From Contemporary Dancer to Award-Winning Furniture and Lighting Designer — In Conversation with John Sorensen of Coil + Drift
Based in New York City, John Sorensen-Jolink is the founder of the design studio Coil + Drift. Emerging from contemporary dance, John founded his self-taught design practice in 2015. His unique spatial awareness — earned through his extensive career as a contemporary dancer and choreographer — has transmuted into a thoughtful furniture and lighting collection.
LV : Let's start from the beginnings of John Sorensen. Could you bring us a back in time when you were in your childhood, in Oregon? How was your relationship with your family? What did your life looked like?
JS : Yeah. So I grew up with my parents and sister, and our parents were very artistically inclined and very supportive of our artistic endeavours… And encouraging both of us to kind of explore. I think that they might have been this way because of the fact that their own parents were coming out of the Great Depression. My parents’ generation was very much focused on finding a career path that was going to bring good income and provide for a family. And I think, similarly to many people of their generation, their reaction was more to encourage us to find something that we were passionate about at a young age.
So instead of trying to drive us towards certain careers, they really encouraged us to try everything that we wanted to try. And also instilled in us a kind of drive and work ethic that I feel really grateful to them for. I know not every kid gets that, but that is something I am very grateful for.
JS : But the way they manifested it was that until my sister and I could drive, they were driving us around. From singing practice to soccer practice to a whole list of sports and music studies… I was very serious about playing the violin when I was young. And I also sang and played many sports and was interested in gymnastics for a long time. I was interested in a lot of things and it wasn't until I was in my early teenage years that I was getting to a certain level with a number of these disciplines and my instructors, they kind of started to pressure me to focus more on what I was studying with each of them. It happened with violin, it happened with singing, it happened with sports... and at the same time, I discovered dance through a program that offered dance at our school. It was a public school, so I was very lucky just to have that program available, and within the first year of studying dance I decided to drop everything else. And this was the first time in my life that it was very clear that this was what I really wanted to do, ‘cause I wanted to put all of my energy towards this. I was about 14, I think, when that happened. So from that age until, I guess, until I ended my dance career, which was around the time that Coil + Drift started, I lived and breathed dance full time, from high school to studying in a conservatory university program, and then to professional dancing for ten years.
LV : Would you say that you were more of a creative oriented person, or more of a performance driven individual when you were a kid?
JS : So yeah, I think that in general, and I think I still remain more interested in performance than process. It's certainly the case in dance. When I was performing and working as a professional dancer, I was working mostly inside contemporary dance. And the contemporary dance world is obsessed with process, and not as obsessed with performance. Very often you will rehearse for months creating a new dance piece, and then you will perform it once. And there's no money to perform it more than once, so that's it. You do it once and you're done… That always bothered me. I always gravitated towards the performance and thought a lot about that because I had a lot of people around me who didn't enjoy performing and really could just stay in the studio. And enjoy that process. And I was the opposite.
I'm also very grounded and drawn to repetition and daily traditions and rituals. And dance is very much about that. But I think I have always said that performing was what I was most passionate about, especially during my dance career.
And I still feel that way, although in the design world, as a designer, I'm much more interested in the design process than I was interested in the choreographic process, or rehearsal process, as a dancer. So that's interesting. I don't know why there's such a big difference for me, but there's something about the process of designing an object, for me, that just feels safer and more exciting, more like I carved out the space for myself to do it in the way that I didn't as a dancer. If that makes sense.
LV : Interesting… So were you, and perhaps you could extend your answer to that, were you more goal oriented, or more a head-in-the-clouds type of person?
JS : Yeah, I think that, as a kid, I was very much into the process of exploration and not as concerned about the final result. I have strong memories of creating. For a number of years, I was obsessed with creating tree houses. Building tree houses. Literally building them with a friend of mine.
I must have been like ten or 11. And it was always about the process of making them, and getting better at making them, and trying new designs, and trying new shapes. We're talking like 20 feet up in the trees. I grew up in the forest. But the end process, when they were done they were limited platforms. So there wasn't a lot you could do up there. So it was really the excitement of actually making them and experimenting with them. And I think that's kind of a good representation my interests as a child. It was very much about exploring the possibilities. Especially when you look the fact that I didn't settle on doing one thing until I was 14.
