In tribute: new monograph remembers the late and great James Irvine

James irvine
Phaidon press have published this new monograph paying tribute to the late James Irvine, who captivated the world of design with both immense talent and vivid personality. The cover shows 'Chair No. 14' for Muji / Thonet (2008), Irvine's reverent modernisation of an iconic 19th century piece
(Image credit: Press)

A new monograph published by Phaidon pays tribute to the late James Irvine, who captivated the world of design with both immense talent and vivid personality.

It includes contributions by fellow masters such as Jasper Morrison, Naoto Fukasawa, Michele de Lucchi, and is edited by Francesca Picchi with Marialaura Rossiello Irvine, his wife and long-time collaborator.

Designed by Sarah Boris, who is best known for reinventing the Institute for Contemporary Arts' graphic identity, the book echoes Irvine's spirited but unostentatious aesthetic. A palette of bright yellow, lime green and pastel orange throughout allude to his celebrated works. Generous spreads of sketches and product photography punctuate the monochrome text pages. And there is the occasional personal letter, casual doodle or candid shot of Irvine himself, to further shed light on the man behind the scenes.

Irvine bridged the worlds of British and Italian design. He was born in London and educated at the Royal College of Art, but soon moved to Milan where he worked under de Lucchi and eventually with Ettore Sottsass, while running his own studio. His dual allegiance is evident throughout his work, which wove together British effectiveness and humility with Italian playfulness and flair.

Irvine's design process is revealed through the juxtaposition of preliminary drawings with final creations. Many of these are accompanied by captions that had been written by the designer himself. We learn, for instance that he created the Daisy coat stand for Danese in the belief that functional objects should be beautiful while they are waiting around to be used.

Studio Irvine was sought after by many top manufacturers, among them Artemide, B&B Italia, Cappellini and Magis. Irvine's popularity, however owed not just to his design talent, but also his legendary hospitality. He became fast friends with designers of all generations – prompting Konstantin Grcic to call him 'the turnstile of design traffic' in Milan. Stefano Giovannoni fondly recalls Irvine's first late night party at Milan's Bar Basso, which began a tradition now observed by thousands at every Salone del Mobile.

The book concludes, fittingly with a tribute by Marialaura Rossiello Irvine. Within her affectionate reminiscences of their work and personal lives, Irvine's curiosity, wit and exuberance shine through most brilliantly. 


This spread shows the 'Daisy' coat stand for Danese (2004). Irvine said, ‘coat stands - like most objects - are sometimes empty, with no coats. Then they become objects which are not just purely functional, you have to look at them, they hang around waiting. 'Daisy' is waiting’

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kitchen range of germen

These pages show Irvine’s kitchen range for German tableware purveyor WMF (2001-6). He loved working with stainless steel, which he thought to be timeless. The diagram on the right page gives a glimpse of his thought process

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Loop chair 2004

These pages show  'Loop' chair (2004), Irvine's first project for Thonet. He describes, ‘a single line joins the back and the seat, like a large bent tennis racket. The design combines the traditional warmth of wood with the lightness and comfort of modern materials’

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Chair no 14

This spread contains promotional material for Irvine's 'Chair No. 14'. Naoto Fukasawa praises Irvine for introducing elements of great naturalness and elegance into a piece of design history. ‘It was his signature: to design products that were professional while also intuitive and user-friendly’

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Ongoing projects

Here we see Irvine's ongoing projects with Marsotto. Describing his enjoyable working relationship with husband-and-wife team Mario Marsotto and Costanza Olfi, together they created the marble specialist brand, Marsotto Edizioni.

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Studio Irvine lives on in the capable hands of James Irvine's wife, Marialaura Rossiello Irvine and Maddalena Casadei, who has worked with them since 2004

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Citizen office

This ‘Citizen Office’ diagram reveals the designer's thoughts on an accessible, enjoyable and democratic work space

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Irvine's drawing

This is one of Irvine's drawings that he produced when working with Ettore Sottsass in 1989-90. They worked alongside other designers to come up with pepper mills, condiment sets, bowls and trays, which culminated in the 'Twergi' collection for Alessi

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This early sketch was eventually developed into a console table that used aluminum, glass, mosaic and wood in a series of overlapping elements, it was part of one of the last Memphis shows curated by Barbara Radice, which Irvine participated in

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Polar 1999

'Polar' (1999), a one-off piece created for a Wallpaper* exhibition, accessorised with 'Belvedere' mirror for Danese (2006)

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Utopian Design Antibody

'Utopian Design Antibody' shows the tenants of good design such as humour, quality, and simplicity in tension with constraints such as banality, superficiality, greed

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TF Chan is a former editor of Wallpaper* (2020-23), where he was responsible for the monthly print magazine, planning, commissioning, editing and writing long-lead content across all pillars. He also played a leading role in multi-channel editorial franchises, such as Wallpaper’s annual Design Awards, Guest Editor takeovers and Next Generation series. He aims to create world-class, visually-driven content while championing diversity, international representation and social impact. TF joined Wallpaper* as an intern in January 2013, and served as its commissioning editor from 2017-20, winning a 30 under 30 New Talent Award from the Professional Publishers’ Association. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he holds an undergraduate degree in history from Princeton University.