Grounded: Braun, Eames & Vitra w/ Dan Johnson of Kiosk Store
Firstly Dan congratulations on all the success with Kiosk Store. It’s something that the market here desperately needed. Can you tell us a little bit about your background leading up to the start of Kiosk?
I studied architecture and did my bachelor’s degree for three years which I guess was probably my first time I delved into really good design and actually learnt more about design history rather than seeing things and thinking they were cool. I always loved architecture but for me what made me move away from that was the accessibility to a large amount of people. At the time I finished my degree and the fact that I probably won’t be living in an architecturally designed home for years and years because of the costs involved and the fact it’s so permanent.
From that train of thought it led me to thinking are there other ways to bring that quality of design into the home without having it to be architecture. That naturally led to furniture. I jumped around a bit job wise where I worked for a tailor learning quality construction and customer service, then also a mid-century design furniture store to learn more about the business I am in today.
After a while it felt like it was time to do something on my own and put out what my taste is in furniture and design, that’s ultimately what led to Kiosk.
Were the designers you stock today referenced in your architecture studies? With that having a natural impact on the business?
Definitely, a lot of them were. A lot of the best and most iconic furniture generally comes from (in unison) architects [both laugh]. Architects would design the space then they would design everything inside. Which is tremendously interesting because that isn’t what they’re trained to do specifically but it’s so funny that they have become the pioneers of the industry.
The idea of Kiosk is very niche so how did it come about to specifically work on contemporary mid-century design?
I think for myself when I was working at a furniture store all the pieces were beautiful but it was centered around Scandinavian design. Large wooden pieces with grain and leather. The scale and price point was not easily accessible and I felt that there could be a different approach with a different aesthetic catered towards a slightly younger demographic.
And more functional for a younger audience?
Yeah, a little more playful, more colour.I think those reasons led me to pursue mid-century furniture but more contemporary.
How was it sourcing?
It’s always difficult! I started sourcing during the first lockdown (March 2020-April 2020) which was good, I was able to delve into it and have all the time in the world to research. At the moment I am still sourcing everything locally so there’s only a limited amount of vintage pieces already in New Zealand. I like the idea of circulating this.
Finding new homes?
Yeah, new homes. For the market in general the majority of the items are being imported. It might get to a point where I do that in the future but for the meantime there are some diamonds in the rough. It just takes time - hours and hours of sifting through, I’m sure you know as well [laughs].
All too well [laughs]. In saying that, how do you think the reception has been with this younger market? Do you feel like this industry is growing in regards to knowledge and perception?
It’s definitely growing. I feel like the last 10 years have seen a surge of interest in mid-century furniture. However more recently it has become a lot wider spread as an interest as its stemming into a lot of different age demographics. People as a whole are more conscious of what they’re buying and vintage plays really well into that from a sustainability perspective and the fact it has that vintage charm.
For me I think buying something new is always nice, it’s pristine, it's perfect. But as soon as you have that little extra nuance whether it's a touch of nostalgia or the history you just have that connection that instantly makes it more special. It means you're more likely to hold onto it.
Couldn’t agree more.
I like the idea of buying stuff and when you move you keep it all, rearrange it, adjust it.
So your pieces grow with you and the space you’re in?
Yeah, it’s versatile and moulds with how you want to live.
What are your thoughts on the furniture here in New Zealand? What could we be doing better?
I am not familiar with the new production side. There has been an increase in the last few years of small bespoke makers - there’s a few in Auckland whose work I really appreciate and it’s great to see them gaining traction. I think when there’s that personal connection with the maker it’s always a special feeling. When you move to the vintage side of things it's more about that connection with the past.
There’s a great range of furniture stores in New Zealand but the vintage at the moment comes with a high price point for a lot of people is a deterrent initially. Similar to clothing it’s about the cost per wear - in furniture it’s the cost per use. If you buy a Kmart chair for $20 you’ll buy 10 of them in the lifespan of 1 good quality chair, so the cost you’re actually spending while upfront may be more you’ll be better off in the long run.
I agree, consumers should be buying what best fits their budget but also not to compromise quality. It’s the same with watches in some sense - buy the best condition possible rather than an item that is really beaten which requires servicing, more parts etc. From your point of view leading into cheaper furniture, is it a no-no to buy replica furniture? Such as a replica Eames chair or Wassily?
New Zealand is quite interesting with replica furniture. In Europe there are strict regulations about producing and selling certain designers' work.
Yeah, it’s always case by case. But New Zealand has a blanket rule that pretty much allows replication of whatever.
[laughs] it leads into the discussion and blurring of lines of attaining the item you want at a much lower price point. I steer clear of that because you’re losing out on quality construction. The main positive of buying authentic pieces is the cost retention. It’s the same with watches, if you buy them, take care of them and hold onto them they will retain their value over time. If you ever did need or want to sell them it likely wouldn’t decrease in value.
With replicas there's more to consider than just the lower ticket cost. Some may be off measurements, have missing functions or out and out isn’t what the designer intended so you’re only buying it for a portion of the aesthetic.
Obviously when buying an authentic piece you’re in some way supporting the designer and buying into the history.
Yes, most definitely. Cost retention is a large reason why some customers of ours only stick to Rolex or what they know. The trend has definitely been that over time they don’t lose value even when accounting for inflation. What’s the stance on reupholstering or polishing vintage items? Or even how do you recommend maintaining these pieces?
