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Jim Hamilton Aug 2017


August sees Spaceman’s Creative Director Andy Green sit down with Glasgow based design guru Jim Hamilton for ‘Those Who Design’. They talk changing room banter, world travel and a lifetime of creative achievement. They were lucky enough to spend plenty of time putting the world to rights, so grab a cup of tea and settle in for a great read...


Hi Jim and thank you for agreeing to chat with 'Those Who Design' today. If I'm completely honest, where do we even start! With such an acclaimed and varied career in both interior and furniture design there's a lot to talk about. That said, a little bird told us you were quite the footballer in a previous life so perhaps we can touch on that first? 


I grew up in Clydebank in the shadows of an incredible shipyard that produced thousands of ships including the QE2 and The Queen Mary amongst many others, so heavy industry was the normal chosen path for most people in our town or if you dared to aim high then football was the way out or the ultimate goal. From a very early age I was always handy with a pencil and more importantly always enjoyed drawing and messing around with scribbles and doodles on any scrap of paper or more likely on the inside faces of old cereal boxes. I had more football trials than I care to remember without ever managing to break through, and by chance when I had finally accepted that I wasn’t going to make my fortune kicking a ball, I ended up with the best of both worlds. As a student I found myself embarking on a design career whilst simultaneously kicking off a part time professional football career that I managed to sustain for 13 years with five Scottish football clubs: Stirling Albion, Dumbarton, Forfar, Arbroath and Albion Rovers. I loved every moment of the football journey and ironically there was a much better Scottish player also named Jim Hamilton who plied his trade at the same time as me. He paraded his skills with teams in the top division of Scottish football, so people sometimes put two and two together, came up with 5 and assumed my football career was more successful than it actually was :)


Certainly an interesting start to the world of work! Oddly I had the same problem but decided to change my name from Eric Cantona to save confusion! With a footballing background and some serious creativity, perhaps it's not a surprise to read on several occasions (a simple google search reveals) that you have a mischievous side! Where does that come from and does

it help in the creative process?


One direct benefit of surviving 30 odd years in football dressing rooms with nowhere to hide is that you very quickly develop a thick skin and learn to think on your feet or else you hide in the corner…. Without doubt, it was the best form of training I could have had to help me survive within a very competitive design world. As a direct result I have never ever worried about presenting projects to clients or public speaking to intimate or large audiences. I only have to think back to a multitude of embarrassing dressing room moments to overcome any fear of selling design ideas to an expectant audience.

As you can imagine, I was open to or involved in many dressing room pranks throughout that period. I suppose this has also had an obvious influence on my love of mixing with people, hearing their stories and sharing mine. If the opportunity arises for a bit of fun then I figure that given just how hard you tend to push yourself in the design profession, you need to let off steam somehow.

I for one also believe that there is a direct correlation between competitive team sport and creativity. You are forced to think on your feet hundreds of times during a game, making instant decisions that have can have immediate impact on a game and on your team. This for sure helps train your mind to work through a process, look at the bigger picture and move on quickly from one project to another when required.


I have to agree, there's nothing like the buzz of a big presentation and the thrill of thinking on your feet. So, what was your first job and your big break?


As a student I had been shortlisted down to the final 3 students in the RSA design competition and travelled to London for an interview at the British Museum, with Eva Jiricna being amongst the judging panel, which at the time was a bit of a boost to a final year student. On the back of the visit and a lecture I attended in Glasgow I made a connection with a couple of Scottish designers based in London, Alex Ritchie and Andy Bow. In 1992 the design world wasn’t awash with work and very few jobs and I was intent on plying my trade north of the border, so Andy suggested I hook up with Ross Hunter at Graven as he thought my portfolio and style of work would be a good fit. I met up with Ross for a chat and at the time the focus in Graven was on graphics but Ross being an architect was keen to develop an interiors side of the business. Fortunate timing for me and at the same time one of Glasgow’s more interesting entrepreneur’s Colin Barr acquired a site on West Regent Street in Glasgow where his latest bar venture, ‘The Lounge’, was going to take off. I still remember sitting on a Sunday morning with Ross in the old Graven office with a couple of drawing boards, a heater in the corner, lots of detail paper and even more curiosity and a combined will and passion to have a go at this little bar. Fast forward 25 years and hundreds of projects later, the passion and will to have a go haven’t changed much at all.