But it wasn't that I couldn't figure out what to do. It was that I was trying everything. Like I really wanted to do everything. And do it well. I didn't want to just kind of dip my toe into something to try it out and move on. I wanted to do everything and do it well. And the hardest part for me was to figure out that I couldn't master something until I gave certain things up. And so I freed myself to have enough time. I hope that answers your question…
LV : Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned that you tried different things as a kid. And you really enjoyed trying and getting engaged in different types of performances in a way, but what made you decide to go deeper into dancing against all other activities you had at that time?
JS : There was definitely not just one answer, but I think that it was kind of a perfect gathering of different elements that I was searching for without knowing it. Immediately, it was clear that there was a sense of community in dancing. That was kind of built into being a dancer. It was going to be a small group of people. And you were going to be doing it together. Something like that always bothered me about playing the violin. Almost all of your time was spent practicing by yourself, and that was really hard for me, to not have a sense of community built into what I was doing.
When I started dancing, another thing I liked was moving, sub-exploring movement. It feels different than anything else in the world. It feels like you're discovering what our bodies can do in a different way than anybody else can. Of course I'm sure it's similar if you're doing anything that requires physical muscle memory. Like, I don't know, I'm thinking about fencing or any type of sports involving what I would call choreography.
And the aspect of performance, which I was looking for and really loved, was also really exciting. I think that if I really am honest with myself, if I look back, probably the most, the strongest, draw in dancing was that it was extremely challenging and difficult and required a huge amount of discipline. Self-discipline and practice. So it was not something that you could just kind of jump into. I remember, when I started dancing, a few months after I started, this program at my school offered me the chance to go to a performing arts high school in our city, in Portland, which has a world-renowned dance program since the early '70s. It was really exciting to me and it was a big decision. I remember thinking when I got there, "This is it. This is the way that I want to be working and challenging myself."
LV : Which of your personality traits would you say helped you the most in the launch of Coil + Drift?
JS : Yeah, for me, when I look back, it's not been that long, but when I look back at the beginning of Coil + Drift, it's clear that probably because of my dance background and training and also because of my childhood, I was not afraid to fail. At all! Or to take risks. And I was not afraid to dive into something that I didn't know anything about. For me that was very, I would say, normal. I don't know if that's a personality trait. I would say I am pretty adventurous as a person in general. Not interested in safety.
But also... I was looking for something that was new and different and I knew that would require diving into uncharted territory and taking risks with things I didn't know anything about. So definitely... I don't think I could have started Coil + Drift without this kind of fearlessness. And of course I have fears, but it was more of an ability to just do it and to figure it out along the way. I think that I've always attributed it to dance and to dance training because dancers are taught to be heavily judgemental about themselves. Our bodies are critiqued on a daily basis in rehearsal. And to not take it personally. Of course we are not always perfect at that. We can take it, and we learn to take it a lot better than, I think, normal people do. Because we just practice it.
And then also the ability to learn something new very quickly. It's something that we do on a daily basis as dancers. You walk into a studio, you learn the choreography, and you perform it. You need to internalize it into your body very quickly. Especially if you're trying to get a job at an audition. So that was something. But in terms of what we're really just talking about, personality traits beyond the tools that I've learned over my career, I think that I always wanted to operate my own creative practice, my own company. I was ready for that and I hadn't done it until Coil + Drift. So that felt very necessary and very comfortable, even though I had no experience doing it.
And loved the process of owning my own company, operating my own studio. Being responsible for making decisions. It's terrifying and very exciting, and never boring. And stressful and everything else. And these were all things I knew that I needed in my life.
LV : Did you consider kind of a portfolio of opportunities before launching Coil + Drift? Or this was the only option possible for you?
JS : Yeah, it wasn't as cut and dry. I think it happened more ... If you think about kind of using a visual of tree branches or rivers and their tributaries, you're going down a path, you kind of flow in one direction and you just kind of go with it and keep going, and see how it feels. Then you kind of make the decision based on that and go in a new direction. And you are kind of honing your skills, and also deciding what you like and don't like along the way.
I started exploring design through a woodworking class that then became an apprenticeship with a woodworker. Which then kind of turned into me exploring making my own designs and creating new pieces of furniture. And that just happened because I was open to the possibilities and allowed myself to kind of change my mind and say yes to certain things. And see where it took me. That definitely worked better for me, and worked really well in this process better than kind of making a list of the things that I could have done and then choosing one. I think that might be a more traditional process, but especially for people who are going to go to school. And because I didn't go to school, I think it freed me to experiment and follow different paths and make changes in a way that I wouldn't be able to if I was in a program.
