In this episode, I’m delighted to be talking with Kate Pincott, a designer, curator, and co-founder of Nafisi Studio, a British-Persian duo safeguarding traditional handcrafted joinery in Horsham, England.
I first met Kate several years ago in London, while she was working as a product designer at Facebook and curating an international talk series, “This Happened”, which explored the making process within interaction design.
It’s only very recently when I received a curious email, marked “Into the woods” that our paths crossed again, and I realised her story may resonate with the longing many of us have to rewild ourselves and reconnect with our natural home.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
Having spent 10 years working in digital design in the London tech scene, Kate moved away from the city to design physical experiences and objects instead.
She now works as a designer maker and artist at Nafisi Studio, teaches steam bending woodworking courses and is investigating what designers can do for the Climate Crisis.
Written, recorded & produced by Nathalie Nahai © 2019.
NN: Hello, and welcome to The Hive Podcast. Today, I’m delighted to be talking with Kate Pincott, a designer, curator and co-founder of Nafisi Studio, a British-Persian duo safeguarding traditional handcrafted joinery in Horsham in England.
When I first met Kate, it was back in London several years ago when she was working as a product designer at Facebook and curating an international talk series called This Happened, which explored the making process within interaction design, so really fascinating stuff. And it’s only really recently when I received a curious email marked Into The Woods that our paths crossed again and I realized her story would make a wonderful addition to this show.
So Kate, thank you so much for joining me in conversation today.
KP: Thank you. I’m excited.
NN: Me too. And it’s also quite selfish because I’m really curious to start by asking you about how and why you’ve made this transition from tech to trees, leaving behind 30 years of life in London, successful career at Facebook, and now it seems like, maybe this is just my projection, but uncharted territory of woodworking and climate action in a small cottage beside a forest. It sounds to me very romantic, although I’m sure it’s extremely hard work. So what moved you to take this leap, or to make this move into a different sphere?
KP: Good question. It does sound kind of crazy when you say it like that.
NN: Inspiring, I think.
KP: Yeah. I think it was quite a lot to do with love actually because I love London and I’ve grown up there all my life, but when I met my husband, Abi, before we were together, he was this kind of forest man who was into music and spent six years in the desert-
NN: Oh, wow!
KP: … and was into yoga, and I was this tech, city lady who was always busy, schedule full of meetings, parties, events, you name it. Going to art galleries and just buzz, buzz, buzz, and I was really attracted and curious to his kind of slower pace of life. And when I went to visit him on his farm and had my first experience of making a fire from scratch-
NN: Oh, wow.
KP: … in the garden, and then I had my first experience of chopping some wood, and then just really got into this kind of slower pace of life, and realized that I could spend a lot more quality time with Abi, so I think that’s slowly how I got kind of seduced into it. And then I’d kind of looked back and realized that I’d made quite a big transition and so it didn’t actually feel that jolting. It didn’t feel that harsh contrast.
NN: So it was more like maybe one step and then another and a sense of kind of discovery down a new path and then when you looked back, you realized the distance that’s been walked.
KP: Yeah, exactly. And perhaps, maybe, that’s more of my living situation but I think the move from tech and a career in tech to being a woodworker is probably more of a bigger jump.
NN: I can imagine people probably do a bit of a double-take, they’re like, “What, you do what now?” So were there any inflection points where you just thought, okay, there is a decision to be made now. Where there any of these sort of points along the way?
KP: Yeah, definitely. I think at my job, I obviously realized that I was working lots of lots of hours and it was taking up a lot of my time, and I just longed to be back home and in the forest and with Abi. Abi obviously runs his own woodworking business and so slowly, both me and Abi one day just kind of looked at each other and were like, why can’t we just join each other? Why do we have to live these separate lives? We can spend more time together if we worked together, and I was already him with things like the website and just … In his design as well, I like to try and simplify and edit things out so I was obviously trying to do that with our woodworking and our design as well. And so naturally it kind of merged. And both of us love Eames, Ray and Charles Eames, and so we found this idea of working and designing together quite exciting and inspiring.
KP: So I think the biggest point was deciding when to leave my job and I think that I probably decided that quite a long time before I did but I just didn’t know when, and I think that was a difficult one to make. If anyone that’s umming and ahing about it, it can be difficult because once you are excited about your new thing coming up, it’s very difficult to have the motivation to go into something every day. So I had to really make a conscious effort to be really grateful for everything that I was learning and receiving in my tech world and to really make the most of it, and really suck it up and really put my all into it, so that time didn’t drag on and that we could go in smoothly to the next phase.
