Cubitts in Conversation: Nick Goldfinger

Cubitts in Conversation: Nick Goldfinger

When choosing our first new colours of 2020, we looked to our favourite movement, Modernism, for inspiration. The resulting Sky Blue, Mustard, and Red acetates are taken from the bright, clean colours of Ernő Goldfinger’s home at 2 Willow Road. The Modernist Colour Collection can be seen on Coram and Weston, our two newest frames.

We talk to Nick Goldfinger, grandson of revered Modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger, whose work inspired the interiors of Cubitts Notting Hill, about growing up in his grandfather’s divisive Willow Road development, his decision to make limited runs of Goldfinger furniture, and whether he, too, is a believer in his grandfather’s motto that ‘jazzy knobs collect dust’.

For the design of our Golborne Road store, we looked to the architecture of your grandfather, Ernő Goldfinger, for inspiration. How has his approach to design and architecture filtered through to your own sense of aesthetics?

It’s hard to quantify but I know he has been a big influence. There’s the obvious influence of being in his house but I also remember him pointing out design details to me and explaining why things are the way they are, why certain materials were used, how the method of manufacture affected the appearance. It took me a while but I ended up being obsessed by these things.

What was life like growing up in his Willow Road house? Were you aware of the building’s architectural importance? Or its controversial beginnings?

I lived there until the age of five at most. I only have a couple of memories of that time but they are happy ones. I was completely oblivious to the building’s importance or controversy for a very long time. I always had the sense that Willow Road was the centre of my family and used to go there often. I am eternally grateful that I can still visit it and that it is just as I remember it.

You’ve been remaking some of the furniture that filled your childhood home, all designed by your grandfather. How did you pick your favourite pieces, and what made you want to remake them in the first place?

There are pieces that I absolutely love. I can’t be objective about it, I’m far too closely involved. I’d even say I’m obsessed with the designs. I just have to hope that other people are too.

Not all the pieces I make were designed by my grandfather. My aunt, Liz, also designed some fantastic furniture. The criteria I have are that I have to think it’s great and that it doesn’t look like anything else. I also want to start making some of Ernö’s toy designs. One thing at a time...

You’re a joiner by trade and trained as a carpenter. What attracted you to these professions?

I was between jobs and fancied the idea of being able to work on a place of my own. I found out about a carpentry course, and I was completely seduced by it all. The wonderful smell of the timber. The fact that you could take a bit of a tree and turn it into something. The ingeniousness of the theories behind both carpentry and joinery which had obviously evolved over thousands of years (I’m being literal, furniture found in the pyramids had mortise and tenon joints).

You’ve expressed a love of plywood. What makes you sing its praises so?

I have to confess that I am obsessed with plywood. Not just any plywood but birch plywood. Plywood is an incredible material. I’ll give you a list of reasons:

1. It looks beautiful (in my opinion, obviously).

2. It’s a very efficient way of converting a tree into a useful material.

3. It’s ecologically efficient. Last time I checked, Finnish birch forests were increasing by 20% a year despite Finland having a massive forestry industry.

4. It has incredible mechanical properties. It can match or even outperform ‘modern’ materials. Just look at the de Havilland Mosquito.

5. It’s very stable and doesn’t move the way solid timber does.

6. Because it is made into sheet material, it enable designs that were impossible before.

Ernő was a fan of plywood as a material, and has been described as a ‘rationalist’ who approached his compositions geometrically. Do you find you look at things the same way?

I wouldn’t for a moment claim to have a fraction of the skills and knowledge Ernö had. His knowledge was encyclopaedic and not just of architecture but also history and art. He spoke four languages fluently, that I know of. His technical drawings are mind blowing (an axonometric drawing, dimensionally correct, of a spiral staircase with a person on it. A measured drawing of a medieval church entrance. I wouldn’t know where to begin).

At Cubitts, we’ve adopted your grandfather’s motto - ‘jazzy knobs collect dust’ - as our own. Is this a rule you’ve come to live by, or have you rebelled and lived a life full of jazzy knobs?

Jazzy knobs are a definite no-no for me. I couldn’t tell you why. It may be because I grew up in houses without any, which may be down to my grandfather’s influence.

Ernö Goldfinger’s home at 2 Willow Road is now open to the public. For opening times, ticket prices, and guided tour information, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road.

This article was first featured in the third issue of our newspaper, The Spectacle. Pick up your complimentary copy in any one of our ten London stores. 2 Willow Road photos in this article are by Dennis Gilbert / National Trust Images.