Who designs for the designers?

Award-winning Australian-international industrial designer Paul Cohen reflects on a few of his favourite things

By Susan Skelly 20/12/2018

Australian industrial designer Paul Cohen has won awards for products that inform the day-to-day lives of millions – kettles, flashlights, jockey goggles, a groovy iron, scalp massager, meat mincer and the EcoSmart Fire. But while function and reach are the Cube director’s gods on the commercial front, in his Sydney home, form flexes its aesthetic muscle in a more eclectic way.

Whose design work do you buy for the home?

I collect for the pleasure of finding. I prefer to have just one or two items from several different designers. I have the Karim Rashid ‘Ottawa’ extension dining table with its twiggy legs; I love its soft organic lines. I have a couple of Eames lounge chairs with their ottomans, and accessories like Georg Jensen salt and pepper shakers. I have Philippe Starck,
Marc Newson and Dieter Rams, who created a massive change in industrial design at Braun.

Who’s on your walls?

Martine Emdur, Jeffrey Smart, Charles Blackman, Jason Benjamin, Clifton Pugh. I buy because I like, but I often consult Paul Swain at Greenhill Galleries (WA) to make sure I’m on the right track. Art is a really great, stable investment.

The favourite toy

That joyride parked at my jetty! It’s a Williams Turbojet 325 mini tender. It goes from a standstill to 40km/h in four seconds, to a top speed of 77km/h. I fish from it, ski
from it, or take my daughter and her friends out in it. It shares the jetty with our Chris-
Craft Catalina 29 fishing boat.

The indispensable gadget

The Mininch Tool Pen, made by a Taiwanese designer, is no larger than a chunky pen. It comes as a big or small set and a tiny case which holds up to 22 bits. It’s one of the things I’d grab if I had to flee a burning building.

Clothes do maketh

Quite often, what I am wearing gives me a sense of luxury. G-Star, Helmut Lang, Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani … I have a Helmut Lang jacket that turns into a backpack – so clever – and I’m impressed with the Hugo Boss travel range, which looks great without ironing. I do like to wear a suit once in a while, but normally I just wear jeans. These Stone Island jeans I’m wearing today are 30 years old. I bought them on my first trip to Italy. And I bought these Giorgio Armani shoes in Florence 12 years ago. I am a great believer in the ‘cost per wear’ philosophy.

You work between Cube’s offices in Sydney and Shenzhen, China, and travel to other parts of Asia and Europe. Your carry-on?

It’s a graphite-coloured Philippe Starck backpack. I love the fabric, the stitching and the lining. In it go my laptop, Muji notebooks, pens, a ruler, a flexible rubber mouse and a Muji traveller’s wallet, which compartmentalises passport, boarding passes, bank notes in various currencies, itineraries, credit cards, pens and pencils – you name it. Then there are my Bang &
Olufsen headphones that have a plug for the inflight system, and the wireless earphones that sit nicely around your neck.

Favourite city?

I love Tokyo, the way they wrap everything into little boxes – in their architecture and lifestyle, the relationship between size and space. I was taught by master Sony designer Masahiro Takahashi, and everything was about balance and proportion, a distilled modernism. I love going back to Tokyo to check out the buzz.

Precious keepsake

When my father, Richard, died he left each of his three sons a watch. Mine is an 18-karat solid gold Patek Philippe, with a finely woven gold strap flattened on the top side. He bought it when he and my mother, Pat, were in Switzerland. Like me, my father collected memories, and this was his piece of Switzerland. I would like to think I will pass it to my daughter, Hannah. I do have a small number of watches, and each of them represents a moment in time; it’s corny, but I know exactly when I bought them and for what reason. I’ve never been a guy who does diaries, so I guess my collection is my diary.

So much of what you have designed has its genesis in the kitchen. Do you love the kitchen or hate it?

I love kitchens. My brother started as a chef, my mother is a chef and has run restaurants. The whole family has been into food. It’s not that everything in the kitchen annoys me, but I can so often see a way to make things better. Remember those old kettles with the lid that would spring open and shoot water all over your face? They would drive me crazy.

Proud products

The soft-lift mechanism on the Breville Ikon Kettle and the way it sounds like the door of a Porsche when it closes. The Blueye jockey goggles that can switch out lenses to suit the daylight. The Bork ceramic kettle, which boils the water first, then lowers it to brew your tea of choice. My ‘Balanced’ chef’s knife, which can be rebalanced to be heavy in the front or heavy in the back. I don’t design things that are disposable. They are made to last, and
I try to minimise my footprint by using recyclable materials.

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