John G Williams

Professional in Furniture Design.

About John G Williams

John G Williams Fine Furniture attempts to take bespoke timber design and craftsmanship to a new level. Traditional techniques are taken from their original context and applied in daring new ways to generate designs that are distinctive and fresh. The designs are luxurious without being fussy – they pair beautiful hardwood timbers with elegantly sweeping ash frames to deliver high impact furniture. The work captures the overall lightness of the Scandinavian style, while celebrating the rich colour and intensity of American and African hardwoods.

  • 4-Time Winner of Furniture Design Award.
  • Specialized in Furniture Design.
  • 4 Featured Original Designs.
  • Highly Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Furniture
Beke Dining Chair

Beke Dining Chair

Furniture Design

Repose Lounge chair

Repose Lounge chair

Furniture Design

Beke Kitchen Bar chair

Beke Kitchen Bar chair

Furniture Design

Zene Dining chair

Zene Dining chair

Furniture Design


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Interview with John G Williams

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
My work only began in earnest just over 2 years ago when I was made redundant from my long time employer. I had always been interested in art and design, inspired partly by my father's interest in design technology (he was head of the craft department in a local secondary school). I have worked in wood since my teens, but only recently took it more seriously. I perfected the ZENE design in 2016 and constructed 6 of the dining chairs in 2017.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
I work on my own as an independent designer and craftsman. My design studio is a purpose built space at home with a selection of woodworking machines i have built up over the years.
What is "design" for you?
Design is all about seeing. Seeing the beauty in something. Seeing as en engineer how the form should best support the function. Seeing how the user would interact with the design so that they would be enriched. Seeing how to simplify the ideas to make the outcome as elegant as possible
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
I love working in wood, and building furniture that is beautiful and useful on a regular basis.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
I love the CH33 chair by Hans Wegner. Many of his designs are iconic, and i think this chair is beautiful, simple, elegant. Each aspect has been well thought through, and as a collection they look stunning.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
Hmm. I have not got there yet. I have been designing for my own pleasure so far !
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
My favourite material is wood. In particular I love working with indigenous hardwood timbers from Africa, which exhibit an incredible depth and richness in grain and hue. I love the way the finished product also changes over time as it slowly oxidizes.
When do you feel the most creative?
I feel most creative when I have had time to admire other people's work. For example, I loved wandering around the Danish Design Museum which was very inspiring.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
Initially I focus on overall form and function. Then I dig deep into the manufacturing process and how I could realize a given design. Then I come back to the aesthetic and see if I can simplify and further strengthen the design.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
When the design 'pops', you finish a piece and think ' yes that's actually good' - that's the fun part
What makes a design successful?
I think if other people instantly recognize it as beautiful, and something they want to engage with to understand it, and see how well it works for them
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
To leave the space in a better place than when you started - upgraded, not downgraded
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
I think design is benefiting from increasing professionalism and technology, so that craftsmanship can push new boundaries
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
My inspiration comes from other designers (eg Danish Modern), and from nature - I love forest walks and see a lot of possibilities or analogies in the natural world.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
My design attempts to get to the essential; to be as simple as possible; and highlight the beauty in the materials used
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I live in Johannesburg in South Africa where we have lived for over 20 years. I think on the downside, there is quite an emphasis on 'country' style wooden furniture with limited design content so I tend to look elsewhere for design ideas. But on the upside, the intrinsic beauty of indigenous timbers is amazing and the range of colours and textures is huge
How do you work with companies?
I have yet to collaborate with a production house but I would love to commercialize my design(s)
Can you talk a little about your design process?
I have an idea. Do some rough sketches. Move quickly to prototyping in pine wood. Figure out where the real technical challenges are. Focus in on those and see if I can properly design for manufacture the most challenging aspect of the design. Then cycle back to fine tune the overall dimensions, aesthetics and ergonomics. This often involves a number of loops.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
1. Leather sofa 2. Alto Saxophone 3. Our home itself which I designed 4. Occasional table 5. ZENE
Can you describe a day in your life?
It's very varied at the moment. I have just recently completed launching my latest music album - I play soprano sax and this has kept me very busy
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
Again a bit early for me to say perhaps. Maybe be true to yourself; stay honest; go after what you really admire
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
Designing is great fun; makes a difference; impacts people. You are not always understood. Or properly remunerated for your contribution
What skills are most important for a designer?
Craftsmanship. The ability to conceptualize the manufacturing process and how that should impact the design itself. The ability to understand the use requirements (ergonomics etc) and how design can directly address the core needs
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
A rather blunt 2B pencil and lots of scrap paper.An A4 hardback book to record all the important ideas; shapes; dimensionsAnd my regular workshop tools for prototyping
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
Refining a design that you already think is great, to turn it into something you are truly proud of
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
Depends on how some of my early work is received. I would love to purse this avenue - I have ideas for other furniture projects
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
I tend to design as a one man team, but with inputs at different points such as from my father.

