JOMOsteel came into existence as a bespoke design brand with a focus on a ‘rethink’ of the birdbath. Since then Jo Moulton’s design practice has evolved into a studio that not only designs outdoor furnishings but also employs bold sculptural design solutions to dramatise the space between architecture and landscape, interior and courtyard. Here, I interview Jo to discover how it all came to be.
Why the bird bath?
I was looking into my garden when a one-footed Magpie landed on one of those plastic, neo-Palladian bird baths, the kind that Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) would prize in her cottage garden. The magpie struggled to get a grip. Meanwhile, noisy Miner birds flew in, pushed out the disabled Magpie and the entire edifice collapsed in a squawking, shrieking commotion. This farcical incident propelled me on an obsessive journey to research and redesign a superior bird bath for birds, a contemporary bird bath for designers that would focus the eye on the dramatic rituals of birds bathing.
What was your inspiration?
Initially, I looked to the gardens of Pompeii, the Renaissance gardens of France and Italy and then I landed in 1930s Paris. I honed in on Hungarian, Mathieu Mategot, a designer who engineered his own technologies to fashion and pleat his perforated metal furnishings. He didn’t design a bird bath as such but his work was light, elegant and timeless and captured the expansive Modernism of his contemporaries – Coco Chanel, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Eileen Grey et al. This epoch remains a rich source of creative design and technical inspiration.
How did it all start?
As an arts marketing specialist with a background in education and art galleries it was ‘an about turn’ in direction from ‘advisor’ to ‘apprentice’. It placed me on a sharp learning curve that involved conceptualising and designing through CADS, a search for quality metal artisans, new technologies and prototyping. I began to recognise the possibilities for enhancing the outdoor visual experience and I found a niche market for high quality exterior design. Ultimately, it has led to the creation of a portfolio of ‘bespoke’ limited edition bird baths, outdoor steel screens and artefacts and an evolution into a small, exterior design practice under the brand name, JOMOsteel.
Who is your market?
JOMO bird baths have found their way into a range of gardens and settings. The bird baths meet an exacting set of technical and aesthetic criteria for discerning birds, gardeners, architects and designers.
For birds it is the luxurious ‘six star’ bathing experience – the warmth of the water temperature, pool depth, perforation and edges for gripping, weight for stability and a metallic sheen to attract and reflect the sunlight.
For gardeners there is weight with the capacity for tipping and rolling to move and maintain. Marine quality stainless steel catches the light and withstands rust and harsh climactic conditions. It attracts birds and attunes the viewer to bird watching and meditation.
For designers and architects there is a sculptural quality that is solid, safe and that can be up-scaled or downsized to create a strong focal point in a contemporary architectural or public landscape setting. Leading USA landscape architect, Raymond Jungles, for instance, was captured by the scale and minimalism of the Winged Dish for his Modernist garden designs and retired architects and owners of the Vineyard Gardens on the Mornington Peninsula have imbedded one into their formal garden ‘rooms’. Engineers are attracted to the ‘Aquadome’ birdbath because of its durability, its curved and perforated structural elements and its highly functional qualities.
How do you dramatise an exterior space?
The inner city courtyard, for instance, is a close-up, ‘in your face’ space that has some uniquely difficult design and planting issues. Often a deep and narrow space with limited light it lends itself to theatrical solutions, including humour. JOMO’s “Toy Plug Hole” is a mobile sculptural solution that draws the eye into the intimate space and away from neighbouring air-conditioning units or solar panels. In a café courtyard exterior it has proved to be an effective distraction from functional elements and toilet facilities. I work closely with my clients to refocus their eye and find effective ’take-away’ solutions that avoid the need for expensive permits or structural changes.
At the Lord St Richmond courtyard site the aim was to draw the eye down the extremely high brick walls and away from ugly industrial fixings on neighbouring roofs. A white planter box leads the eye from the white interior around the courtyard perimeter for planting sculptural bromeliads and succulents. Rendered white, the walls form a backdrop to monumental steel columns that hook over the high walls to lighten the sculptural effect and connect the space to the dwelling. A hot pink screen made of cement sheet conceals a bank of electrical service units and gives the courtyard a theatrical splash of colour. A JOMO Pop Art screen is added still allowing for airflow while giving it an eye-catching three-dimensional finish. A JOMO toy sculpture and Galero bird bath provide strong focal points that dramatize this deep, narrow scape.
What is the future of exterior design?
I think the challenge is to provide havens from the mad speed and intensity of modern life, urban ‘grottos’ that enable us to stop, think and meditate, commune with nature and reconnect with the spiritual elements of life.
Professional designers are opening vistas, outdoor kitchens and dining areas, redefining courtyards and poolside gardens. They are glazing and greening our urban and domestic habitats in a synthesis of architectural, landscape, interior and exterior design. The Outdoor Cooperative blog captures these trends.
The JOMO bird bath sits in the centre of this trend. It’s welcoming (to birds), simple, sculptural and functional. It symbolises a strong desire to slow down and reconnect with nature.
The short of it…