NN: And I wonder with that, because I think most of us, even when we’re doing something that we feel passionate about, or when we’re doing things that are exciting and stimulating, and with my own experience of this as well, at which point … because there is that inner balance of being stimulated, being excited by stuff, feeling like you have something to learn, something maybe to contribute, and at the same time, the sense of, well, maybe my desires or my rhythm that I want to have in my life, maybe that’s changing and deepening and slowing. And I don’t know if it’s just to do with the stage of life that we’re in or a response to a hyper-connected, super speedy lifestyle that many of us experience as daily life, but at what point does that balance between those two things of gratitude for this extraordinary opportunity to be in these fast-paced industries, what point does that become less weighty than the longing for something else?
KP: Yeah, I think it’s balance, isn’t it? And I think for me, in my world, I just really wanted to spend, slow down and spend more quality time with my loved ones, and by myself as well. I was craving just to spend time by myself and to make with my hands more than make with the screen. So I think for everybody, that balancing point is going to be a different and a lot of people, they have their techy, fast-paced jobs and lives and they also find time to wind down and to have time for themselves, and so I hugely respect that, but I think, for me, I wanted to spend the majority, the biggest part of the pie, the biggest part of my day, more in touch with myself and in touch with nature and I think that’s what helped me make my decision. I was like, where is the biggest chunk of my time going? And that helped me to make that decision and find that balance.
NN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s a nice way of thinking about it. And I wonder with that transition, did you experience any resistance or were people generally fairly supportive and interested to hear more.
KP: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think there was any resistance from my close friends or family because they say, “Oh, yeah, Kate, you love hugging trees and you’ve always done work for charity and things like that,” so they saw me as, they didn’t really see me in the corporate rat race kind of thing, ever staying. They didn’t see me staying there for too long, but I think they were a bit shocked maybe because, and people keep saying how brave it is, because I think they find it a bit scary, the idea of just dropping something that you know a lot about and starting from scratch and learning. Obviously I’m not a woodworker, I do not have years of skills in making, so that can, I think, for a lot of people can be daunting.
KP: And also the pay cut. I’ve had a comfortable salary for the last 10 years and now I’m going to be living a much humbler existence and I think, again, that really scares people because there’s no longer that cushion or convenience buying. So, yeah, I think people were shocked, but no resistance.
NN: So let’s talk about that shock thing because I’ve been wondering this a lot as well, especially as we’ve started to hear more about the ways in which we consume, how damaging the ways in which we consume actually are and how maybe the structures of capitalism are starting to be challenged by various different voices. So I’m starting to contemplate these things a lot more and I wonder about the attachment that we have to standards of living, that maybe those of us who are in privileged positions, where we have comfortable salaries and a comfortable existence, maybe the sense of not needing as much as we think we need, and people who see those of us going off into a different direction saying, “Oh, well, that’s really courageous,” maybe it’s also about a reframing of what it means to live the good life, so to speak. What are your thoughts on that, on, yeah, living that more humble existence, as you put it earlier.
KP: Yeah. I deeply agree with that. I think that it’s quite difficult to have thoughts of your own, of what you think is an ideal lifestyle, if you’re so busy reacting to everybody else’s. So when you’re constantly on Instagram and Facebook, on Pinterest, and looking at what is the best way to live and what other people are doing, there’s not much time to really think about whether you agree with it and what is your vision for your life and so I think … And that’s said for offline news as well, reading magazines and whatever other stimulus we are having around us.
I love the inspiration but I think equally important to get inspiration and research is to also spend time thinking about what is good for you and what you like and then creating that vision for yourself because, I think, quite quickly you realize, when you list the most important things to you on your hand, not many of those five things will include stuff. And you could probably fit most of it in a backpack or in a caravan. And so I think, yeah, I think you’re right, when people start to really get to the core of what makes them happy and what they love, they don’t need as much physical or emotional comfort around them.
NN: When I think about life in London, because I now live in Barcelona, kind of accidentally, when I was living there it was very exciting and it’s like a maelstrom of cultural things to do, beautiful food to eat, amazing museums to go and spend an afternoon in. There’s a lot of stimulation and I found that even though it was very exciting, once I had a bit of time and distance away from it, this sense of reconnecting with myself in a different way, in a quieter way, in a more contemplative way, was suddenly much more available to me. What are some of the deeper insights that maybe you’ve experienced spending more time with yourself, with your beloved, among the trees, doing this kind of woodworking, learning these new skills?