LV : Apart from this woodworking class that you took, did you join any other workshops or did you try to deepen your knowledge of a certain practice or craftsmanship of any kind? Or were you looking up to other companies or designers that really inspired you to launch your own brand in the beginning?
JS : I didn't take any other formal classes, and I was always absorbing and learning new things as I worked. That's how I worked. And the process was essentially trial and error. And failure and then always learning from mistakes that I made and then constantly asking questions and engaging with the community around me. And I was fortunate that at the same time that this was happening, New York City was kind of having this independent designer renaissance. It was already happening by the time I started. I think of people like Tyler Hays and Lindsey Adelman as kind of the people that woke up the independent design world in New York.
But there was maybe even a second generation that followed them and my training, I would say, was very much about reaching out to them; designers who were inspiring me. Whether I found them online or on Instagram, I started meeting them in person, asking them questions. Honestly, it was as simple as that. Actually, it was not simple at all, but it was literally a matter of picking up the phone or writing an email and saying, "I'm interested in what you do and can I come and talk to you?" And so I have this community of people who taught me everything I know.
I had a period of time before I launched my first collection at ICFF, probably six months leading up to that launch, where I reached out to probably six or eight different studios or designers who I admired, and who I didn't know at all, and just asked if I could come and talk to them. Almost all of them said “Yes.”
LV : Would you mind mentioning their names?
JS : Oh, I'm not gonna remember all of them. But I will definitely tell you some. Gabriel Hendifar of Apparatus. I did know him already. He had purchased some of my work.
And so that was a kind of a beginning connection that inspired me. Encouraged me to kind of reach out and continue. I think he was the first person I spoke with.
LV : And that was in the early beginnings of Apparatus also, if I recall right?
JS : Yeah. It was actually... they were moving into their new space during that year. So they were already wildly successful. Actually, it’s striking how young they are. But you're right, it was the still in their early beginnings. They haven't been around for very long and they're wildly successful. I was trying to be a sponge when I went in to do these conversations and speak to people. And I was trying to also be very conscious that I was not there to try to emulate exactly what they did. Because I was certain that that would be impossible with Apparatus. I think that part of their genius is understanding timing and what people are looking for, and then making it beautifully and in the highest quality possible.
So I did take that away from our meeting. But yeah, to not walk in and say like, "I wanna be exactly like you" was very important to me. I also met with the women of Egg Collective. They were very helpful and have always been very inspiring to me. I met with Calico Wallpaper also. I thought it would be interesting. I mean I had followed them, was fascinated by their story, and also thought it would be interesting to speak to someone who wasn't making furniture. So we had a drink and a very interesting conversation... Who else did I meet with? I met with, oh gosh, I'm gonna be so embarrassed to forget all these people…
LV : That's a pretty good start!
When you started Coil + Drift, what was your main motivation? I'm asking this question because people who would get into school knowing in advance that they're building up their knowledge to start their own company when they're done with college, they would have their own kind of motivation or views of what the design world means to them. What was your own motivation when you started, and how has it evolved over time as you were growing your company? Or has it evolved in any way?
JS : It's definitely evolved. When I started, I really think that the impetus was to allow myself a different creative process than I had been exposed to for my entire career as a dancer. And to give myself the time to explore this different creative process. And to feel what it felt like to make something that was tangible, which I could have for more than just a few hours. That's really when you go way back to the beginning. And then very quickly I realized that I loved it. And loved the process of owning my own company, operating my own studio. Being responsible for making decisions. It's terrifying and very exciting, and never boring. And stressful and everything else. And these were all things I knew that I needed in my life.
So I think that it evolved very quickly into me realizing that it could be a viable business. And that also was because of the reaction of people the first time I showed my work. I felt like there was interest in the work and that gave me the energy to allow myself to think about it being a business.
Now I'm more interested in asking questions about how we create items that define our homes. And how do we want our homes to be defined? What are we really looking for in our homes?
LV : Was that the moment where you participated in your first fair? Where you rented that kind of lowest cost booth that you could rent?
