This Designer Is Waging a Bold War Against a Monochrome World

After making his mark in Britain, America, Japan and now at the Design Museum Holon in central Israel, Adam Nathaniel Furman wants to add colorful pizzazz to public spaces in Israel

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A tokyo apartment designed by Fruman.
A Tokyo apartment designed by Furman. Credit: Jan Vranovsky
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

Four colorful gates were erected at London’s Granary Square in the fall of 2017, with openings in various shapes – a trapezoid, a rectangle, a pentagon – and sheathed in colorful ceramic tiles in different styles. Visitors flooded Instagram with images of the gates, which were created as part of that year’s London Design Week.

Adam Nathaniel Furman in London. Credit: Rick Pushinsky

The prismatic display of portals was the brainchild of architect, designer and artist Adam Nathaniel Furman, and is emblematic of his wildly colorful but precise style. Another one of his works, entitled “Benevolente” – a wildly ornate and angular cabinet – is currently on display at Israel’s Design Museum Holon as part of its “State of Extremes” exhibition, on through May 9. As with many of Furman’s creations it too rejects any notion of parsimony or restraint, opting instead for an approach of “the more the merrier.”

Furman’s unusual personal background can perhaps explain his vivid style. His father is an Argentinian Jew who had immigrated to Israel in the 1970s, where he met his future wife – a German-Japanese Jew, who immigrated to Israel in the ‘60s as a teenager. The two relocated to London’s Paddington area where Adam was born in 1982. Furman, who speaks Hebrew and Spanish in addition to English, has visited Israel many times. “But not enough recently, I need work there to bring me over,” he admitted in conversations with Haaretz during the last month.

A poor student, he says he was drawn to art from an early age. “One thing I always enjoyed was drawing and making things. I don’t even know if I was very good at it, but there were no teachers telling me I was doing it wrong or was being stupid. I could do it on my own, and when I was drawing I was happy.”

Furman's gates in London’s Granary Square, 2017.Credit: Gareth Gardner

When he was six, a friend’s parents encouraged his budding interest, he recalled: “Her father was an architect and her mother was an artist, and they took drawing and making [things] extremely seriously. So when I was at their house, the mother would make us do drawing exercises, and while they were fun, she approached these sessions with extreme seriousness.”

It was as a teenager that Furman developed an interest in architecture: “As a 12-year-old, I used to walk around the city of London and look at all the newly built buildings – this was after the boom of the Thatcher years – and wonder at them, and then draw them at home afterward.”

Design work by Furman. Credit: Elad Sarig

In interviews, he attributes the colorfulness of his work to Japanese art, toys and cartoons, but also admits that his influences vary widely. On trips to Israel as a child, Furman said he became obsessed with Ya’akov Agam’s “Fire and Water” fountain in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square (which is apparently still under renovation), as well as the artist’s chromatic design of the façade of the city’s Dan Hotel.

“My mother, aunt and grandmother were all very colorful people,” he said, adding that among his more conventional artistic influences, he names Rubens, Bronzino and Titian.

Color crosswalks

Furman’s ideas about public art have largely been influenced by the mosaics created by the late Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi at Tottenham Court Road station. “I can’t overstate how much this has influenced me,” he said. When the town of Croydon in southern London commissioned Furman to do a street-art project in 2018, he chose to embed multicolored surfaces in five public roads, including crosswalks.

Design work by Furman. Credit: Tom Kessler
A Croydon crosswalk designed by Furman.Credit: Ruth Ward

How much do the clients influence your design?

“Normally, the people who come to me are well aware that my passion lies in sensuous forms, decoration and color, and so luckily I do not get clients coming and asking if I’ll design them a white kitchen. Within those parameters, however, I am extremely flexible and love responding to specific concerns.”

Recently, Furman, whose work has been exhibited widely in Europe and the United States, decorated the entrances and corridors of the maternity ward in London’s Chelsea Westminister Hospital using ceramic tiles. One entrance was framed with a burst of orange-and-yellow squares and circles, and zigzagging triangle-shaped tiles in white and turquoise, along with colorful shapes reminiscent of sunbeams. When described in words, the design might sound cluttered, but Furman’s shapes and colors are carefully and neatly packaged.