I think one of the biggest concerns when I left London was that I would have
fear of missing out and I wouldn’t go to any of the cool cultural events or
things that are on the scene, things that are happening as much, and that I’d
miss out, but what shocked me was that I actually have more quality time with
my mates than I ever have in my life because when they come to me, I really
give them my full presence, I’m really there.
I’ve cleared out time to be with them, I’m not just fitting them in a coffee break in a Starbucks somewhere or, “Oh, let’s go and watch this movie that I want to watch,” and then you spend the whole time in silence, what’s that about? Or, “Can you come with me to this event that I need to go to anyway,” and then you’re busy look at this art exhibition instead of really just being together.
And now I can spend more quality time walking with them and chatting and also they sleep over normally because it is a bit further out and I normally get them for the whole weekend. And so I really noticed how much better relationships I have with my friends since moving away. So I think that’s a huge shock for me.
And in terms of events and the buzz and the cool things that are going on and that I love about London, I think that I just actually plan for them, so I can have both, basically. I can have the beautiful scenery of the countryside and I can have the peaceful mornings, but I can also go into London and make sure I don’t miss that theatre or that cool exhibition or that gig. If you actually count the number of times that you go to these events, the ones that you care about, they’re easy to plan in. So I feel like I have both, and whereas when I was in London, I only had London.
NN: And it’s hard to know what it’s like outside of London when you’re immersed in it and it’s such a seductive place to be which I know is not the cause for all of us, of course, it depends on time and context but, yeah.
I want to ask you a bit about the ways in which your working has changed as well. So you were previously the software designer and curator for This Happened London and now you’re taking what I’d imagine are some of those same honed skills and applying them in a new direction, learning about the climate crisis, and creating a new project called Earth Happened. How are these projects linked, or not linked, as the case may be, and how are they informing the way in which you’re using your skills now to do more of the work that you’re caring about?
KP: Yeah, they’re definitely linked. It was kind of an evolution. So when I left uni and I was freelancing and contracting, I did quite a number of years, eight years contracting before I had a full-time job. So one of my ways to stay in contact with the physical interaction world, while I was mostly in the digital, was to do a talk series all about physical digital projects, and I attended one, because it was originally founded by Joel Gethin Lewis and then Alex Deschamps took over and I was there when Alex was there. She’s the found of the Good Night Lamp, and I was just inspired by her and what she was doing. And I loved this format, this kind of Pecha Kucha format of listening to talks, but my favourite parts were when people described all the things that went wrong, and all the mistakes, and the tension around it, and I loved hearing about how people managed to deal with that, and that was my favourite bit.
So when I decided to take on the talk series, I did that for four years, I would always focus my speakers on talking about the mishaps and the problems and the failures because I think that’s what really resonates, whether you’re a student just coming out of a creative degree, or whether you’re a practitioner that’s been there for years, it’s always intriguing to hear how people get round things. And I feel that naturally, as I was more interested in the climate, I therefore wanted to focus these designers and thinkers and tinkerers and creative minds on that topic.
last one I did was called Earth Happened, and I got speakers who were working,
and artists and designers, who were working in the climate sector to talk about
projects they’re working on and what happened, tell me what happened. So then
they told me their journey and their story and what happened and I just,
everything in my body was saying, yes, yes, yes, I want to hear more of this
and I want to do a whole series that’s exactly the same format but just about
And what put me off … That was last year, end of 2018. And I was going to kick it off in January of this year, and I just wanted to pause and I felt like before I launch into doing and making and talking, I really want to just research up what’s happening and is this really the best contribution because, yes, I’m kind of just doing this as an extension of my own personal research, so I’m getting all these people together in a room just so that I can meet them and I can answer my own selfish questions basically, and is this a really good use of everyone’s time, and perhaps I could do that research by myself and perhaps there would be wiser, more effective ways of actually contributing to the situation.
So I’ve put that on pause but the one event that I do want to do this year around this, is to learn and to help people work out what is the most effective way to lobby our government.
