Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Tony Hornecker

He wined, dined and dazzled us with his pop-up restaurant spectacle, and now set designer Tony Hornecker takes us behind his pale blue door for a run through some trade secrets. From home-spun exhibitions to Bat For Lashes collaborations, he reveals how anything is possible if you stick to your convictions.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Texas, my father was in the American Air Force and we moved between the States and here. From the age of 10 we settled in Hertfordshire.

What first inspired you to get into set design?

Set design came quite naturally, there was no real intention it just grew. I had always made things, loved collecting oddities and when I moved into my current space 6 years ago, an empty warehouse in Dalston, it became one giant set build really. The set designer role grew from that.

How did you get to where you are today?

I began doing a few shoos with my friend Benjamin Huseby and it just grew from there... lots of very hard work and working with as many people as possible, doing tons of editorial shoots.

Can you describe your studio?

My studio is more or less a collection of houses, the workshop itself is pretty basic, then I built a house within the space. It's very much my style, very rickety and made from lots of reclaimed things I find and collect. This is where I live and inside this house there is the tiny wee house in the attic, up some stairs made from old wine crates, this is where I sleep. Then there is my summer house I built on the roof and the Brazilian brothel tucked away in the corner of the attic.

I constantly have to keep working on it... it will never stop developing.

How does an average working day unfold?
Walk the dog in the morning, send my emails, then I start getting whatever materials I need together, off in my van collecting what I need. If I'm making anything I often don't start ‘til the evening, strangely I still like to work alone and really get stuck into things once my assistants have finished for the day.

There is a certain zone I fall into and love pottering about the workshop on my own, although having people around can stimulate other areas and I love the company.
I'm really enjoying having a space big enough at last to actually have people here working with me. It wasn't really possible before and that was a real strain at times.

What is the inspiration behind The Pale Blue Door?

The Pale Blue Door came about due to some desperate times. Then the recession hit and the work just vanished, it really seems set designer seems to be the first chop off the budgets! I realised I was four months behind in the rent and was going to have to do something pretty quick.

I had worked in restaurants all my life off and on and it just came in a flash. Samara my assistant had come in one day and I just said we're opening a restaurant!
I really wanted it to be very much like a speakeasy, maybe on the banks of the Mississippi or in Berlin as the Nazis rose to power.

We went round making little tables in all the nooks and crannies, a table in the shack, a table in my bedroom. We made tablecloths from scraps of fabric in the workshop, old shirts became napkins. I had been collecting old plates and cups and old tea pots for a while and I just added to these from car boots etc.

I was a little embarrassed by the whole thing initially. I felt it was a slight failure to be pushed to having to cook for the masses to survive but it was so well received the initial four days became a month. I loved it, it was very intense but everyone was always so happy and impressed with it that it became the thing I’m most proud of achieving in a way.

It's back in June for a few weekends.

What advice would you give anyone trying to make it?

If you want to make it as a set designer, try and be true to who you are, it's often better to work less but what you do is utterly your work, your style. I made the mistake of saying yes to everything and diluting what I was really about to the point where I'd lost any sense of who I was... let alone expecting others to know what you do.

Be brave, be strong and say no if you feel you won't get anything out of it.
At the end of the day you do editorials for free to get great pictures in your book, which leads on to money work, which leads on to more great editorials etc.
Don't worry about what everyone else is doing! Just keep at it and your time will come.

Could you tell me about your collaboration with Bat For Lashes?
Bat for Lashes just popped out of the blue really, she came to my studio for an initial meeting and fell in love with the place. We are both huge dreamers and share a very similar aesthetic, I really get what she's about, she came to my last exhibition and seems to really get me too... we will work together in the future, we keep trying to make an exhibition happen, a collaboration, taking all the inspirations from the album and creating something amazing. I have so many great ideas it just keeps coming back to funding. I would love it to happen though

And a bit about the exhibition you staged recently at your studio?
The exhibition was an extension of my first show the previous year. It told the story of my journey to London, finding my feet here and frequently falling off them! This last one was really the story of my 20s, lots of boy heart ache, travels and adventures. I built a little street of houses through my attic and you would crawl through, peering in the windows at these little scenes I'd made telling some memory of mine.

What projects are you working on now?
I'm building a shop front for Jeanette's new shop in Shoreditch. I'm making it from old doors I'd been collecting, they are all really beautiful, it looks a bit like an old Jamaican shack and all those doors flapping away should make a very pleasant summer for dear Jeanette.

Working on a piece of work for a group show at the new Dalston Superstore, it's entitled The Tree Of Fucking Creatives and should raise a few eyebrows!

Went to Northumberland last weekend to create an eccentric country garden for Harper's Bazaar with Benjamin Huseby and Jacob K.

Apart form the raging insomnia which comes whenever I'm creatively happy things couldn't be better.

The Pale Blue Door will continue at weekends throughout June. Contact for more information. Visit Tony's blog or click here to see more on The Pale Blue Door.

By Imogen Eveson

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