Designer Crush: Jonathan Browning

1. How did you get your start in design?

I had the luckiest break possible:  I was hired straight out of UC Berkeley to be on the visual staff of the soon to open Esprit Superstore in West Hollywood.  It was a 15 million dollar store designed by legendary Joe D’Urso, and literally every designer in the US and Europe came just to gawk at that store. From there I moved up to Visual Director of Esprit Europe.

2. You say you have two great obsessions: French Beaux Arts classicism and 20th Century industrial design. What do you find captivating about those things and how do they influence your work?

The beauty of French classicism is impossible to overstate.  Just look at the Saltworks by Claude Nicholas Ledoux. Executed in the 18th century, these buildings look shockingly modern and as chic as any great building today.  Industrial design is the ballast at my core that keeps me honest and true to beauty as I see it. Its honesty and minimalism — its total lack of ornament — is a constant check on my desire to decorate or add detail for aesthetics sake. It is a constant question in my ear: “Do you really need that?”… So for me to combine these two great loves, French classicism and industrial design, creates a challenge that I never tire of. What appears to be at first glance such disparate endeavors are actually traditions that share many powerful rules and ideas, like balance, proportion, repetition, etc. 

3. Tell us about the investment cast process and why that’s the method you work with.

The investment cast process is thousands of years old. It was developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt to create jewelry and idols. One could argue that this casting method reached it apotheosis in 18th century France under Louis XIV — the bronze work from this era being without peer today. But surprisingly the investment cast process has changed little to the modern day. Better kilns and furnaces today hep for sure, but it is otherwise exactly the same process it has always been. One must create a carving of the object. This can be wood, stone, plastic, almost any material that can be carved. Then a eurothane mold must be made around this carving. Once made molten wax is poured into the mould. When hard the wax is removed, and now you have a copy in wax of your original carving. This wax is then surrounded by investment plaster, with a steel cylinder. When the plaster sets the canister is heated so that the wax melts out and burns off, leaving a negative impression of the carving. Next bronze ingots are heated in a crucible until the bronze is molten, and then two people pour the bronze into the investment plaster. This bronze has to cool at specific temperatures, over a specific time period.  When completely set the plaster is hammered off and the bronze casting is revealed. Machining, chasing, and polishing all follow this phase.

Why do I use this process?  Not because it is easy, that’s for sure. I use it because it produces a level of detail unavailable using any other method. And I love the tradition.

4. Tell us about your new industrial lighting collection and the new outdoor lighting collection for RH.

Our newest lighting collection is called Platiere, and it is completely original, and yet looks like the best of the 1950’s in Italy. Would be right at home in a good Gio Ponti interior.  he idea is simply: Just a brass cover over the light socket, and an Edison T8 12” long bulb. But what makes this collection gorgeous is it unglazed white bisque porcelain shades. They are like two delicate shells surrounding this long slender bulb. The porcelain is less than 3 millimeters, so light penetrates the porcelain and it puts off the softest glow. It is hands down my favorite designs in the 15 years we’ve been at this.

And our new outdoor lighting for RH is breaking new ground in this category. Our newest design is the outdoor Aquitane. It is a very tall and slender brass tube, that flares from small to larger as it rises. At the top is a hand-carved lead crystal dome, carved in an asymmetric manner.  Very minimal and luxe, and unlike anything in that category of outdoor.

5. If you had to pick your three favorite JB products, which would they be and why?

Favorite three products. Platiere line, made of unglazed bisque porcelain, as stated above.  Super chic but also soft and feminine. The New Camus chandelier. The center is made of pyramidal lead crystal panels creating a large 18” square cube, which reads as one huge mine cut diamond. Extraordinary. The cube of diamond is surrounded by two brass cages. Sumptuous and sophisticated. And third new piece I love is Chartier series. I love the oval lead crystal shades which have flat oval windows cut into the oval body. Simple and yet complex all at once. And totally elegant.

6. What’s your idea of the perfect Sunday from a.m. to p.m.?

My perfect Sunday. My husband Marco and I just bought an apartment on the island of Lido in Venice. It faces the venetian lagoon and St. Mark’s Square. So my perfect Sunday is making my cappuccino there and sitting on my balcony watching the sunrise over Venice, the catching the 9:30 vaporetto across the lagoon and catching an exhibit at the Peggy Guggenheim or the Palazzo Grassi or Della Dogana, then lunch on the terrace at the Gritti Palace Hotel, then catching the 4:15 vaporetto back to our place on Lido, and heading to the beach club 10 minutes across the island, on the Adriatic side. A couple hours on the sand and swimming in the warm waters there is perfect before making dinner at home and watching the phenomenal sunsets that occur over the Dolomites all summer long...

Lightning round!

7. First celebrity crush?

Robert Conrad on the Wild Wild West.

8. Favorite ice cream flavor?

Salted caramel.

9. First concert?

Madonna.

10. Dream vacation destination?

St Petersberg, in winter. I am dying to to see the Hermitage and Winter Palace, and Peterhof, all blanketed in snow...