Rufus Knight Inteview Feature | Yellowtrace

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 

I am so excited to share our interview with the wildly talented young designer from New Zealand, Rufus Knight. At just 31, Rufus demonstrates a design maturity and wisdom that’s developed well beyond his young age. He has become the master of telling intelligent and atmospheric brand stories through subtle but powerful spatial manipulations, and his innate understanding of materiality.

“Materials have meaning, just like words, and we need to speak through them to tell our stories,” he says. Just like great writers who give life to captivating narratives with carefully chosen words, Rufus crafts evocative spaces with minimal fuss for maximum impact.

Born in 1986 in Opotiki, New Zealand, Rufus studied Interior Architecture, going on to become an Associate at New Zealand’s pre-eminent practice Fearon Hay Architects. Following working terms abroad in Europe, notably for Vincent Van Duysen Architects in Antwerp (not bad), he returned to New Zealand to open his own Auckland-based Interior Architecture and Design studio in 2016. In less than two years, his boutique practice already has an enviable global portfolio of projects underpinned by design rigour that could be described as the sweet point between classicism and minimalism. At the same time, the spaces he creates feel honest, inviting, sensory and luxuriously tactile.

Today, in partnership with our roomies at , we take a look at some of our favourite projects by Rufus’ eponymous practice, , while taking a deep dive into his creative process. What a treat.

 

Related: Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight Associates.

 

The International Apartments by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

The International Apartments by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

The International Apartments by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

The International Apartments by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

The International Apartments by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
The International Apartments (2016). Photography by .

 

+ Hello Rufus, welcome to Yellowtrace! Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become an interior designer? And when did you decide it was time to start your business?

My name is Rufus Knight and I was born in Opotiki, New Zealand. I studied in Wellington at Victoria University’s Schools of Architecture & Design where I then taught briefly. Following that I moved to Auckland and worked for Fearon Hay Architects. Throughout that time, I had intermittent periods of work in Europe most recently for Vincent Van Duysen Architects in Antwerp.

My interest in interiors was mostly just intuitive. I was more interested in things like fashion and art and music and, at the time, saw more possibilities for exploring these interests through interiors than I did in other design disciplines. I remember being very taken by the 1960’s American canon of Judd, Serra, Heizer, Matta-Clarke and realizing, although it was classified as art, the works had a kind of interior dimension and I distinctly remember reading an essay by Art Historian Clare Bishop called ‘Heightened Perception’ that drew parallels installation between work by artists like Carsten Höller and Olafur Eliasson and its highly atmospheric qualities, interiority, and effects on the senses.

The decision to open my own office was also reasonably intuitive – just a question of time and place. I didn’t question whether it was a good decision or not; all I knew was that I had enquiry and interest in my approach and that I was, perhaps, contributing something unique to the design community. It certainly didn’t feel momentous but the growth and development over the last couple of years has been very rewarding.

 

Curionoir by Rufus Knight| Yellowtrace

Curionoir by Rufus Knight| Yellowtrace

Curionoir by Rufus Knight| Yellowtrace

Curionoir by Rufus Knight| Yellowtrace

Curionoir by Rufus Knight| Yellowtrace
Curionoir store (2016). Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

My personal design philosophy centers around three main themes; material response, New Zealand’s indigenous arts and crafts, and the exploration of design history.

I am keenly interested in materiality – in particular New Zealand’s indigenous materials – and its ability to create human and sensory responses and communicate narrative. A recent project entitled ‘Te Koha’ that I completed for the New Zealand Institute of Architects participation in the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, established, for me, a way to work that started to tie together thematic ideas around materiality about how to tell a sophisticated ‘New Zealand story’ through a spatial medium. The genesis of these ideas is strongly rooted in our Nationalist art canon and is clearly outlined in painter assertion that he saw “something logical, orderly and beautiful belonging to the land and not yet to its people. Not yet understood or communicated, not even really invented.’’ The design strategy for Biennale space was to work with innovative New Zealand-based suppliers and locally source materials in order to develop an identity for the room that was sympathetic to the richness and tactility of New Zealand’s natural landscape. Examples of this in ‘Te Koha’ were the woven Harakeke (flax) floor covering, the native Rewa Rewa (Honeysuckle) timber furniture, and the wūru (wool) fabric drops from the sustainably sourced Perendale breed located in Akaroa on New Zealand’s South Island. The space spoke a subtle story about New Zealand and our raw yet sophisticated creative identity which was deepened in the context of the 16th century Venetian palazzo.