KP: And so when I do do some kind of event, workshop for Earth Happened, it will be around that because everybody has a different approach and I love the work of Extinction Rebellion who I know that you’ve spoken to as well, but I’d really like to know, as a design, as a creative, as a maker, what can I do to get involved in helping and lobby the government, and so that’s kind of the evolution. And I’m hoping that those speakers will also talk about their learnings and what happened and what they made mistakes with and real tangible examples of lobbying that they’ve done to make change and then from that what they’ve learnt.
NN: That sounds like such a useful, powerful, rich event and also inspiring as well as practical because I think one of the things that I’ve found tricky, and I’ve grappled with a lot of these questions, thinking about even just doing this podcast, I was thinking, what skills can I deploy where I can try and contribute something meaningful and also do the research for myself, but I think what you’re describing is something in which you are curating people together in such a way that you’re making all of their voices available for people to hear, so there’s one place to find these resources, you’re getting to hear about practical steps, and pooling insights and knowledge that people can then take with them and try out in their own localities. I think that just sounds so exciting. I shouldn’t be fan-girling on this podcast but I am slightly, sorry!
KP: And also deeply rooted in experience, you know, because I go to a lot of design talks that are all about theory and hypothesizing and there’s lots of room for that. I love thinking about speculative futures, I love it, but I also really like to root myself in real experience of what’s happened and that’s why I like getting advice from people who’ve actually done and tried things rather than from people who say, “Oh, yes, I think we should go that direction. What do you think? I have no experience in this matter, but … “
NN: I think a dose of humility is always a bit of a good thing.
KP: Yeah, definitely.
NN: Well, so, I wonder with that sort of input what you think about pathways forward to raise awareness about what’s happening, empower people to take actions on various different levels. What’s been your experience about the change that you would like to see in your own life and maybe some of the conversations that your transition has sparked with your friends?
KP: Yeah. I think people struggle to know what difference they can make individually, for the climate crisis. I think people struggle to know how the gestures that they do make, how they’ll actually add up to the bigger picture. And I think they have a mistrust of the information they’re given because we’re told to recycle and to save water and to do our bit but then we also get told that even if everybody did that, that still would only account for the global 25% of carbon emissions, and so we’ve still got 75% to go because that’s all run by corporates. So then it leaves you feeling rather disheartened that all of your effort hasn’t actually made the biggest amount of difference you were hoping and actually that the power is in someone else’s hands.
And so I think any work that I do moving forwards is to get people to feel empowered and have a sense of agency. And I think that people, we are creative, we are creative beings as humans, and we like to work with our hands, and when you make something tangible in front of you, you have huge agency, you see it forming right in front of your eyes, you can even cut your finger sometimes and it hurts, but it’s right in front of you and you feel alive, and that kind of making, and that spirit is hugely empowering and, I think, healthy and really good for mental health, and it makes people feel like they can do something. And more than that, it brings people together to talk, to make together, and to collaborate, and I think those feelings, those emotions, those values are what we need to build that future that we’re looking for.
So although making things with our hands is not directly a parallel solution to the climate crisis, I think that it is a kind of antidote to any crisis, if that makes sense.
NN: Mm-hmm. And so you talk about this process of making which I love, and I get it, when you create something that wasn’t there before and it’s physical, it’s tangible, there’s something magical about that, especially the effort that goes into it, and something that you have to pay with your time and your physical skill and labour and attention. How has this process altered the way in which you relate with yourself, with others, with the natural world, any of those big questions?
KP: Yeah. I think that definitely something big that came up for me was that I’m not very patient, I want things now. I could blame Amazon Prime for just giving me the most convenient lifestyle, and I could blame Netflix on binge, that I have the next episode immediately in front of me, but it’s also just the pace at which we live our lives. You can contact someone across the world immediately and therefore, it changes my expectations of myself and my body and really, myself and my body hasn’t changed and it’s completely unreasonable to expect us, as humans, to react in the same way because we’re not robots and we’re not machines. So I think having to learn patience and learn that I’ll get the best from myself when I give myself rest and space and quiet, and, yeah, and self-love really. I think that-
NN: It’s just the small things!
KP: Yeah, it sounds simple, doesn’t it? It sounds cliché but I think I’ve tried to apply a childlike curiosity, a childlike love to everything, in the same way that I feel like I’m becoming a child again by running around in the fields and spending all day with my family, like you did when you were a kid, I’m also having that childlike curiosity for a brand new thing that I don’t know anything about, and I’ve also got that childlike care. If a child came up to you and said that they’d hurt their foot, you’d never say, “Well, you were going too fast and you shouldn’t have done that.” You’d say, “Oh, God, I’m so sorry. You poor thing.” So I’m trying to give that same kind of childlike love to myself and, yeah.