Wow! An incredible chain of events, it must have been such an exciting time. While we're on the subject, lets talk Graven, the award winning Glasgow based design studio. For 'Those Who Design' and me personally, Graven is a dream to talk about. A multi disciplinary design studio that mixes branding with interiors and exteriors, couple that with an individual that has achieved so much for Graven but also specialises in product design too! You and Graven must feel like you have flown the flag for Scottish design for the last 30 years?!


It has been a brilliant journey and I hate to think the number of hours that have been worked or the number of miles travelled in that time. I have been fortunate to have worked with many, many talented people in Graven in that time, and still do. The fact that we mix interiors with graphics and many other disciplines has always kept a nice edge to the work and allowed us to work on many fronts collectively. I have always enjoyed the travel aspect and meeting and collaborating with many people from different cultures and nationalities. This has been both very rewarding and enlightening. People nowadays more than ever use the term ‘punching above their weight’ but going back to a football story for me sums up the spirit of adventure and optimism that you need to at least have a go, no matter what the circumstances are. Glasgow Celtic FC took a team of players who were all born within a short distance of each other and became the first British team to win the European Cup way back in 1967 and equally as important, in doing so did it with style. Ironically they also got one over on the style masters from Milan in the final.

As we discussed earlier, in the midst of the travel and project life, I set up my own company, Jim Hamilton Design Ltd in 2011. This was a vehicle to allow me to test some other things and take that particular little dog for a walk. G1 Group, Montepeliers and Buzzworks have been instrumental in that walk. Akin to combining my football and design careers in the past, I have retained my umbilical connection with Graven whilst working on some of my own interesting projects and also dipping my toes into the world of furniture and product design.


As you say, a brilliant journey and such an inspiration for anyone looking to take the plunge and going solo. Let's face it, if Celtic can win the European Cup 2:1 against Inter, anything is possible! (couldn't help myself!)

In the middle of some incredible interior projects, my personal favourite has to be Tigerlily, Edinburgh. I stayed there last year on a fantastic trip and have to say was quite taken by it's quirky, cheeky, boutique design, modern but incredibly personal and cosy at the same time. What's your favourite interiors project you've worked on? 


I have been fortunate to have worked on Tigerlily twice, the initial design 10 years ago with Graven and a bit of a reinvention a couple of years ago with my JHD hat on. I enjoy working with the Montpeliers client as they are happy to challenge and push the boat out when required.

Within Graven, way too many projects to highlight but in somewhat chronological order and some that go way back - The Lounge, The Brunswick Hotel, Room at the Top, Red Lemon, Tun Ton, Radisson Royal Dublin, Tigerlily, A Restaurant in Autostadt Wolfsburg for Volkswagen, Hummingbird Glasgow, Blythswood Square Hotel and Spa, Ghillie Dhu, Corinthian Club Glasgow, Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago, Radisson Blu MOA Bloomington U.S, Radisson Blu Philadelphia and Minneapolis, G+V Hotel Edinburgh, Radisson Red Brussels, Glasgow and Cape Town,

Wearing my JHD hat - Forgans St Andrews and Broughty Ferry, Tigerlily, Corinthian Club, Rabble Edinburgh, Murrayfield House Hotel, Inn On The Mile, Bonham Hotel Edinburgh, Darcy’s Glasgow, Lido Troon and The Coach House for Buzzworks, Virgin Active London, New sample rooms at The Scotsman Hotel Edinburgh.


Wearing both hats we have collaborated on some projects that I have kicked off with JHD and brought in house to Graven dependent on type and size of project - Icon House and Coco Lounge Ghana, the new phase of Blythswood Sqaure Hotel and Spa, A new lodge at Loch Lomond Golf Club, Minnesota Utd FC, Novotel Paris Les Halles - new meeting and events concept.


Fantastic to be able to diversify and collaborate on such a list of projects. Speaking of diversifying, let's talk about another of your hats, furniture design. Have you always been interested in furniture design or did it grow from interiors? 


My mum was forever moving things around in our house when we were growing up, literally on a weekly basis, room by room! It’s not like we lived in a big house, but for sure it developed a level of curiosity on my part as to why some pieces worked much better within a space when combined with others or when positioned at a slightly different angle. Maybe some early subliminal lessons in Feung Shui but it has nurtured an interest in all things movable and transient. It has also made me observe people’s habits and just how people use furniture and how they make themselves comfortable in their immediate surroundings. This is one seed that always interests me when looking at potential furniture pieces.

