Marc Newson has a new toaster. "I tend to pick projects based on what I want or need [these days], on purely selfish terms. And I've always wanted a decent toaster. A wheelie-bag too," says the acclaimed Australian industrial designer. "I try to look at things from the perspective of a consumer. What could they want? What do I want? And the list is getting smaller."
Small wonder: a survey of his output includes pens and bunk-beds, jets and dish-racks, rocking horses and Champagne bottles, kettles, torches, mobile phones, restaurants and shops, mirrors, taps, chairs, cars, coffee cups, lights, shotguns, clothes and watches, for brands as diverse as Hermès, Montblanc, G-Star and Apple; he designed its smart watch in collaboration with his friend Jony Ive.
Newson is also the creative director of Qantas Airways, and the designer of the Lockheed Lounge, an aluminium-clad chaise longue that in 2015 - for US$3.7 million - became the most expensive piece sold at auction by a living designer to date.
He has pieces in the permanent collections of more than 20 museums around the world and is one of just a handful of designers whose name - a brand in its own right - has come to transcend his designs. Not that Newson is all that comfortable with that idea.
He's the amiable Aussie, the space-fixated, Jetsons-loving kid with an art school-trained mother with the vision to take him out of education for a year to travel around Europe, and a grandfather who encouraged him to take everything apart and re-build it. He's the student who studied jewellery design - learning to weld, solder, rivet - and persuaded his tutors that he should be able to enter a chair as a project, since a chair was, in a sense, something one wears.
"My job is to find solutions, so I have to know the problems - so the more exposure to the problems out there the better my response will be," Newson explains. "Travel helps. But I work across such a broad space, many different types of industries that it's important, as I think it is for any designer, to have a comprehensive understanding of contemporary culture. And I don't think designers generally do. I don't think architects or even artists do either. Many are so mono-dimensional in the way they approach things."
Newson spends about half of his time away from London where - after stints in Tokyo and Paris - he has made home along with his wife and two daughters. But he is well used to being in client meetings. "Design is a slow process - everything takes a minimum of two years so there are plenty of opportunities during the course of the project to change things - or to kill an idea," he says.
"Rarely do you get to look back and think, 'I should have done this or that'. And, of course, what you do is geared towards production, so it's about understanding how you roll it out, geographically as well. One of the great things about what I do is that there are few geographical borders, unlike many creative industries. You don't have to design a chair for China and then change it to make it work in Brazil."
Newson's distinctive style transcends borders too. His is a colourful, curvy, organic, materials-driven aesthetic, in which everything and anything from shagreen to carbon fibre to polyethylene to steel might play on his palette. This is the man who made a shelf from a five- tonne block of marble and decked a speedboat in micarta - made from layers of resin-laminated linen.
But, he suggests, he has also had good timing on his side: the fact that many manufacturers and consumers are only now, it seems, waking up to good design's potential. "I've spoken with Jony about this and we've both said we think a pent-up anger [at the design around us] is our greatest source of inspiration - looking around and saying 'that's just horrible!'," he says.
"And it's just as well I can. If everything around me was wonderful, I'd be out of a job. That anger is inspirational because you understand that it doesn't cost any more energy to do something better. Of course, everyone has different taste and there are many solutions to a problem, so I'm only talking about when it's really bad. And design doesn't always result in quality. After all, there's a lot of lip-service paid to the idea that something is 'designed', especially when you're working within the imperative of the market, which is about offering choice for choice's sake."
He adds: "I'd love to be able to present a solution that enabled a lot of people not to have to make those gruelling choices again. I think there's the potential there [as a designer] to clarify for the consumer. There's still so much crap out there. [Besides] nobody likes designing for landfill."
Indeed, for all his one-man battle to improve the product landscape, Newson can often seem rather disappointed by the machinations of the design world today, and, he explains, not without good reason. There is, for example, the tendency of some companies to see every new design idea through the lens of their marketing departments, which is, he says, not the best way to create a progressive product.
Then there is the 21st century's very approach to design, one remodelled in the image of the digital age and over-dependent on computers. "A lot of industrial designers are really stylists, and increasingly so," he says.
"But the thing is that a computer is just a tool. What's missing is the sense that the best ideas still come from deep within your head. I'm a pen and paper man because I know that if you're always working with computers your thinking is subject to that piece of software. And I don't think that's a phase. I think designers of my generation are last of a breed."
HOW HE GOT HERE
1963 Born in Sydney, Australia. His mother runs a beachfront hotel full of contemporary design
1986 Newson creates his Lockheed Lounge chair, winning him international recognition
1990 Moves to Tokyo where he develops his Wicker Chair - which wins him his first commissions from major European design manufacturers
1991 Moves to Paris and sets up a studio
1997 Moves to London to establish Marc Newson
2004 Newson's reach extends: he starts long-term collaborations with Nike and G-Star, and designs a concept jet
2005 Named one of Time magazine's 100 Influential People of the Year. The London Design Museum hosts the first retrospective of his work
2006 Awarded Royal Designer for Industry, Britain's most prestigious design accolade
2011 Back in Sydney, Newson becomes artistic director of the city's New Year fireworks display
2012 Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to design
2014 Joins Apple
2015 His Lockheed Lounge chair sells at auction for US$3.7 million, making it the most expensive object ever sold by a living designer