by Jerry ElengicalJun 11, 2022
“Your creativity is your freedom. Use it.”
- Nigel Coates
Strutting the British walk and donning the pride flag, Nigel Coates has graced many hats within the design realm over his long, acclaimed career as a multidisciplinary creative. Speaking to STIR from his farm residence in village Montisi in Sienna, Italy, whereto he escaped to lead a quaint life from his earlier upmarket dwelling in Kensington, London, at the beginning of the pandemic, the British architect and designer converses with the candour of a friend. Laughter, reminiscence, and musings for the future emerge galore as Coates scripts his UNSCRIPTED chat with unknown facts and interesting talismans from his own life; one that has been nothing short of an adventure itself.
Describing his younger self as an enfant terrible, a breaker of norm and regulation, “not fitting into one box or another”, Coates’ foray into the wide discipline of ‘design’ began through a formal education in architecture at the University of Nottingham, followed by higher education in the field at the Architectural Association, London. Product design and his flair with the other branches of design, including interior design, furniture design, and art direction came rather naturally to him, even as his eponymous practice continued growing. The 72-year-old designer, today, proudly states the enfant terrible in him to be alive and well, often coming to his rescue when he found himself dealing with high pressure situations, and advocates keeping it alive in his pursuit to be a good designer.
Quite like himself, his ideas and concepts too refuse to be bound within a single ‘box’. Unsurprisingly, Coates is also a delicate creator by hand, choosing to communicate his thoughts through intricate sketches and abstract drawings and paintings. Quite the wordsmith, the multifaceted creative has also authored multiple personal and guest publications. His most moving works across all these media come from a deeply personal place, inspired by the architect-designer’s active LGBTQIA+ advocacy, and his attempt to bring the community’s issues, aspirations, and desires to the fore through his work. Through his published work, including Brutus, NATØ, Ecstacity, and Nightlives, and an article titled Queer Freedom in Citizen magazine, Coates has empowered queer narratives and their role in the collective act of city-building.
With projects across the globe, Coates produced some of his “greatest hits”, as he calls them, in the 80s, 90s, and well into the 2000s. The Ginori Plates, Ombretta Carpets, Domo and Capriol chairs, Back to Back sofa seater, and Idyllium ceramics collection among products, and the Geffrye Musuem in London, The Metropole and The Wall in Tokyo, and Body Zone at the Millennium Dome, among architecture and exhibits proved to be works that brought him significant repute and global standing. Following that, Coates’ fond proclivity for teaching, and a rather contrary yet complementary tryst of lifelong learning interestingly put him on an interesting trajectory with fellow British architect and parametricist, Zaha Hadid , who taught at nearly the same time at the AA School. Hadid and her students thought Coates’ group were arrogant, while the latter considered the allegation to be true for either. Fondly recalling his time with the pioneering Hadid, Coates ascribed that ‘friction’ to the fact that both of them were very confident teachers, and reminisces over the camaraderie as a bit of healthy, essential competition.
Now settled into a rather rural, domesticated style of life in Montisi, where the enthusiastic designer is happy sourcing his food, wine, and dairy fresh from the source, he comes clean about his near-addiction to tea drinking. Claiming the typical English breakfast tea to be his favourite, Coates defines this “ritual” as a joyful part of his daily existence, while working and otherwise. A unique quirk of his – that of keeping a beautiful teapot, milk jug, and a cup and saucer to indulge in this daily ritual comes to be his most quintessential British habit that he couldn’t leave behind at home.
All this and much more: tap on the cover video to view the full conversation.
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.
All photographs © Nigel Coates. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.