I launched ROK with Knightsbridge at Clerkenwell Design week and it was a response to examining just how some pieces of furniture when sat on their own in larger spaces can sometimes look a little lost. I was keen to develop a piece that had a low centre of gravity, could carry itself in both large and small spaces and was very simple but beautifully detailed. I then developed BULLSEYE with Berenn in Turkey and launched it at Orgatec in Cologne. This was an instinctive response to how people reacted within airport terminals. I have spent so much time in airports in the past 25 years that it has been interesting to see the effect that technology and connectivity has inadvertently created a series of huge informal lounges with people slouching in any available space to eat, sleep, work and lounge. I felt there was an opportunity for a piece that would allow people to both sit upright on the inside whilst lounging on the outside and at the same time creating a series of visually strong elements that would look great in large terminals. This then naturally developed into a piece that would equally work as well within office spaces or public spaces and for me there is an option to take this further into external furniture, so from airport terminal, to office, to open public spaces to beach club is not a quantum leap.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Very true, often the key to commercially successful products is to offer wide and varied family options, not only does it give the product relevance in different areas of a project but also makes it appealing to a wider range of end users and specifiers. Who are your biggest influencers in furniture design and what do you think the key elements of successful furniture design are?


Aside from the guys I am currently working with, I love what MOOOI do in that there is always an element of fun and high visual impact. I have had the fortune to have worked on and stayed in the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen on many occasions, so Arne Jacobsen’s genius has always sat in my head as an example of timeless design that pushed the boundaries when conceived, but nearly 60 years later is still being specified daily. I also admire Stellar Works collaboration with many different designers and the way they seem to have popped up from nowhere and very quickly established themselves as a go to company for many designers. Of the new breed of Scandinavians I love Bla Station, Friends and Founders, Muuto and Gubi. 


Couldn't agree more, having looked through the Moooi Boook 17, the imagery is fantastic and of course Jacobsen is a 'Those Who Design' favourite. We're fairly new to Stellar Works but certainly some striking pieces. Is there any manufacturers who you'd like to collaborate with?


I never thought I would simultaneously be developing furniture pieces in both Yorkshire and Ankara and seeing how different companies develop their products through to final completion. It has been a fantastic departure from the everyday interiors world and to see a seed of an idea develop into a final product on an exhibition stand or in a live project is still a massive buzz for me. I am happy to see where this part of my journey takes me, I have plenty of product ideas developed in the background that I feel will find their natural home over time, along with hopefully many others still to come. I really enjoy working with people who demonstrate genuine craft and skills that they have developed testing out new ideas and 

manufacturing products. This perhaps relates back to me growing up in the shadows of the shipyards where locally we were producing ships that became famous the world over.


They must have been exciting times as an impressionable young Glaswegian and yes, seeing a product develop from sketch to showroom is exciting for someone like me who has only been on the sales and marketing side, so for it to be your vision must be very satisfying. We've seen a surge over the last 10 years of the 'Google' effect on interior spaces with slides, fireman's poles, ping pong tables etc creeping into the workplace - how important is fun and creativity being incorporated into interior and furniture design?


Like many designers I love all things Scandinavian, so for me simplicity and longevity are key elements of design, whilst in complete contrast I love very transient pieces that have immediate impact on becoming the current trends in the world of the Pinterest mood board. It still amazes me how information is shared globally so quickly and then spawns so many similar projects the world over. It is a phenomenon that has been both positive and negative. The positive being that when clients see an example of a giant slide working in a respected office interior on the internet, it gives them the confidence to allow designers to add one to their scheme. The negative being we now have so many similar ideas popping up everywhere. It has though opened up many minds to just how we work and communicate daily, so more power to the designer, but a far bigger challenge to create the next big thing or even the little thing that no one else has tried or tested.


It's certainly never been more of a challenge to be original and influence trends. You're a big travel-bug aren't you? With your job taking you all over the world, is there any particular country or culture that you feel influences you or you'd like to reference in your next interior or even furniture design project?


I have visited many countries and all have had some influence or another on how I design or approach design, the States in particular has allowed me to try out some big moves and in Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago and Radisson Blu MOA in Bloomington, there were some seriously complex elements within both projects that were a joy to see come to life.