JS : Yeah, so the first trade show, when I walked away and said, "Oh, this might be able to be a business," was called Brooklyn Designs. And it's a really small trade show that has kind of a reputation, that I wasn't aware of, as being a place for young designers to kind of get their first footing in the market. And that's what it did for me, for sure. But I was choosing the name Coil + Drift because I was doing that show. I was making designs specifically so I could show them there. It was all very last minute. I had my group of friends, and my now husband. Everybody there loading me in and helping me set up and painting the walls. It was very preliminary, very early. And the designs, there are two pieces that still exist in the collection from that show. But they have very different finishes now. The Hover shelving unit and the Dusk coffee table, those came out of that show.
So yeah, going away from that was the first time I allowed myself to think that this could be something. And it was very quick. Coil + Drift was launched only six months after I started making my own work, but I had been working as a professional dancer and choreographer for ten years. So making a new piece of art and showing it to the world felt very comfortable. It's this very similar process in a lot of ways, just with different words and different ways of playing with the process. So I wasn't jumping out of school and throwing together a full collection. I had had ten years of experience as an artist. And there's a lot of value in that.
Now, the motivation for the studio has pivoted to being much more about design and the work that I'm creating. I've proven to myself that I can make things, that I can create things. Early on it was really about creating things with my own hands. And now I am very much aware that it takes a village to create these pieces. I'm comfortable with multiple people touching it along the way in their creation phase. And now I'm more interested in asking questions about how we create items that define our homes. And how do we want our homes to be defined? What are we really looking for in our homes?
So it's kind of zoomed out in a way, I'm asking kind of larger questions. And then, I guess, the other side of it is about making a real effort to develop the collection that Coil + Drift offers, to make it as full, concise, and clear as possible. So it's really about creating a body of work that makes sense together. And making sure that there's an identity that makes sense. And hopefully, that identity, that feeling, has something to do with my background in dance. It just comes full circle when you look at the work and you see that there's some sort of understanding of movement. That's kind of the motivation now, whereas at the beginning I didn't have time to think about that.
LV : It feels like there's definitely a shift since 2010 or the early 2000s where the creative process of the design industry has become more and more important, where it seems like before, it was more about the technical integration of design, and not about focusing on creating a world in which we could make products come to life. In a way, you have created this kind of world for yourself as well, in which you seem to take inspiration in dancing and your past
experiences and your life basically, and translate it into product design. In a way, it's very similar to a storytelling approach.
JS : I completely agree. I think that there are definitely designers that are working today that are much more interested in the technical aspect of one piece that they produce every year. But I'm definitely a storyteller designer, if you wanted to put it that way. I need the space, to feel the space. I always launch my collections in spaces that I've designed. And it's much more than just a piece hanging on a wall. It's an environment. And that's definitely evolving even further this year in that we are presenting new collections in a storefront space that we rented temporarily, instead of doing traditional trade shows.
JS : Yes. I've just very recently been able to reveal that. So we're calling it a temporary showroom. And it's at 2 Rivington Street, in the Bowery. So it's just next to the New Museum. And it's a really beautiful glass front, storefront space. Looks very much like a gallery. And we'll be there for a week starting May 14. We'll have an opening in the evening of May 14 and the opening will also include a performance installation with two dancers. Kind of an evolution or a next chapter to the installation that we did last year.
This year, it's evolving and there are new aspects. And one of the most exciting aspects of it is that the fashion brand 13 Bonaparte has a shop across the street from this space and we are collaborating with them to launch a glass and mirror candleholder. We will also be throwing a party together…
The other thing I should mention is that the collection this year is all lighting. It's the first time that we've ever gone this deep. It's a deep dive into lighting. Three different families of lights, and each family includes a sconce, pendant, and a chandelier. It's a change for the studio because when you're a young designer it's expensive to prototype an entire collection. This might not be obvious to people, but each year so far when we've launched collections, we launched the chandelier one year, and then the next year we launched the sconce, and then another pendant.
It has worked out fine but I always wanted to be able to offer an entire family of one design at once so that people don't have to imagine what it might look like as a sconce, they can just see it. So this year there will be three different families of lighting that all have multiple iterations. And they'll all be on display, as well as pieces of our existing furniture all in the space and hopefully creating that environment that we were talking about. That's very specific, and tells a story.
LV : I heard also that this collection was designed as you were renovating your apartment, right?
JS : Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. The renovation is-
LV : You had recently bought the apartment, or you were already living there?
JS : No, we had purchased it. It was happening exactly as we were launching the new collection last year. It was a very hectic time.
LV : Was it a way to put two activities in one where you had to kind of design your apartment, and it just happened that you realized you needed lighting fixtures, so you thought it could be a good idea to develop a lighting only line for your 2019 collection?