Referencing New Zealand’s indigenous art and craft histories is a developing interest that informs my creative practice. The Pacific cultures that make up New Zealand’s diverse cultural history have a strongly graphic quality – through mark-making, patternation, and the interpretation of symbols into narrative – this history of design is embedded in our contemporary creative psyche and our ability to interpret this history is an emergent theme that speaks another, specifically New Zealand, story. I have recently been fortunate enough to be included in a number of research workshops with the aim of exploring what makes design in this country unique and how these emergent themes can strengthen our image of what creative practice in this country looks like. The scope of this research bridges art, curation, architecture, and design disciplines and also aims to explore cultural narratives in creative practice and engage with our relationship to our indigenous art and craft histories.

 

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 - Te Koha by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 - Te Koha by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 - Te Koha by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 - Te Koha by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Te Koha – The New Zealand Room during the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Photography by Mary Gaudin.

 

The exploration of specific design histories is also a developing theme that relates directly to my clients or the brands I work with. This is a contextual response helps anchor and provide authenticity to the design while allowing exploration into particular histories or ideas that I feel could reinforce my creative contribution to the project. My work with womenswear label Lonely began three years ago when I was asked to design their first flagship store in Auckland. Through their approach to marketing and campaign imagery, Lonely displays a refreshing celebration of diversity and empowerment within a highly commercialized world of womenswear and lingerie. It was imperative that the stores reflect the youthful nature of the brand and express this emphasis on creativity and inclusivity. Although subtle, a critical aspect of my interior design work with Lonely is being a vehicle to explore objects designed by women and introduce female design histories to Lonely’s customer. This consideration was imperative when thinking about how the stores would look, feel, and function and the three flagship stores across New Zealand have aimed to explore these female design histories in which the concept has been flexible enough to grow with brand as their retail model has evolved. Although subtle, there has been a nuanced approach to the design and fitout and telling a female design story has remained at the forefront of my approach – from sourcing Charlotte Perriand’s ‘Méribel 523’ stools and Eileen Gray’s ‘Bibendum’ chairs for the shop floor, to working with local creative females to supply floor coverings, upholstery, and textiles, to specially commissioned bronze fixings from New Zealand artist – this approach offers me strong parameters in which to design and aims to strengthen Lonely’s values of creativity and empowerment.

 

Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Boutique in Newmarket, Auckland by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Lonely Boutique in Newmarket (2016). Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

The office is myself and, Senior Interior Architect, Nate Varga. Knight Associates is structured as a creative studio and we encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and draw on the appropriate technical skill and experience of internal and external team members as we feel each project requires. Nate and I both have an Interior Architecture and Design background and have both worked internationally but have had a diverse range of experience in terms of technicality, typology, and scale. This approach offers itself to a broad range of project briefs – from multi-residential to public art consultation.

 

Simon James Newmarket by Rufus Knight-Yellowtrace-11

Simon James Newmarket by Rufus Knight-Yellowtrace-11

Simon James Newmarket by Rufus Knight-Yellowtrace-11

Simon James Newmarket by Rufus Knight-Yellowtrace-11

Simon James Newmarket by Rufus Knight-Yellowtrace-11
Simon James Design Flagship store in Newmarket (2017). Designed in collaboration with Cheshire Architects Ltd. Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day?

I’m constantly in and out of equilibrium with regard to a work-life-balance – inevitable when owning your own practice and caring very much about what you do, I think. There’s certainly no shortcuts but I’m very firm in that time is your most valuable resource, so, I’m really disciplined with my time management and efficiency. I like to put as much as I can into every hour. My personality is very decisive and put a lot of trust in my intuition – both in regard to people and projects. There are always consequences with that kind of severity but, for me, it’s just a strategy against overthinking things, prioritizing, and remaining focused. I also think that remaining open, objective and being cognizant of your reactivity to – usually high-stress – work environments goes a long way to maintaining a healthy balance.

 

Twentyseven Names Flagship by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Twentyseven Names Flagship by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Twenty-Seven Names Flagship store in Newmarket (2016). Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers, peers and creatives do you admire?

