If you spend an ounce of time in Los Angeles, you’re likely to recognize the heavy mid-century modern influences present at every turn of the corner. A staple in this sunny city that flourished in the 1960’s and has been blooming ever since, the style is noted by symmetrical shapes and a sense of classic cool. Simon LeComte comes from a family who is responsible for many of the mid-century modern furniture designs you see sprinkled across Los Angeles. His mother’s company is Amsterdam Modern, one of Los Angeles’ largest mid-century modern furniture houses, while his father operates Nationwide Classics where he exports exotic and classic cars. As for Simon? He has two design entities at the ripe age of 25 – NewMade LA which is a vintage-inspired new product line and his custom design line Simon St James Studio.
Laura Austin took a trip to Simon’s studio to capture him in situation as he creates and kicks it on a sunny day in Echo Park. Get to know him below!
LF: How did your love for design form?
SL: I’ve always been exposed to design. When I was younger, I was always creating something. I loved being hands on and building. I’ve built everything from potato cannons and catapults to motorcycles and spearguns for free diving. I even blew up our microwave once to see if I could put it back together. True story. Over the years, my aesthetic matured into producing things that were more practical, due in large part to the people and lifestyle around me.
I grew up in a mid-century house designed by Edward Fickett, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégées. My mother, who graduated from RISD, is an entrepreneur whose skills helped form my sense of design. Her company, Amsterdam Modern, imports mid-century modern furniture from the Netherlands. My father (from Amsterdam) owns and operates Nationwide Classics, where he exports classic and exotic cars. My mother’s company definitely plays a large role in what I do today. Having her and her business to learn from has always been a large benefit to me, and one that I don’t take for granted. It was always the furniture and housewares that greatly influenced me. Being able to walk through the warehouse and see these iconic pieces of design in person was huge. I would disassemble a piece in my mind, seeing what materials are used and exactly how they were constructed. What I love most about this era of design is nature of simplicity and function. Mid-century design is practical and never over the top. There was so much thought into, ‘How can we make this easily, simply, and cost-effectively, while also producing something that is aesthetically pleasing?’ That is the question that greatly influences my own projects.
I now have 2 design entities – NewMade LA, which is a vintage-inspired, newly produced product line and Simon St. James Studio, which focuses on all of my custom design including various bars and restaurants as well as private clientele.
LF: What does it mean to you to evolve as a creative and business man within your family business?
SL: It’s great because I get the best of both worlds. Both of my parents are business moguls in their own right. My mother, Amsterdam Modern, is one of the largest mid century modern dealers in LA if not the country, and my father probably deals about 300+ classic cars a year. While my mother’s business plays a little more closely to what I do as a designer, both have passed down values to me which I could never forget. They’ve been great teachers and have lead me to a point where I feel very confident in what I do especially at a still relatively young age. Their lessons have helped both of my companies to become successful after less than a year since their launch. My custom design company has about 10 decent sized projects under its belt with more in the works, and my product line, NewMade LA, which mostly deals with home and house goods has seen great growth over its first 10 months and I can’t wait for the next coming years to see what’s in store.
LF: Your work calls on design from the mid-century modern era, a creative decision that contrasts with your present day spent living in the age of tech in Los Angeles. How do you see these two forces merge together in your work?
SL: I think of mid-century modern as an aesthetic and technology as a tool. I love the mid-century era because of its tendency to focus on the simplicity and function. Technology for me is a useful tool in the production and ideation of design. I personally have always had a love/hate relationship with technology, but I do not doubt its usefulness and importance within the field when it comes to production, new materials/mediums, and the various fields of design that require the utmost precision. For me however, technology can sometimes hinder my design process. In my opinion, there is no substitute for the physical aspect of a design.
For instance, when it comes to drawing out a product or idea, it might take me about 30 minutes to render the design on a computer whereas I can sketch it out in about 30 seconds. The same is for the physical product, you can render your idea in a computer but it will never be the same as having the real prototype in your hands. I’d rather be in the studio just going for it than sitting at a computer screen. I use my computer and tablet to help animate a design but if you want to find me working on a project, I’ll most likely be in the shop.
LF: Do you approach design with your head or your heart?
SL: Both. I view my head as the real/physical world of practicality and feasibility while I view my heart as the inspirational/imaginary world. The two have to work in unison. I want my ideas to be fun and creative and out there, but they still have to function and work within an actual space. For my custom design, often times I get brought into a space by the client with the ability to create whatever I want which is great because my mind can roam and come up with crazy ideas. I like to think that I approach design with three things: head, heart, and eyes.
LF: Describe the last time you had to make a difficult decision?
SL: Difficult decisions happen all the time in my world. Mostly it’s that the client’s direction isn’t in line with my aesthetic, which leads me to the question: “Do I abandon my instinct or please the client? When I believe in a design or direction, I try not to compromise. Sometimes you just have to stay true to yourself.
LF: You’re quite young for the level of success you’ve seen thus far. Do you feel a sort of pressure when it comes to your work? Why or why not?
SL: Sure, but it’s not the pressure that I get from outside influences, it’s the pressure that I put on myself to succeed. Both my parents are self-made, and for that I look up to them. They have never pressured me to do anything, but it’s almost as if I have this need to show that I can be as accomplished and successful in the same way that they are. I think this world doesn’t give handouts and if you want something, then you need to go out there and get it for yourself. While I come from a privileged background, I’ve never been a complacent person and enough is never enough – I can always do better. I put this pressure on myself to succeed not because I have to, but because I want to. Work now, play later.
LF: Where do you see NewMade LA in one year? Five years?
SL: I want NewMade LA to be everywhere. I’ve never been a patient person (one of my faults), so I wanted NewMade to be at that point yesterday. But, I know that goods things take time and don’t happen overnight. In a year, I hope that we gain enough traction to be a well-known brand and in 5 years, I hope to be close to a household name. There’s been a lot of progress in the past months and I firmly believe that my team is on the right track to get there. I think the mentality behind the design is our biggest advantage. I wanted to create simple, high quality, and affordable pieces that everyone can have. I think good design should be accessible to all and I believe that NewMade LA has done that.
LF: Who or what inspires you the most?
SL: It may sound cliché, but the world around me inspires me most. My main inspiration has been Dutch mid-century design and its designers, but nature is also one of my favorite forms of inspiration. The world is an amazing resource, whether that’s plants or animals, weather or geographical formations. The world has so much to offer and it is often taken for granted.
LF: Do you think true invention within design is possible?
SL: Absolutely. I think nowadays a lot of people are really just re-inventing the wheel. It’s important to strive for originality and designers who can truly revolutionize the way we go about our lives or change our emotions/sense of state are rare. I pride myself on originality and never take ideas from others. I’ve seen it within the industry and it’s a shame. In a world where you can be anyone, be yourself.
LF: What was the last dream you had?
SL: I was a Kung Fu fighter and this evil Kung Fu robot was trying to attack my imaginary girlfriend. I did a power punch and pulled out its heart. Girlfriend lived. Robot died. The end!
LF: Three things you loved the most on your last trip to Amsterdam.
SL: I cruised around on a friend’s boat through the city canals drinking wine and eating dutch cheese, did a little joy riding on a vespa, and went out for a night on the town with the boys. It was fun and that’s all I remember.
LF: How FAST do you live?
SL: I’m the FASTest man alive. Some say that I’m too FAST.