NN: It sounds like a very loving, compassionate practice. How do you do that?
KP: How do I do that? I guess I still hear my critical voice in my head, saying, “Oh, you stupid idiot. Oh, you’re rubbish,” or something, but then I try and back that voice up and say, “It’s okay, baby Kate.” I kind of talk to the baby, [inaudible 00:24:28] version of myself, and say, “It’s okay, I know that you didn’t mean that. I know that you’re trying,” or, “I know that you put a lot of effort into that,” or, “You’re just learning, that’s okay.” I sound psychotic! Now you ask me-
NN: No, no, no.
KP: I have a voice in my head.
NN: It sounds wise.
KP: But I kind of talk to the baby Kate, I talk to my baby self, and if I have a tough time or tough conversation, I kind of talk to that inner … because I think that’s still there. I don’t think that your inner child goes anywhere. I think you just have more layers on top of it. And it’s kind of funny because now that I’ve become quite articulate at talking to baby Kate, I think that the people around me are as well because my husband says that my voice sometimes changes as well.
NN: Oh, that’s so interesting.
KP: So when I make jokes, my voice softens, and so instead of having a corporate voice, I’ll say things like, “Oh, did you like that?” And he’ll be like, “Oh, baby Kate! Baby Kate’s coming out!” And I’ll be like, “What are you talking about? I’m a serious businesswoman. You need to take me seriously.” And he’s like, “No, no, but it’s wonderful and it’s beautiful,” and he says, “But your inner voice is coming and I love that because you’re not scared of judgment and you’re not scared of being silly.” So that’s interesting, that that never really came out before as well.
NN: See, that’s so fascinating. There’s so many elements there that I want to pull out. So the first thing about talking to oneself or different parts of oneself, I found that to be really enlightening and empowering, and just in my own life as well, but also talking to other people, to be able to address aspects of yourself, because we’re so multi-layered, we’re not just one personality and that’s it, we have all these substrates and it’s kind of like you’d look at a beautiful carpet and you wouldn’t just say, well, it’s made of one thread, of course it’s not, it’s made of all of these beautiful coloured threads and they all interact with one another. So I love, love what you said about that.
But also these expectations that we place upon ourselves, that we have to be a certain way or show up or present a certain way in order not be judged, in order to fit in, in order to live a life that we think we want to live. So I wonder, what have you learnt about the expectations that maybe both we and others place upon ourselves and the way that we live our lives?
KP: Yeah. I think I haven’t really had too many people being, “Oh, you’re crazy, you’re going to be poor for the rest of your life. Don’t you know how to save for a retirement plan?” I haven’t had too much negativity like that, but I have had people say things like, “Oh, cool, I’m so jealous. I always wanted to be a woodworker,” or, “I always wanted to work with my hands.” And so I’ll say, “Oh, cool, I didn’t know that about you. What stopped you?” kind of thing, “Why didn’t you?”
And generally, people just, what I’ve learnt is that people want to play it safe and they want a guarantee of income and they want to be able to say that they have certain kind of ideas about what it means to be successful. So they’ll say, “Well, by the time I’m 30, I need to have my own house, and I need to have … It needs to be a respectable house, not like a student house. And it needs to be our own, it needs to be not shared,” and things like that. So I hear that and I go, whoa, that’s a lot to unpack there. In order to be considered adult and successful, you can’t live with other people. That’s very isolating, wow. And then in order to be happy and feel like you’ve earned enough, you have to have bought your own house? I mean, I’m like, whoa, that’s really difficult these days, you know, house prices are …
So it feels like there’s lots of ideologies maybe, or ideals of what it means to be successful around, and this is obviously just the limited group of mates around me, and where I live, it’s probably very different in different countries. But, yeah, I find that quite a heavy burden to carry for people. It sounds quite stressful whereas I don’t really feel like that at all. I don’t have any expectations on how I need to be at a certain age, but I understand that pressure of wanting to feel sorted, and wanting to feel secure and safe, and wanting some kind of guarantee.
NN: Yeah, but it’s so interesting, isn’t it, because we operate on the assumption that if we acquire these things as whatever our society suggests, so there’s like a script, if we follow the script then we’ll be secure, we’ll be safe, we’ll have made it, quote unquote. The thing is, life is this ever moving, changing thing. There’s not such a thing as making it or arriving because it’s not stationary and I think that’s one of the most insidious illusions that we’ve bought into which is, when this happens, then I’ll be happy, safe, fulfilled and it’s going to stay there and it’s going to be the state of permanence which is, I think, is something which then generates all this anxiety because we’re guarding ourselves against something which isn’t even, we can’t even achieve the security that we want. I mean, we can achieve certain levels of security, of course, I’m talking about if it’s good to save for your pensions, or if you want to send your kids to school, or whatever it might be, then maybe you need to have certain resources, but, I don’t know, beyond a certain point, there’s so little that we can do to control the current of our lives in certain respects, and so guarding against that seems crazy because it’s not even possible, I think. At least that’s where my mind is at, at the moment. Maybe someone will come along and go, “No, you’re wrong, here’s some evidence.”
Why are we so reluctant to surrender ourselves into a little bit more uncertainty? I’m not talking about giving up all our plans and hopes for the future, but just to give ourselves a little bit more freedom to deconstruct our ideas and to play and to contemplate and to take risks.
KP: I don’t know, I’m not an expert, but for me, I think it comes from not knowing yourself well enough because when you know who you are and you know where you stand, that clarity of what you want to do just comes as a by-product naturally, and so there’s less hesitation or anxiety or unsureness of whether this is the right decision, because you just know yourself. You know what you like, what you don’t like, you know who you are. You know what’s going to break you, and what’s going to bend you, and you know what’s going to make you thrive. And so I think when people are less aware of those things, then I think, yeah, it is quite a daunting experience. It’s like jumping into a real mixed bag of cards or black or something, yeah, something unknown and scary. So I do get it.
I think also, the other thing is, it depends on your personality, whether you like something that’s … I think I’ve always been quite risk, attracted to risk. I quite like a little bit of risk because I find that exciting whereas other people would like to play it safe, so I understand that as well. It’s down to your temperament. So I think I’d be bored if everything was always the same and consistent. So I think I might change my mind in another five years and do something completely different but it’s definitely a personality thing as well.
NN: So what has been the biggest challenge in all of this, do you think?
KP: I think slowing down. Nathalie, Nathalie, Nathalie, I find that difficult. I sometimes sit and I feel just so inadequate and unproductive because I’ve not done anything or made anything, and I just struggle with that because I know that I’m not doing anything wrong but in my old life, I could have done five emails and I could have shopped for all these different things and I could have booked this and that and I could have got this done, and I could have made this for someone, and I could have just achieved so many things, and it makes me feel like I’m ticking things off my list, but in this work, you can spend hours and hours and hours chipping at something and then you break it and then you have to start again. And there’s nothing you can do apart from just take it on the chin and keep going, and just be patient, so that’s been really tough.
And then the other side to that is, instead of working with 50 people, and in three different time zones, like I was before, and when I say 50 people, I mean 50 teams-
NN: Oh, wow.
… now I’m working with one person and I think that is difficult because I think in a larger scenario, you can probably set some kind of rules for working, but when there’s one other person, there’s not that many different inputs. It’s literally you and them so it’s your way of working and their way of working and there’s kind of a real head-on, you really have to listen to each other. I know you have to listen to each other in a corporate world but there’s two humans that are not over Skype, they are right in front of each other and you really have to listen to each other’s bodies and each other’s needs. I know a lot of people say the opposite, they say, “Well, if you work with 50 people, you can definitely work with one,” but I think the expectation changes, what you’re expected to give and take changes.
So Abi is, as I said, a desert man, lived in the desert, hasn’t touched a spreadsheet in his life. So when I say something like, “Oh, can you just chuck that in our Google doc and just ping that to me?” he melts down, he’s melting, he’s like, “What on earth does that mean? You used three words in there that I don’t even know what they mean.” So I’m kind of going on a jargon cleansing at the moment-
KP: … where I’m trying to get rid of acronyms and any kind of text speak and re-evaluate my patterns of habit using the computer and trying to go a bit more analogue. So we write a lot of our to-do lists on paper now.
NN: That’s so satisfying.
KP: And yeah, just trying to balance basically with another person, but, yeah.
NN: So it’s obviously quite a lot of change. What’s been your biggest joy in all of this so far?
KP: The joy. Oh, so many joys. Waking up in the morning and hearing birdsong is beautiful. My alarm going off, which I still use, but not feeling like I suddenly have to run to a meeting. That’s really cool. Spending more time with Abdollah just is wonderful. I get to spend all day with him and, yes, we have our own things to do in our own space, we have separate times, but I love eating together over the fire, we cook on the food outside.
NN: That’s so nice.
KP: Love cycling more. Going on walks together. Where I live, the sky is so clear that I can see all the stars, and we just can sit having a cup of tea on our bench and just look up and gaze for a bit, and just, oh, breathing. It’s definitely a lot more chilled.
And I guess, also just itching that itch so, as I said earlier, I love technology and I don’t feel like I’ve turned my back on that. It’s more like adding something in addition to it, so I’ve been able to add in this tangible element and maybe in the future, I started my career off in electronics, so maybe the electronic world, and the tech world, and the physical world, will all come in together in some product in the future, who knows. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all. But just itching that itch of using my hands, been learning woodturning and things like that has been really good.
NN: It sounds like there’s a lot of joys in there. So do you think your story, and this is a kind of a bit of a lick your finger and hold it up in the air, but do you think your story is part of a larger wave of change?
KP: Mm-hmm. I’ve definitely heard a lot more people talking about doing more handmade things and wanting to get more in touch with nature because that’s definitely like, I feel like that’s definitely like a zeitgeist thing. And I think being in Britain particularly, we had a huge heritage of making, and our creative industry is one of our biggest industries. So I think that’s probably natural, wanting, because of Brexit, wanting to get back in touch with our roots as makers and creatives and I think that makes a lot of sense.
But I think also there’s the element of people being fed up with being passive on their phones, and as I said earlier, we are creative beings, we have life in us that makes us want to make, and so I think that people just want to have a more active role in the area and space around them. So I do feel like that is a … It’s also like you know in history of art we have peaks and troughs. So we have the digital age and then you had this retro punk, steampunk analogue reaction which is a nostalgia back to the time when you could actually see inside machines. And then you have the slick hiding everything behind the white and silver lines of the Apple look, aesthetic. And then we come back to this, oh, I like the analogue, I like to see inside a car, inside a watch, I want to see inside.
And so I think there’s peaks and troughs is very, is a natural sign wave, it’s a natural undulating rhythm. So now that we’ve had this amazing connectivity with our phones and technology, it’s natural that we want to have some kind of introspection and time alone and time to breathe. So I see that all as kind of a breathing pattern of us as a human species. But I’m not going to be throwing out my phone any time soon because I put my business post on Instagram and it’s amazing that my mates across the world can see it. That’s awesome. I can also see what’s happening inside Saatchi gallery right now. And I can also see what’s happening in the middle of the Himalayas by a group called the Adam Tribe who live completely off the grid.
KP: Definitely worth checking out, by the way. They are awesome. They built a whole hotel in kind of like, kind of refuge haven, up there in the feet of the Himalayas. And from whatever extreme you want to dip your nose into, you can still tap in and see those things. But I think people are looking for that balance.
NN: And I think tech being something which brings an addition to our lives but doesn’t make servants of us.
KP: Yeah. Doesn’t replace that face to face human interaction, it just enriches it, I think.
NN: And I think that sense of presence that one has when one’s physically in the company of others, for me, it’s a very different experience than having someone behind a screen.
So you talked earlier, briefly, about the exciting thoughts that you were having about work with the climate crisis and ways to contribute meaningfully, so I kind of want to close with a few questions around that. When it comes to that side of things, what’s your biggest concern for the future?
KP: I’m concerned that we’ll bury our heads and just not make enough change in time, and that even if the government does listen to us and we do make the right laws and put them in place, that there won’t be enough community amongst us because we’ve learnt to be so independent from each other, technology has made us so separate, and although that’s beautiful, it means that we don’t ask for help as much, and it’s so important that we ask for help and that we live as a community and that we work together. And so even if all the laws do go in place, will we come together enough? That’s what concerns me.
NN: And what vision are you working towards achieving, either, or both, on a personal level and on a more macro level?
