono. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Japan with my husband in 2000 and I look forward to a second visit one day.

amirisu: I see! We’ll definitely look forward to your visit to Japan.  Another question that has been bothering me -- your career as an architect and as a knitwear designer. Do they conflict with each other, or complement each other?

Kirsten: At times both! Mostly they complement each other – the knitwear designing allows me to use my hands, which I miss in my day-to-day life as an architect. I recall working in a number of offices when I completed my architecture degrees and being incredibly frustrated, wondering why I had studied architecture at all. 

I had one boss who loved drawing, etching and painting in addition to his “day job” as an architect. The notion I could do both was, at the time, incredibly releasing, and he taught me etching in his home studio, . I took up ceramics and I belatedly returned to sewing, then knitting. I also found greater joy in practicing architecture as a sole practitioner in my own business, directly connecting with the clients and providing personalized designs. 

And, to be honest, the only conflict occurs when I am keen to complete a new knitwear design and I need to exert some self-discipline to get back to the computer to press on with a current architecture project.

The knitwear designing allows me to use my hands, which I miss in my day-to-day life as an architect.

amirisu: You have a very specific style and aesthetic in everything you produce.  What influenced you to become who you are as a designer?



Kirsten: Great question. And very hard for me to answer!

I approach design from a practical perspective. I prefer a minimalist aesthetic, with an elegance that transcends time or fad. I endeavor to make wise choices to limit waste whether it be my time, my energy, or my resources.

I’ve never liked “fussy” in any form.

In regard to knitwear specifically, I seek to design garments that fit and flatter the body. I want my designs to be elegant and timeless, pieces that may be worn in different ways and for many years. I love to wear my designs; each piece is very personal, and I develop quite an attachment to it after all those hours we have spent together!

I approach design from a practical perspective. I prefer a minimalist aesthetic, with an elegance that transcends time or fad.

amirisu: You probably design what you like to wear yourself.  You look gorgeous in your own design!

You also sew and make things other than knitting. Have you always been attracted to crafting? 

Kirsten: Yes, my mother encouraged me to sew from a very young age. She was self-taught and passed on that love to me which I have always been thankful for. I have explored many different types of crafting, or perhaps more accurately, “making” including sewing, knitting, photography, ceramics (wheel thrown), printmaking (etching, lithography, screen printing, printing), jewelry making, and furniture making. 



amirisu: Such wide variety of interests - I can relate to that!  Where do you get your inspiration? What drives you?

Kirsten: Like many others, I am inspired by the world around me in all its forms – the environment, people watching, magazines, movies, the internet, the materiality of a new yarn or fabric. At times, my architecture inspires me as well, perhaps the way a shadow forms shapes across a surface or a construction material may trigger a design notion.

amirisu: Speaking of architecture, who are your favorite architects? Who do you relate to in terms of design?

Kirsten: I have many favorite architects! I will limit myself to just a few who I can relate to in terms of all facets of design, not just architecturally.

I love the simplicity of Glenn Murcutt’s planning especially. His concept of “touching the earth lightly” resonates in both a literal sense and also in an environmental sense – to be circumspect about the impact a design has on our environment.

Peter Stutchbury’s concept of dismantling buildings to allow buildings to be essentially 'undone' back into their basic elements to allow for future re-use is brilliantly clever and inherently practical.

Peter Zumthor’s use of tactile materials with his minimalist aesthetic is incredibly beautiful.

I love Brian McKay-Lyons’ description of the concept of “simple, plain modern” – “taking the raw material of modernism, refining it, and bringing it to an elegant simplicity in the ultimate splendor of plainness”. I seek to adopt this approach in all my designs; knitted, sewn or built. 

amirisu: Glenn Murcutt and Peter Zumthor are also my favorites.  Their minimalist, yet textured aesthetics seem to have something in common with your own design. 

Last question. What are your aspirations? Where do you want to find yourself in 5 years time?

Kirsten: This is a huge question for me. By nature, I love routine and organisation but I am not a great strategic planner! At the present time, my young family is most definitely my priority.

Broadly speaking, I see myself continuing in knitwear design and I am very open to where this might lead. I am thoroughly enjoying the new challenges and excited by the new projects I have coming up. To be honest, if you asked me this question 5 years ago, I would not in my wildest dreams have suspected I would be designing knitwear for yarn companies or online Japanese magazines!

amirisu: Ha, so true!  So we at least know one thing for certain - we can see more unique and beautiful designs by Kirsten Johnstone in the future.