I think when you’re from a country that is as isolated as New Zealand your opportunity for sustained creative stimulation can be very difficult. That being said, I believe that creative people from this country tend to be very methodical and measured with their sources of inspiration. Like many designers here I also find a lot of inspiration in the New Zealand landscape and its unique geography. Conversely, I lived for a brief period in Paris and that was really my first insight to a culture outside of what I had grown up with. I felt an immediate attraction to many aspects of French design and culture that made a deep impression. Paris was a city that I felt very connected to and possessed a culture that I wanted to participate in. More recently, Antwerp was an interesting place to live. It’s a quaint and studious place without the trappings of the larger European centers and I think if you’re from a country like New Zealand you can appreciate its scale and observant contentedness.

In terms of inspiration, as I mentioned before, the American and European Modernist art canon is a really important point of departure for me. Also, after I finished university, I was really interested in foreign cinema. I think my conviction for interior architecture and design grew from this strong interest in cinema – I’ve always really wanted to design sets and stages like Hans Dieter Schaal, Kurt Schwitters, or Hermann Warm. However, by and large, my biggest influence from outside the architecture and design spheres has been New Zealand’s Nationalist canon of painting, literature, and photography. I’m deeply interested in Colin McCahon, Charles Brasch, Ralph Hotere, James K. Baxter, Julian Daspher, L. Budd. I don’t know where that interest came from initially but the more I read by, and about, these artists and writers the more I started to understand myself and how a kind of creative psyche of New Zealand developed through these people’s explorations. The late Francis Pound’s ‘The Invention of New Zealand’ book was – and still is – a revelation on these themes.

In terms of influence, I am inspired by people who understand the importance of place but maintain a global outlook also by people who create with a sense of permanence and who understand that enduring work is a time-honoured endeavour. And by individuals who are receptive to cultural identities and diversity within their field. I feel privileged to have work with many studios and individuals which, I feel, embody some or all of these characteristics; Fearon Hay Architects, Alt Group, Fisher & Paykal, Lonely, Aēsop, Les Mills New Zealand, Auckland Council Arts and Culture, Benesse Foundation, et al. I find this inspiring because it demonstrates that good design and artistic practice can positively influence culture and add value to society.

 

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Wellington by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Lonely Boutique in Wellington (2015). Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practices?

I think receptiveness is an important trait for young designers. Being open to opportunities, developing an ability to measure risk, and identifying long-term potential is really important to your professional development. The broader your experience the more confidently you can understand where you can add value to your practice and your community. Mark Elmore, GM Design at Fisher & Paykal, once said to me ‘fail fast’ – which I think was probably the best advice I have ever received and something I think about – and practice – a lot.

Also, mentorship is really important. I have around half-a-dozen key relationships that I would consider fundamental to any success I have had since I started my practice. I have never actively sought a mentor but they have a way of finding you which I think it comes down to showing that you value trust and are committed to your practice – most of these relationships grew out of project-based work which, to me, gives the mentorship a sense of confidence and authenticity. The shape mentorship can take is also interesting as sometimes it requires some astuteness to recognize the value in their advice – especially if they’re from a different industry or background to the one in which you practice.

 

Lonely Ponsonby by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Ponsonby by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Lonely Ponsonby by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Lonely Boutique in Ponsonby (2014). Photography by Simon Wilson.

 

+ What would be your dream creative project or a collaboration?

I’d like to work with on a project.

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals?

Although my career is only formative, I feel my contribution to design practice and thinking will take the shape of identifying the aspects that are unique to creative practice in this country, contribute a framework for a design language that is reflective of our cultural diversity, and understand how this design vocabulary can be relevant and valued in the global market. It is clear to me that our greatest asset in communicating this diverse creative identity is through our native materials and the inherent narratives they contain. Materials have meaning, just like words, and we need to speak through them to tell our stories.

 

Salone del Mobile 2017 - Resident by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Salone del Mobile 2017 - Resident by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace

Salone del Mobile 2017 - Resident by Rufus Knight | Yellowtrace
Resident’s ‘Dark Matter’ exhibition during the 2017 Salone del Mobile. Photography by Mary Gaudin.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Moving to Paris in 2011. I had no money, no clue, and I didn’t even last a year, but being exposed to other cultures was hugely important especially when you grew up in the sticks in New Zealand.

+ What rules do you live by?

I run a lot and I’ve been sober and had a plant-based diet for about 7 years.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

Rolexes.

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

I can’t swim.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Classical radio.

 

Portrait of Rufus Knight. Photo by Meek Zuiderwyk | Yellowtrace
Portrait shot of the man himself. Photo by Meek Zuiderwyk.

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 


[Images courtesy of . Photography credits as noted.]

 


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply