Merlin Wright was at a party when someone suggested that he might be interested in a job at Plain English. He already knew of the brand - at the time he was a cabinet maker and had recently visited their Hoxton showroom to gain "inspiration". It would seem whoever that someone was, the suggestion was pretty canny as it has now been 16 years since Merlin joined Plain English, currently presiding as the Design Director.
Plain English was started in 1992 by Katie Fontana and Tony Niblock. Like many great companies, it came into being from a realisation that there was a gaping hole in the market. Katie & Tony were building a traditional longhouse and were on the hunt for a kitchen. All the ones that they saw at the time were too garish, so instead of settling for an imperfect solution, they decided to get a local carpenter to build a kitchen to their specifications and painted it in their favourite shades of blue. The house was photographed for a magazine and they were subsequently inundated with calls. Not about the house but about that kitchen. Fast forward three years and they were opening their first showroom, fittingly, in Hoxton Square.
Their London showroom now sits in Marylebone, and Hoxton Square is the home to their sister company, British Standard. British Standard was started due to the growing demand for off the peg, well-made cupboards that could work in any room. As if two incredibly popular kitchen companies wasn't enough to contend with, in 2018 they opened up their first US showroom to rapturous applause, with designers and editors posting pictures of this new and wonderfully coloured import.
I am never sure how people find the time to do these questionnaires, especially when working on one of the top interiors companies in the UK, but I am so delighted Merlin did as I adored all his answers.
I like days when the stress of the main event is over but there's still some fun to go, so maybe Boxing day. For the same reason, I like the apres-ski, the after-party and the fug of a cosy pub after a long day out sailing.
Until its recent, and hopefully temporary closure I'd say Vasco and Piero's Pavilion in Poland Street. Its original location was at the now demolished Academy Cinema where my parents were regular patrons and as a baby I'd be left to sleep or crawl under the table while they dined. It had a fantastically camp interior designed by Angus McBean with columns topped with golden pineapples, a canopy ceiling and gorgeous theatrical details. The cooking was and is classic, top-quality Italian and they are planning to re-open soon in a new location.
Best Moment in your career so far?
I view my work as a kind of paid, extended education, especially as I mainly drank beer when I was actually at design college. We've had so many great clients and collaborations that it's hard to choose but it's been great to work with designers like Christopher Howe where one can feel one's sensibility adapting to new perspectives.
Do you believe in Star Signs?
Not really but they're a lovely idea. Our chief painter has a semi-professional sideline as an astrologer and is very convincing although he mainly writes for a prison newspaper with a readership whose immediate futures are pretty limited, I'd imagine.
Any good advice? Who gave it to you?
Before becoming a designer, I studied boatbuilding where an old instructor would chide us for our mistakes with the phrase 'measure twice, cut once' which is to say that we should plan and check things carefully before committing ourselves. In contrast to this cautious principle I also like the saying 'time and tide wait for no man' which is by Chaucer, apparently although I first saw it on a clock at the V & A by CFA Voysey.
I mostly read old books about sailing and exploration but my favourite novel is probably the 'Sword of Honour' trilogy by Evelyn Waugh. He was, by most accounts a snobbish and unpleasant man but was a wonderful writer with a near omniscient ability to depict the human condition in a way that is both profound and wickedly funny. I was interested and impressed to hear that Alexei Sayle, the comedian and part-time communist also chose this as his favourite book when a recent guest on Desert Island Discs.
Do you like poetry?
In small doses, as it's so intense but I find that certain lines bubble into my consciousness when needed. I'm drawn to the darker writers for some reasons, Larkin, Yeats and the bits of Eliot that I can understand; perhaps it's a kind of 'spiritual inoculation' as I do worry about 'measuring out my life with coffee spoons. If I need cheering up there's always Betjeman.
What is the worst job you’ve done?
My cousin is a farmer and one summer, as a teenager I helped him grade his sheep. We trapped them in a steel corridor and examined their teeth - if good, they were released to the fields, if bad they were loaded up for the abattoir. Some of them had such soulful eyes and plaintive bleats that I lied to gain them another year in the meadows.
What would your autobiography be called?
How about: 'Is this Wright..?'
A song that can always make your foot tap?
My foot taps to most music it's just the rest of my body that has trouble joining in. A song that springs to mind is 'staying alive' by the Bee Gees as it's so great and so silly at the same time.