For passion though, I loved working in Ghana as the people were so genuinely responsive and keen to try things out and see where it could take us. I met the client Nabil through a friend, Robbie Bargh, who has been a massive help to me and introduced me into many interesting projects and situations. After developing some initial thoughts I visited Ghana and discussed with Nabil just how we might deliver the project locally. It was clear that the obvious route was to build the pieces in the UK and to then transport them to Accra. I approached another good friend back in Glasgow, Jim Mcmillan, who runs the contractor side of the G1 Group and asked whether he was willing to manufacture most of the pieces in Glasgow and then ship them to Ghana, and send a team of guys out to build the interiors. Without hesitation he agreed and within no time there were a team of Glaswegians flying out to Accra ready to construct the project. The team had been brought together over 20 years so they knew they could deal with almost any project and situation and it has turned out to be a fantastic end result, featuring in Elle Décoration amongst other publications. It would stand up in any city worldwide and not look out of place in amongst many high end interiors.


That must have been an unbelievable experience and with such a lot of obstacles to overcome too, quite an achievement. With such a diverse portfolio of world destinations, what would always draw you back to the homeland?


An obvious answer, my family. Like many others I have relied on the patience, support and understanding of my wife Alison and my son’s Nathan and Ben to bring me back to earth when returning home.


There's nothing more important than a strong support network and conversations away from the industry sometimes is there! So what's next for you?


I have 2 live projects in Amsterdam and London that I am working on with a client that are rolling along very nicely, a boutique cinema in Edinburgh, new sample rooms at the Scotsman Hotel and a series of new furniture pieces that are taking shape. Also a host of Graven projects both at home and abroad that seem to grow arms and legs as we spread the word on our travels. I have also been writing a book of poetry about my upbringing and life experiences to date. With sketches that illustrate the stories, at some point I will get round to completing the book, but I’d like to think there are still a few stories to come that I can wax lyrical about in the future.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Stuck in a lift with Jim Hamilton, enemies for life or BFF's....let's find out!


Films or Books? I’m on the fence as I love films and I am a massive cinema fan but equally a good book is the only cure I have found to date to help with in any way with insomnia. - 1/10

Do you like nuts in your salad? On my travels I have been blessed to have had some amazing culinary experiences but I also suffer badly from a somewhat Glaswegian affliction of a sweet tooth so the sweet tray for me every time. - 2/10

Favourite colour? Olive/Khaki – fifty shades of green which has nothing to do with my leaning towards my favourite football team….honest, but would be interesting to design a camouflage football strip as a complete shift away from the usual affairs. Anyone with a connection to football clubs out there, I have a wee camo design worked up that would bring a smile to the fans. - 2/10

Favourite Country outside of Scotland? Spain – all of it, love the food, love the culture, love the design (old and new), love the cities, towns and beaches and love the passion of the people. - 3/10

Do you like quiche? In moderation. When working in Chicago the design team would bring in lunch every day of deep pan pizza, which for me is pretty much a heavy duty quiche. Having visited so many great Chicago restaurants that offered amazing food options, I very quickly took a dislike to all things deep pan and in a way my fondness for quiche has diminished a little in the process. - 4/10

Breakfast or no breakfast? Very seldom do I partake and usually because I have been working late and chasing my tail in the morning. Much prefer a big lunch. - 5/10

Impressionism or Pop Art? Street Art which for me combines a bit of both. - 6/10

Bus or Taxi? I have both a love and a loathing of taxis – a good taxi driver can make a great impression on your first visit to a new city and moreover a bad one can sour your first taste. I’m seldom on buses but have a wry smile when I think of some of trips on buses to and from football matches. - 7/10

Thoughts on Gherkins? Crunch is key and I prefer small gherkins in amongst a few other tasty bites to contrast and mess around with flavours. - 8/10

Dogs or Cats? Just recently brought Mylo into our home so has to be dogs for me. The boys adore him and he is the only one who seems genuinely happy to see me if I am late home and the family dinner has slipped by for another night:) - 8/10

So 8/10 and although Olive/Khaki is not our favourite colour, it's hard not to love the idea of camouflage football kits! With a growing dislike for quiche and the love of a crunchy gherkin, it looks like Jim is our new BFF...

Thank you so much for your time Jim....

Thank you to photographer RENZO MAZZOLINI for some of the images included in the Jim Hamilton Mood Board.

Sketches shown, by Jim Hamilton.

For information on any other images shown, please contact us.

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