It’s very much case by case. If it’s a super rare piece which has original upholstery I would recommend leaving it in that condition because there’s huge value in the way it left the factory. In saying that it always isn’t the most practical if you actually want to use the piece [laughs].
I assume if it looks ratty it isn’t a good look either [laughs]
Yeah if it’s ratty, worn and torn then it won’t function as intended. So in that case reupholstering is definitely ok. Especially when it comes to larger things such as sofas where they were sold in a range of fabrics anyway you’re just experimenting with that and bringing it into a contemporary light. If it’s extending the life of the product for another 20 to 30 years then I’m all for it.
What’s been your favourite item so far that you have brought through
Definitely the Noguchi… produced by Vitra in the early 2000’s they did a reissue of the original design from 1954 since then it’s stopped production. There’s only a few of them out there and it’s a super fun piece.
How did you end up acquiring that?
It was through a local seller. A guy I know who has an extensive collection wanted to sell a few pieces so I was lucky enough to get that along with a few other items. While it might not be an item you use everyday it feels sculptural.
Yeah it feels like an art piece in itself.
What would be your dream item, brand or designer to sell through Kiosk
Oof, tough call [laughs]. There’s so many things. There’s one chair… I’ll focus on this [laughs].
I mean everyone needs to sit down right? [laughs]
Exactly. The chair I keep going back to and that I have loved for years is the First Chair by Michele De Lucchi. It’s so abstract and interesting. It’s this chair here [shows on iPhone].
Oh wow that was not what I was thinking about [laughs]
[laughs] It's really not function first. If I ever spot one of those I’ll do anything I can to bring that in.
I wish you the best on that hunt. Why do you think you are personally attracted to these items and connect with them?
I’ve always had an obsession with things from the past. When I was much younger I enjoyed all the antiques and trinkets you could find at yard sales. For me it always goes back to that charm which vintage items have. Today I still get that from vintage pieces but in a more curated aspect with form, function and colour.
Introduce us to your two watches you have here today, where did you acquire them and what's the story behind them?
The Nigel Cabourn I purchased was a collaboration with Timex. He’s done a few different pieces with Timex and they all reference military field watches, World War Two, and the “Dirty Dozen”. This one personally stuck out to me because of the deep yellow face, it’s a nice pop of colour that works really well.
The red second hand is a great added touch as well. How long have you had this for?
Probably a year now, so not too long.
Is this your daily wearer?
Yeah this one sees the most wrist time. To be honest both of my watches are out of battery [laughs], I haven’t had a chance to replace them thanks to lockdown.
[laughs] Fair enough.
The other watch here is a vintage Braun AW20 from the late 1980’s. This for me is the first Braun piece that I saw which sums up their design approach and aesthetic so so well. The super refined geometric lines of the case stood out to me. The yellow second and the other drop of colour pointing to the date comes together so nicely.
It’s crazy how flat the lugs are on this. Even though it's quartz it’s almost like a plate.
Yeah there’s no curvature at all.
Honestly the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is something I’ve been wanting for a while. I don’t know what it is about it but just the fact it has a function to flip around has always made it feel like a spy watch to me [laughs]. It also has a great history as well, wasn’t it made for polo players?
That’s correct - it was made for polo players to flip the watch face for protection. Then it quickly became a popular dress watch and a really popular gift watch from wives to their husbands.
Ah, I didn’t know that.
Essentially it was so you could reverse it then engrave the plain back.
I don’t have a dress watch so I think it would fit in nicely.
Yeah the two that you have are more towards the functional, everyday, utilitarian style.
For sure. I also think a Rolex Explorer would be a nice addition. As you’ve said off-interview about how Rolex has pioneered the watch industry for so long there’s something special in regards to that and wanting to own a piece to be affiliated. It’s similar to furniture, for instance that Eames chair you’re sitting on was a huge breakthrough in how a seat is constructed. A single piece of material cuts back on production time and costs massively.
And Ray & Charles Eames were focussing on researching human anatomy to design their pieces. I assume that was groundbreaking at the time to think about how humans actually move and sit.
Exactly, ergonomics. When you use or see a piece of that history and try to understand what they were trying to achieve - whether it's a watch to check the time or sitting in a chair for comfort it really can be a special moment.
What’s interesting is that we may take furniture for granted. I don’t think people realise the technological advances that have been made in the industry.
Like the USM Haller over there, to have it be modular so you can change pieces out and grow it out over time was surely a massive game changer?
Most definitely, it’s unique. We take a lot of that for granted.
Do you think people should be buying large pieces for their home or smaller pieces that are curated for their home? What’s your take if clients ask you for interior design advice?
I wouldn’t say I take a unique approach to this but I love the idea of purchasing really specific pieces that are small and dotting them around your space. Obviously you need your core pieces such as a sofa, dining table, maybe a shelving set or bookcase. People should play around with chairs more. Try four different styles around one table. Have a chair against a wall for sitting when you need to put your shoes on. You can add interesting things all over the place and that’s nice.
I wince a little bit when I see the perfectly designed fresh interior. Crispy white everything. It loses a lot of that lived in quality.
There’s no character.
Yeah, there’s no character at all. I can understand why people like that but I can’t imagine living in a space like that, I don’t think that would be enjoyable [laughs].
What does the future hold for Kiosk?
I was meant to have a pop up space but that’s been pushed back so keep an eye out for that in the new year. I’d love to see the showroom here grow. To be able to sit down, touch and feel these items gives a more tangible quality. I’m definitely looking to expand more on that retail idea and give an in-person experience, it’s really important.