Designer of the Day Interview with John G Williams

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?
I was made redundant 2 years ago. Since then I have done some consulting work. And spent a lot of time in my craft shop. And music room.
How did you become a designer?
I have always been interested from an early age. My father is a craft teacher and we renovated a wood lathe together when I was a boy. My interest in turning developed into something broader.
What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?
Visualize the whole piece in terms of function and aesthetic. Then solve the engineering design challenges. Then iterate.
What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?
I am really interested in sculpture - I sculpt in clay and then cast in bronze. I think it's interesting because it has no functional purpose and only lives because it conveys beauty or meaning.
What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?
I would love to setup a small bespoke studio; either building an exclusive line of furniture, or working on commissions
What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?
Try and work with great people; take pride in your work irrespective of its price; and remember to enjoy what you do
You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?
Don't be afraid to lift and combine ideas. Often the best whole idea can be the synthesis of some already well known concepts.
How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?
I don't worry too much about trends. What's the point of pursuing a trend that you feel is ugly or ill-conceived? Rather try and be aware of what work inspires you.
How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?
Good design grabs you immediately. The aesthetic captures you. And then the design thought and craftsmanship become very evident. It answers all your questions as they occur to you.
How do you decide if your design is ready?
Good design is a little like mixing and mastering a music album. In the music industry they say a mix is never finished it is merely abandoned. I think you know when additional tinkering is becoming of diminishing value.
Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?
I live in Johannesburg. I love the mining town urban vibe. I have worked downtown for many years - a space that reflects the aggressive growth of the city (from zero just over 100 years ago). It is resurgent and exciting.
Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?
Build stuff that you truly love. Hence honour the materials that you have used and transformed.
What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?
I built a stage for my local church, which was an intense project over a 10 day period. This spoke more directly to the engineering aspects, but there were components where I was able to inject some beautiful design.
What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?
The competition has been very exciting because:It gave me external deadlines and deliverables that made me think about my designsIt gave me the chance to understand how my designs are received by other people, and it helps me build a sense of the standard of my workIt is fun to see the huge variety of great ideas that other people come up with

Extended Interview with John G Williams

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
I have no formal education in design per se. I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge in the UK. My father is a retired craft department master and I often browsed through the various reference books that he had at home.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
I think design is a very creative, and yet also a very practical expression. I think this combination makes it irresistible for me.
Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
I chose to spend a lot of time on design, and to learn by observation and by doing.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
I love designing furniture because it is beautiful; highly visibly; and appreciated on a daily basis
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
Good design tries hard; great design is immediately 'right'. A great designer realizes the latter.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
Good design immediately hits all the buttons: does it look great? does it work flawlessly? is it new and exciting? overall, do I love it?
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
Good design lifts the environment for everyone that touches it or that it touches
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
I am working up to a range of furniture that is all glued together by some common ideas. That remains some way off
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
To try and distil what it is that is distinctive about the particular work that makes it engaging.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
CH33. Simplicity, beauty, comfort. Wishbone chair. Ergonomic insight. PH5 pendant light. Beauty and originality
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
ZENE. Super comfortable to sit on. Seat and backrest appear to float on the frame, giving a sense of lightness to a structure that is actually super substantive and strong
How do you define design, what is design for you?
Design is about meeting a need. Normally a functional need at least in some measure. In the most aesthetic and engaging manner.
How do you think designers should present their work?
I think they should be presented in precisely the form they intend to be used. That is the environment in which they will be called to shine after all.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
I think next will be another chair, or possibly the dining table #2. If the chair, then perhaps incorporating leather.
How does design help create a better society?
By lifting the corporate mood; by improving our function and/or appreciation of the world around us
What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
Chair #2. I have never worked in leather before so exploring this entirely new craft is super interesting
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
My first ever coffee table. It was the first real furniture I had ever created.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
More application of tech to realize integrated designs more rapidly
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
The entire process (with plenty of pauses) probably around a year. But the main design surge probably a week or two.
What is the role of technology when you design?
I have a deep background in tech and, possibly for that reason, I barely use it at all when designing! I prefer to engage my hands and build real scale prototypes in my craft shop.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
Enormously important. White and black provide great context. But then colour, grain, depth are all very important to me as a wood craftsman.
When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
I just enjoy looking at it and truly 'seeing' the core components
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
Yes I think co-design can be very powerful. The ideal partner has similar depth of skill but ideally in adjacent areas
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
Probably my family have given the most immediate and honest feedback on my work
Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
I like Wallpaper; Fine Woodworking, and Blueprint magazines. And the Dylan Lewis in Stellenbosch guidebook moves me.
How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
It is hugely exciting to be an award winner in this my first ever design competition
Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
I remember my young children coming and joining me in the workshop. And gluing together various scraps of wood to create interesting little sculptures. I still have some of them.
What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
I think things will be totally different to what we expect; and surprisingly similar in other ways

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