A London maternity ward designed by Furman. Credit: Gareth Gardner

The artist’s mastery of color is also evident in his interior design of an apartment in Tokyo’s central Nagatacho district: The kitchen is pink, the sink pear-green; the walls in one of the children’s bedrooms were painted turquoise, the bed was orange and a purple rug slipped in from the hallway. The pastel hues in the bathrooms were balanced by dark ceramic tiles.

Design work by Furman. Credit: Federico Floriani
A Tokyo apartment designed by Furman. Credit: Jan Vranovsky

One of Furman’s better known projects, created in 2017, was a purely theoretical one. “The Democratic Monument,” a manifesto accompanied by a dazzling three-dimensional model, proposed a reimagining of the role and design of civic structures. Commissioned by the Scottish Architectural Fringe Festival, Furman’s work was aimed at challenging the austere, authoritarian and forbidding style of edifices such as city halls and courthouses. In suggesting a framework for a new mode of citizen involvement, he created a model of a brightly colored town hall based on a myriad of geometric shapes with large openings, arches and more.

‘Aggressive’ white

Contrary to many contemporary architects and designers, who favor muted blacks and grays in life and in their works, Furman is partial to color in both. This affinity, he explained, is spiritual in nature. “It is an outright mistruth that white is calming. It is not, it is the harshest, most aggressive of colors,” he said, then explaining: “I actually love it, but it must be used with great care and precision.”

Furman: “It is equally a lie that the absence of things is relaxing. It is not, the mind and the eye need things and decoration to rest on and contemplate, or else we are at the mercy of all our most nervous thoughts rising to the surface. Staring at a white wall with nothing on it is like being in solitary confinement, which is a terrible punishment – why would you do that to yourself!

“This is why traditional meditation normally used visual aids like mandalas and yantras (geometric diagrams), complex configurations of form and color that one can contemplate, and in the process of which allows one to clear the mind and relax.”

How do you convince private and public clients to use color? Most of our spaces are white, whether interior or external.

“I find that many people are actually desperate for color, they are just scared of using it as there is this weird, unspoken consensus that has evolved over the past few decades that color is a risk, simply because so few people are using it anymore. But it’s not natural not to use color. For the entirety of human civilization we have needed, and spent huge amounts of effort, to provide our public and private spaces with decoration, delight and meaning through polychromy and ornament. It is actually their absence which is the anomaly.

“All you need to do is give clients a good excuse to use it. I’ve found that people absolutely jump at the chance, once they feel they are allowed to do it. I’ve often had clients who were initially very tentative, but got into it so much that as the design process evolved, they ended up pushing me way beyond my comfort zone in their enthusiasm!”

Furman said he would be happy to design a public space in Israel or to work with a local brand. A decade ago he collaborated with Israeli architect Ruth Kedar, then a fellow student at the AA School of Architecture in London, to draw up blueprints for a residential complex in Savyon, an upscale Tel Aviv suburb. True to form, the plans were colorful – but they never materialized. “I got really excited by it, and am still really proud of the designs,” he said, adding for example that he thought it would be great to come up with a design for a plastic patio chair. “Growing up, I remember everybody had Keter chairs,” he said.

Fruman and Ruth Kedar's blueprint for a residential complex in Savyon, central Israel.Credit: Ruth Kedar
Furman and Ruth Kedar's blueprint for a residential complex in Savyon, central Israel.Credit: Ruth Kedar

In Israel, he recalled being inspired by the “incredible modernist and brutalist heritage, wonderful little shops, and the unparalleled food” – although he agreed that public construction was lackluster.

“When it comes to design and the public domain, there does seem to be a noticeable absence of color and joy and play at the moment,” he said. “I am not sure why this is, as I do remember a lot of color in the 1980s and ‘90s. I do hope it comes back. From my perspective as someone who champions color in design, I do feel there is a lot of room to bring more of it in, and of course I would be happy to help!”

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