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Posted in Living

Paring Back with John Pawson

Home farm cooking 2

In late summer at a reno­vated farm­house in the Cotswolds, dinner contin­ues through the evening into the last of the light

The white moons of empty plates are collected long after sunset. The deep glow of twilight reflects off the smooth glazed rims as the stacked dishes are carried back inside to be washed and returned to their places, ready for tomor­row. A simple meal with crisp flavours, a table set for two, or three, or many, a long open-ended evening and a goblet full of wine: there isn’t much more you can possibly need. 

Home farm cooking
Home Farm Cooking, by John Pawson & Annie Bell 

Few people take these simple joys more seri­ously than designer John Pawson. Dedi­cat­ing himself to paring back life, Pawson seems compelled to contin­u­ally explore ways to refine the aesthetic, func­tional and ritual aspects of every­day living. There is clarity and freedom in these acts of reduc­tion. Bring­ing a holis­tic approach to the design of his envi­ron­ment, Pawson’s focus on refin­ing daily life is not only evident in his cele­brated archi­tec­tural spaces and furni­ture pieces, but also in his design of stoneware, flat­ware, and func­tional objects for the home, as well two co-authored cookbooks. 

Cooking and eating, as funda­men­tal aspects of living, took on a height­ened sense of gravity over the local pandemic lock­downs. For many of us, atten­tion to daily rituals and the chang­ing seasons became a way of navi­gat­ing an uncer­tain time. Shel­ter­ing together at their home in the restored farm­house in the Cotswolds, Pawson and his wife Cather­ine took solace in prepar­ing simple meals from garden-fresh ingre­di­ents, settling into a slower rhythm of living and nourishing themselves. 

Pawsons’ home in the Cotswolds. 
Home farm cooking john pawson

With the space to reflect on their every­day life, they sketched out the idea for a co-authored cook­book, Home Farm Cooking. It was a process famil­iar to Pawson, having put together Living and Eating some twenty years ago with chef and food writer Annie Bell. But working together with his wife reveals the depth of his commit­ment to design as a lifestyle. Together, John and Cather­ine Pawson have crafted a minimal life: aesthet­i­cally and func­tion­ally reduced to empha­sise mean­ing­ful spaces and rituals. Home Farm Cooking is an invi­ta­tion into their kitchen and to their dining table, and leafing through the pages is imbued with inti­macy and sense of place. 

Home farm cooking john pawson1
Home Farm Cooking, by Annie Bell & John Pawson 

Captured within the white-spined hard­back is their medi­ta­tion on the antic­i­pa­tion and famil­iar­ity of cooking with the seasons, provid­ing a sense of life’s conti­nu­ity’, as Cather­ine has referred to it, amidst the unfa­mil­iar. The collec­tion of recipes isn’t overly ambi­tious or compli­cated. Rather, the focus is on seeking perfec­tion with each meal, with the inten­tion of return­ing to loved recipes again and again. Pawson’s restrained palette is the corner­stone of his design work, and here it’s true on the plate as well. The recipes are built around indi­vid­ual ingre­di­ents, elevat­ing seasonal produce in a simple manner to enable partic­u­lar flavours and texture to be fully appreciated. 

Pawson’s oeuvre increas­ingly brings together these narra­tives of food and daily life, family, archi­tec­ture and the places where we gather to watch the seasons pass. Sitting along­side the new cook­book, his foray into home­wares extends to a small but beau­ti­ful range of care­fully chosen and precisely formed essen­tials. The designs are incon­spic­u­ously simple, with many of the pieces having orig­i­nally been crafted for the minimal tables of the monks at the cister­ian monastery in Bohemia, where Pawson was respon­si­ble for every­thing from the archi­tec­ture to the goblets. Recon­sid­ered as objects for the home, the collec­tion are not state­ment pieces. Rather, they find their place arranged in the back­ground, as on the cover-image of Home Farm Cooking, where, on the wooden wall-hung shelf six plates, two large bowls and three small ones sit along­side an assort­ment of goblets in bohemian crystal and creamy stoneware. 

John pawson sugar creamer stoneware
JP Sugar & Creamer, with ebony spoon. 

It is a collec­tion that is designed to be used together, the easy elegance of each piece giving a quiet beauty to the collec­tion as a whole. From creamy off-white glazed vessels to deep ebony imple­ments and crystal clear glasses, the pieces are intended for every­day use. The simple forms are nonethe­less compelling: perfectly round plates, with their edges upturned just enough to hold a pool of sauce; creamy-white goblets with their cylin­dri­cal bases perfect for rich red wine; nesting bowls each sized to suit a partic­u­lar use; and linear, beau­ti­fully propor­tioned stain­less steel flat­ware. The paired cream and sugar vessels, with their deli­cate ebony spoon, are perhaps both the most special and the most simple of all. With unadorned faces and pure forms, there is nothing to break your visual concen­tra­tion. Setting the table for a meal, each piece in its precise posi­tion await­ing guests, is a seamless experience. 

Once every­thing is in its place, simpli­fied, and refined to a minimum, the expe­ri­ence is laid bare — open, honest, fulfill­ing. Pawson’s work is a master­class in design that falls into the back­ground, elevat­ing our expe­ri­ence and appre­ci­a­tion of the care­fully prepared meal, the rich, fresh flavours, and the company around the table. The results are places and moments in which you want to linger longer. The spaces, recipes, stoneware and flat­ware create a slow pace of living, prepar­ing, and eating together. Putting words to these simple plea­sures somehow unrav­els them. These are the kind of moments that must be lived and felt, enjoyed with all the senses. And then, for a long time after­wards, first savoured, and then recre­ated again and again.

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