JS : Yeah… Yeah, I think I’ve had the desire to create a collection that was just lighting for a while now. I think both because our lighting does really well sales wise, and also because I knew that it would force me to do a deeper dive into the process of lighting design than I had before. It's very different to design a piece of lighting than it is to design a chair, for example. With a chair you're really thinking about what it feels like sitting in it, using it. It lasts for a long time. And lighting is much more acting like a sculpture. You're thinking about walking around it. It never moves, but you will move around it. So thinking about that. And also then the functionality of how the light actually comes out of the piece, and what kind of light.
So it's a totally different process and I really wanted to dive deep into that. And yeah, so that was one of the reasons to do it. I think that I can safely say that when we purchased the apartment, I chose the apartment knowing that we needed to do a lot of work to it, and that would provide an opportunity for me to create some lighting for the space. Creating lighting for an interior space, there's something about it that feels more permanent than furniture. Furniture, you can easily take it out of the space. Lighting, you can move from a space as well, but you don't necessarily remove it from the space when you leave. So it feels more permanent.
And I think I knew from the beginning that the process of putting in an offer and even trying to buy this apartment, that I wanted to create pieces for the space. I don't think it was until after I had finished sketches for the items, the new pieces that I wanted to make for the space, that I realized that this could be a collection of lighting for Coil + Drift. I think if I had gone into it saying, "I'm gonna design this lighting for my home and then it's gonna be the collection this spring," I think it would have felt like too much pressure. And I wouldn't have allowed myself to really design for the space itself. But then once I had, then I saw that I could allow myself to then make it. Develop it as part of the collection, or as the collection for spring.
And then it's evolved. One piece of each of the families that we're launching is in this apartment now. But not all of the different iterations of these families of lights. So we don't have the chandelier and the sconce and the flush mount all installed in the apartment. It's really just that they all stemmed from one piece and one need. And then as I kind of developed the new iterations, I allowed myself to move away from what exactly was in the apartment and create new things. And then in the opposing that idea, I also allowed myself to not include some of the pieces that I designed for my house in the collection. So there's a whole chandelier sconce family, which I cut from the collection. Just because I felt like there were too many from one collection. And I wanted people to look at the collection and see the full thought, and not be overwhelmed.
LV : Okay, let me narrow this down to a few more things. So I know you mentioned also that you still do manage both design and business management. Is your role still 50/50 across those two roles and responsibilities? Or you are tending to shift towards one of those slowly, because perhaps of a new partner that you have?
JS : No. I would say, that my hands are still occupied by every aspect of the studio. I would love to eventually not be. But it's such a delicate transition process. I would either have someone who comes in with a lot of experience as a co-founder or partner, and we could just kind of make that organically happen. Or that I would find a business partner or a studio manager who I conld really rely on. I think that this could also happen with someone who starts as an intern or an employee and just stays and works and gets more and more responsibility and develops more trust.
And that's the process that I can't make happen myself. I feel like I can't make someone just walk in the door, ready to be a co-founder. So that's what I've done. I've started to bring in young people who are starting on the lower rungs but who are brilliant.
Part of being a business owner, for me, is that I kinda signed up to take on that responsibility until I'm really comfortable handing it off to someone. And I haven't gotten to that place yet.Of course I also wanna make sure that we have the finances to do it.
LV : Yeah. Makes sense. Except if you could have a business partner and investor that could join in.
JS : Totally.
LV : That might be hard to find.
JS : If you're out there, I'd love to meet.
LV : I'm sure. I know, myself, how hard it can be to manage different type of activities at once. At the same time it can be fulfilling in a way, if that's what you're looking for. What do you use to help manage your schedule and priorities? How do you navigate your kind of weekly schedule to make sure that both your designs and collections are well articulated and produced on time, but also that everyone's happy in the business and everything is paid for?
JS : Yeah. It's a combination of different softwares and good old fashioned organizational skills, I would say.
…But forcing myself to systems that I've set up is what makes it work. I think that's the thing I would say. Nobody is, or very few people, are naturally that organized. And running a studio demands that you are that organized or something will get lost. And something will get lost even if you are that organized. It's just gonna happen. But we have to try to minimize that. I have to do the things that I don't wanna do, and one of them is being deeply organized.
LV : Makes sense. Are you still able to prioritize uninterrupted time every week for creative thinking and design?