KP: I would love it if I could bring back that respect and value for handmade things because if I look at somewhere like Japan, for instance, they see the craftsman in such high prestige. They really respect that skill and they see it as, just like maybe in the UK we would aspire to be a surgeon, or like a high level doctor, they see that in the craftsman, and I love that, and so I would love to help bring back that kind of handmade creativity to people’s daily lives because a) it gives them that agency and it makes them feel that they can do and build things, but also it brings them together. And so when they see things in the shops and stuff, when it’s handmade, they’ll appreciate it more and then their whole house will be filled with more soul and more character and less plastic and less soulless stuff, and they’ll feel more connected to their area and they’ll know the people that have made the items that they’ve bought. And that whole, more sustainable local vision, and more human-
NN: It sounds also that that builds in threads of connection and belonging, that if we’re buying things, beautiful things that have been made nearby, that we know the people who are making them, that there is that source of richness of, it’s like an invisible touch or through line that you just don’t get in massed produced things in the same way. And it’s not that mass produced things are bad per se, like I’m speaking to you on a laptop and I’ve got an amazing zoom mike, these things are mass produced and I benefit greatly from them, but just the orientation shifting more towards something which has been made by the hands of another, that has its own story to it almost.
KP: Mm-hmm. And building that value into our culture, right, because you can’t make people just suddenly care about it and appreciate it. Crafts often has had this kind of lowly, doggy, granny knitting, handkerchiefs, not very aspirational or sexy or high-end kind of imagery, kind of branding to it, but I would love to make people see craft as something as highly beautiful, highly precious, highly skilled and highly desirable in their home.
NN: So for anyone who’s thinking, listening to this, oh, maybe I want to dip my toe in, or maybe I’m curious about making a change in my life, and they’re feeling like there’s something that’s there to explore, what advice might you offer them?
KP: Well, Abi and I have been trying to harmonize a bit more with our surroundings, with nature a bit, and one of the easy ways to do that is just to try and get up in the morning earlier and go to bed earlier because in the morning, the birds are going like crazy, I’m telling you. They are chatting non-stop. It’s beautiful. It’s so noisy. And then in the evening, they all hush, and they go to sleep and it’s this wonderful silence and stillness. And just doing that has really helped us to be more productive and just, yeah, more in sync with ourselves and with our environment. And I think there are probably lots of other ways that you can do that but that’s just one example, but just generally, to try and observe nature, to try and be in nature and observe and analyse and see what you notice and then try and copy it.
And I know there are huge universities and swathes of academics who are looking into bio-mimicry and academic ways, but I’m sure also, we can get insights just from doing it ourselves, just by looking around us and looking at how nature does something and then seeing if we can copy from it, or learn from it.
NN: And I think this direct experience feeds into the rich tapestry of how we all learn and we relegate it, we go, well, let’s read it in a paper and then only then will I decide that it’s something that’s valuable enough, that’s been peer reviewed enough for me to integrate it in some way in my life and that’s wonderful but also so is direct experience and direct relationship and craftsmanship.
KP: Yeah, definitely. I think that taps into what you were saying about what is beauty because I feel that when you really know, when you have time to observe something, I think that’s beautiful. That is beauty, when you take time and you pause, and you understand something. And when you have those moments of really thinking about what you really enjoy and what you like, whether it’s a childhood memory, maybe you had an ice cream with your grandparent, or a hug with your parents or something, then you learn to distinguish between what you really like and what life is telling you to like, and I think knowing that distinction is what helps you to then move forward and choose things that are really more valuable and meaningful to you and more beautiful.
And that’s when you can then flush out all these other voices that say, “Oh, yes, it has to be peer reviewed and it has to have a star 10 on Yelp,” or whatever it is, or, “It hasn’t got a four square rating, so I can’t go there,” or that kind of thing, I think, that goes away because you know in yourself what you find beautiful.
NN: I think that’s such a beautiful point to end on. Kate, if people want to reach out to you or find out more about what you’re up to, where are the best places for them to find you?
KP: Through our website really, just through the contact page. I check that like a hawk.
NN: Okay. So I’m going to link in the show notes, nafisi.design. Also, earthhappened.com, if that becomes live with the projects that you’re incubating potentially.
KP: Yeah. We’re mostly on Instagram actually, nafisistudio.
NN: Cool. Well, thank you so much for talking with me. It’s actually personally very exciting and inspiring and I’m sure everyone listening will have had some really nice moments, insights.
KP: I’m still learning, all the way, always learning. And you can check in with me, Nathalie, to see if I haven’t gone stir crazy in a few months. See if I’m still feeling as zen and calm.