Inspired by Philip Johnson and Rare Minerals, Jonathan Olivares Designs a New Textile for Kvadrat

Working with the Harvard Art Museum’s Straus Center for Conservation, Olivares developed the textile after creating a specially-commissioned piece of furniture for Johnson’s Thesis House.

Jonathan Olivares Kvadrat
Courtesy Kvadrat

Ask Jonathan Olivares about Twill Weave and he will unravel the fascinating threads that shaped his first project with the storied Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat.

It began in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the Harvard University Graduate School of Design invited the 36-year-old design polymath to contribute a piece of furniture for Thesis House, a Philip Johnson structure near the school’s campus. Inspired by a visit to the building, Olivares conceived a daybed that evokes Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona furniture, which originally inhabited the space. Olivares was especially captivated by Thesis House’s wood beams: Because of the wartime metal shortage of the 1940s, Johnson had turned to ship mast–makers to produce the project’s support columns. Taking this idea further, Olivares thought to upholster his modern daybed in a wool textile similar to the carbon-fiber masts used in sailboats today.

Figuring out Twill Weave’s colorways took a bit longer. “I don’t do color,” laughs Olivares, referring to his spare, monochrome wardrobe. Eschewing the range of commercially available synthetic hues, he turned to the Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, renowned for its collection of rare, naturally occurring pigments, created before the age of Pantone. “With so much human and industrial meddling in the colors available to us, I became interested in peeling back the layers of intervention,” explains Olivares.

Working with the Straus Center’s director, Narayan Khandekar, he identified hues from an assortment of minerals, marveling at the color variations he could draw from a single material. Viewed as a collection, the 19 colors that Olivares picked out from centuries-old materials for Kvadrat look surprisingly contemporary and cohesive.

Olivares says he cherishes the various narratives embedded in Twill Weave’s creation story. “What I like about it is that it’s all connected,” he explains. “This object constitutes a kind of recording . . . . For the person who’s interested, it’s a learning device.”

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