JS : I would say no, but I've gotten a lot better this year. Last summer we moved into a studio and it was the first time we were not sharing a space with other fabricators. We were always in workshops. And we would have shared offices in the spaces. And now we have a studio that is much more like a design studio. And it's our own space. That has made it a lot easier for me to surround myself with the process. There are images, both inspiration images and renderings and finished materials and drawings, all over the space. As well as being surrounded by our actual furniture and lighting. It's definitely lovely to work next to a piece that you designed and stare at it for an entire year.
So, I would say, I'm definitely getting better at making that time. But no, I don't have dedicated time. I force myself... I think the process for creation this year was different because I was designing for my home first, so that I was allowing myself to do it at home as well as in the studio. That was interesting. I had a specific vision for the purpose that the piece needed to serve. But no, I don’T look forward to a time where I can say, "Tuesdays from 10:00 to 12:00 is just me and the notebook and nothing else." But I do make time. It's just not on a specific schedule. And yeah, I'm getting better at it. I will give myself that.
LV : I said previously that I would come back to something. You mentioned earlier that you had many kind of routines or repetitive elements through your everyday life. Could you mention what kind of routine you have?
JS : Yeah. Absolutely. Well it's changed a lot this year because we've moved and we got a dog. We have a puppy who's seven months old. So that's two very specific things that have changed in my life. But I'll take you through, I guess, a typical day right now while we're working on this collection. I wake up and I shower immediately. Which I force myself to do, and I don't like it, but I feel better doing that. I feel like I get my day started faster if I do that than waking up and eating.
JS : So I wake up and I shower immediately. And then I eat breakfast and I'm out the door with the dog. And the dog comes to work with me two or three days a week. Which has been really lovely just to have that constant energy around me. He's a puppy, he's crazy. But he's really, really sweet. So there's definitely a large amount of ritual that comes into owning or having an animal. And that's been a big driver of energy in my life this year.
Then when I'm at the studio, I'd say that the repetitions that I, or the rituals that I have, are definitely around coffee. One of them is that I drink that same coffee every day and I stop at a coffee shop on the way to work which I don't need to do; I have a coffee machine at my studio. But I love this coffee, and it really helps me. Or maybe it doesn't help me, but it's a ritual and now I do it every day. When I'm at the studio, right now there aren't a lot of rituals because every day is so different. I wish I could say that I get to the studio and check emails and respond to all of our clients first thing. I definitely try to do that, but it doesn't always happen.
I put visual representations of the entire collection, as well as the space of the temporary showroom, on the wall. And I spend a lot of time looking at those. My team and I talk about new designs or new concepts. We often say, "Let's just put it on the wall because we need to stare at it for a week." I work a lot with the idea of first thought, best thought. So the first thing you think of, the first idea you have, is usually the best one. And then I let something sit for a week. Change it 1000 times and then allow myself to go back, usually, go back to the original idea.
So having this ritual of putting the designs on the wall has been really useful this year. That's probably a really good one. And then, gosh, I try to leave the studio at 7PM every day. Just to have a consistency of time at home. That's important. I'm not someone who stays at work until midnight. I try not to work on the weekends. I think because I'm up running my own business I'm always working to a certain degree. It's more about learning how to quiet my mind when I'm not at work, so that I'm not just always thinking about things that have to get done or finished.
So yeah, I mean, the big weekend ritual that I've been doing for the last six months is that I've been going to the beach every weekend. Our new apartment is 12 minutes away from the beach by car, which is very unusual for New Yorkers. And we discovered this after we moved in. And so I had never been to the beach in any season but summer in New York. Because that's when people go to the beach. They never go in the winter, so it's just empty and so peaceful and beautiful. I have to say that that's been a major ritual for calming myself in my creative practice. Literally every week-end, and sometimes two days on weekends we go to the beach.
LV : Where is that beach that you like to go to?
JS : Yeah, usually we go to Riis Beach, which is on the Rockaway. Our apartment's in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It's literally like a 12-minute drive.
LV : Interesting. It's funny for me to see that, on a personal level, I kind of navigate those challenges the same way in terms of routine. That's refreshing.
JS : Absolutely.
LV : As you said, I think our minds are always working anyway, it's more of allowing us some space to come back to work with a clear mind and the energy needed to go through the day.
