• Paul de Zwart of Another Country

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Q&A: Paul de Zwart

The owner of Another Country on simplicity, sustainability and the importance of being relevant

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Images: Joseph Fox

How did Another Country come to be?
My career breaks down into three parts. I co-founded Wallpaper magazine, then spent time doing things in various sectors: from another publishing project in the Middle East to a start-up hotel business. The last of these projects was in the property sector.

My wife and I had a cottage on the Wiltshire / Dorset border, which became a testing ground—we leased it out as a holiday let. I had to refurbish a room and I was looking for a certain thing—an urbane but country-friendly, simple three-legged stool that would also work as a side table.

I felt it should cost a certain amount and have a certain aesthetic quality. Having spent years looking at designer furniture and working within the industry, the fact I was unable to find what I was looking for made me think, well, maybe there’s something here. The brand was launched really quietly; I didn’t have a 10-year plan, I just got it going.

You’re big on sustainability—how does that work in practice?
It’s part of our DNA. Firstly, it’s the materials: we only buy from sources that we know harvest wood sustainably. What gets used gets re-planted. Secondly, it’s about making sure your finishes are biodegradable or plant-based. We don’t use a lot of paint, we don’t use lacquer, we use glue that doesn’t emit a lot of fumes.

We also try to pack as sustainably as possible—where we can, we avoid man-made materials like foam. You should be able to recycle most of the packaging, if not re-purpose or re-use it. We also try to ship in component form so there’s less volume, which affects transport and subsequent fuel use.

Then it’s how we operate. We utilise cloud-based systems and minimise use of paper. We even design our business cards to be generic, so if you leave the company, I’m not left with boxes of wasted cards. We look at it down to that sort of level. We’re not perfect, and we don’t sell ourselves as a green brand, but I feel like it’s how all businesses should do things.

Paul de Zwart

What influences your work?
We don’t design anything seasonal, but there are traditions of design that we look at or are inspired by: the shaker movement from the US; the tradition of Japanese wood-making; Scandinavian design, particularly mid-century. That’s the backdrop.

We start with an idea, but that idea is multi-faceted: it’s about construction and durability, coupled with function and price—all these things come into play. With series three, our most recent range, the starting point was Victorian working tables: something muscular with a colour element that mimics the iron base of a work top. Also, aesthetically, it has to look different from our other furniture, so people have choice.

What do you mean by a ‘series’?
Every range has a distinct aesthetic language. Within that we will have a few things that are one-offs, but that’s the approach. Series one is defined by the radius on the edges and the corners, the type of timber that we use, the angle of the leg. There’s the same detailing. Series one is a real workhorse, it’s everyday. It doesn’t have any sharp edges, it ages beautifully and it can sit in almost any home.

Series two perhaps fits in a different type of home: it uses different timbers (ash, walnut), it’s got brass detailing, it’s more angular with different finishes. Series three is different again, a different posture and use of colour. The same will be the case for series four, which we are looking at now.

How would you describe your overarching style?
There’s definitely a purposeful intent to keep things simple. We let the proportions and materials express themselves; we’re not about decoration or ornamentation. We want the material to be the pride of place in the look and feel of the product and to celebrate that diversity.

We also feel that the shapes themselves are very expressive. There’s a common discourse: materials, approach, solid and handsome proportions, everyday livability and function.

One of the most interesting and flattering things we hear is that it’s all “very Another Country”—we are five years old now, but we have been hearing it since we were two or three. For a brand that has come out of nowhere to have a recognisable aesthetic is something we are very proud of. The fact that people recognise Another Country is kind of cool.

Would you describe yourselves as contemporary?
We very much strive to be—and I think we are—contemporary and relevant. I like to use the word relevant because I feel it’s very appropriate to the consumer, but when you really drill down it can mean so many different things.

Sometimes it’s about function or space, but it’s also about making things sustainably, because that’s very much an issue of our time—it should always have been an issue, but we’re at a crisis point, if you like. Is that contemporary? Or are we just being responsible?

We also don’t design for design’s sake. Others should do this—young designers need to find space and express themselves, explore boundaries, new materials and techniques, that absolutely should be celebrated and embraced. But we don’t operate that way. Would we sell a 3D printed chair made of plastic? No, no way. Never. Should it be explored? Of course.