JS : Yeah. I mean the other thing that I would say that you're making me think about is, I don't know if this is specific to New York or if this is just a general concept of working in the cities these days, but there's times that I've observed this idea of being at work for a really, really long time, and as much time as you possibly can, but then not actually doing a lot of work. Spending a lot of time on Instagram. Kind of hanging out speaking to co-workers. I've experienced, with a lot of different environments that I've been working in with Coil + Drift and also in previous jobs, that you have to be at work until 10PM. You have to be in your work environment, but not necessarily working. Nobody really notices that people aren't actually doing a lot of work. And I'd much rather not look at social media much, and kind of let that all go, and then just work while I'm at work and then leave. That's the goal. It's definitely a process. It's not always easy. But I think that's the goal that I'm reaching for.
And then, of course, as a designer I am also trying to find time to not think. And allow myself to kind of be bored and dream. Cause that's when you think of new designs and new ideas. When you just allow yourself to kind of space out. At least for me.
LV : Absolutely. Do you meditate?
JS : I have a lot in the past. I haven't been recently. I've been thinking about starting again. But no, there were periods of time where I meditated every morning for like three or four years. But I haven't been lately. I was definitely much more in touch with my body as a dancer and have allowed myself to kind of get swallowed up by running my own company in the past two years. I used to write morning pages every morning. Like three pages of stream of consciousness before I did anything. Like before I even got in the shower or ate or anything. And then I would meditate. So there was a lot of mind and body care that I haven't been doing in the last couple of years. So I would love to get back to that.
LV : It's hard to keep that nonstop for ten years.
JS : Yeah. Totally. If you've never read the book The Artist's Way, it's like a program, to unleash the creativity that you have already inside of you. It's an incredible program from the 80s.
LV : I'll look that up!
JS : It's an amazing program book. It's definitely part of the reason why I decided to start exploring a new career outside of dance. It's a really beautiful kind of process of self-reflection and figuring out what you're capable of that's already inside of you. And one of the things that you do is you write three pages every morning before you do anything else. You write literally anything you want. You never go back and repeat it. It's a stream of consciousness. You can write, "I don't know what to write." For three pages it would be just that. But it always ends up coming... you always end up having something coming out inevitably. And then you just let it be out there and you don't have to do anything with it.
It’s so useful. And at the end of the book, at the end of the program, she's like (the writer), "And then you should probably do this for the rest of your life." I was like, "Oh God. I thought it was done." So I've definitely come back to it and continued doing it, but I haven't done it every day since a few years.
LV : I mean, this is good. Why not keep on doing it, right?
JS : I know. And it is that good. It's just tough to find the time, for sure.
LV : Yeah. I understand. Well that's actually a good introduction to my last question. I was about to ask: if you were talking to your younger self in 2014 or 2013 just before you launched Coil + Drift, or maybe even when you launched it, like in the very beginnings of it, what would you tell that person? What type of advice or principles would you advise your younger self to follow?
JS : That's a fantastic question. And the first thing that comes to my mind is that I would tell myself to take my time. I would probably be very frustrated by someone telling me that, or myself telling me that at the time, because there's a sense of urgency when something is new, that I think is really important. But when I look back at it now, if there was a way that my past self could have found some time, it's always been useful. And I think that it's the most precious commodity as a designer. Especially as an independent designer. Because you always are on a deadline. And no one else is gonna pay your rent unless you make something that people love. So take your time is definitely something that I would tell myself.
But I think the other thing that I would say is, "You're doing good." Try to instil some confidence. You're doing well. This is good. Because there was a long time where I didn't know what the reaction was. I had a sense, but I didn't know. And it's always nice to get good feedback from people. I think that the design world is difficult in that aspect, because so much publicity feels like PR. Like it's been purchased. We don't really have a lot of criticism. The New York Times doesn't write reviews of design objects. They write reviews of architecture and dance and theatre and visual arts, but they don't write reviews for design. So it feels like a lot of press is purchased, and it's really hard to know if your work is appreciated. It's one thing to hear it from friends, and I have a lot of support and that was really lovely. But it took a lot of time for me to understand that it was actually working well.
And also, it takes time to start selling objects. I think that to this day, I usually say that, with a few exceptions, it takes about a year for a new design to start selling regularly after you launch it. And that's really tough for a new designer to understand. So “take your time” and “you're doing well”.
LV : Great. Amazing. Well thank you so much for your time and for all those great stories you were able to elaborate on.
JS : Yeah, thank you. It's also nice to personally reflect for a while. It's not often that I get to do that…
All images by Gabriel DeRossi