MICHAEL JANSEN: CROSS-CULTURAL
Drawing From His Travels Abroad, The Furniture Designer Brings A Global Perspective To His Work
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Michael Jansen Studio, Ltd., New Delhi, India PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Sagamore Hotel, Miami Beach, FL

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LEFT: Referring to the future of design, Jansen says “people today crave a warmer contemporary.”
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Furniture designer Michael Jansen speaks four languages; was educated at Yale and Cambridge; studied art and architecture in China and India; and has traveled to more than 70 countries. Worldly in every sense of the word, he draws from his experiences abroad to give his pieces an “urban tribe” feel, as he puts it.
“My work attempts to bridge the gap between rural and urban. My view is that my work stands between two worlds to hopefully remind people of their own natural beginnings,” Jansen says. “When you look at the market, there are a lot of cold products, either too purely made or too industrial. With the increase in technology, the warmth that comes from using natural, more primitive materials helps center us.”
It’s this philosophy that inspired Jansen’s most recent collection, appropriately called “Urban Tribe.” Tables, chairs, sofas, cabinets, beds and more comprise the collection, whose pieces are made of materials indigenous to various exotic ports of call. Jute leaf and pen shells from the Philippines; coconut husk and black mother-of-pearl from Indonesia; fine bamboo cane from Japan; and eggshell lacquer from Vietnam pay tribute to the many destinations Jansen has visited.
“After three years of intense research in more than 25 countries, this is my first truly mature collection,” he says. “Urban people understand and appreciate it. It helps them to dream a little. The pieces are a bit exotic, dreamy and mysterious … but not too funky.”
Born in Schaumburg, Ill., Jansen attended Yale University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Upon graduating, he continued his studies in England at Cambridge University, giving him a European perspective on design. Thereafter, he moved to China for four years and obtained an art degree in Chinese painting and a philosopher’s degree in architecture. It was in China that Jansen was introduced to the world of interior design, and thus, furniture making.
“Philosophically, China had a huge impact on me as a designer. All of its architecture grew out of painting,” he says. “Details are important to the Chinese. For instance, they believe that corners should always be covered to bring the eyes past the edge, so to speak. It’s a practice known as ‘du jiao.’ This kind of subtlety and attention to detail really woke me up as a designer.”
In addition to China, Jansen has been profoundly influenced by his journeys to India and Italy. “In China, there are shades of gray, but India was big color.
The jewelry and decoration were an assault on the senses,” he recalls. “India was my first introduction to exotica, and consequently, I fell in love with all exotic worlds — anything that questioned the rationalism of Western design.”
Italy, on the other hand, epitomizes beauty and sensuality of design. “Whether a 14th-century facade or modern furniture, design is the focal point of their culture,” Jansen says. “They are the benefactors of great art and design, and always will be.”
Though Jansen considers himself a furniture designer, he feels he is practicing architecture more than anything else. “A well-designed chair, table or lamp has more to say about architecture than buildings,” Jansen says.
Two other collections precede “Urban Tribe” — “Asian Fragments,” his first, followed by “Dream Windows.” Eventually, Jansen would like to add an accessories and a textile collection to his repertoire.
Showrooms in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, West Hollywood, Calif., as well as others throughout the country carry Jansen’s work. In Florida, his pieces are available through the Judith Norman Collection at DCOTA in Dania Beach at 954/925-7200.
In addition to making furniture, Jansen is affiliated with Palm Beach-based Bilkey LLinas Design, one of the top 10 hospitality design firms in the world.
For more information on Jansen, who divides his time between New Delhi, India, and Shanghai, China, call Michael Jansen Studio, Ltd. in Chicago at 866/203-1501. Or, go to his website at www.mjsworld.com.
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The wood-and-onyx “Chand Table” inspired Jansen’s first collection, “Asian Fragments.”
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Inspired by an African throne chair, the “Mamba Side Armchair” is one of designer Michael Jansen’s favorite pieces.
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Zebrawood veneer forms the shaft of the “Minar Torchere.” When lit, the inside emits an amber glow.
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Originally part of “Dream Windows,” Jansen resized the “Xylophone Table” and added it to “Urban Tribe.”
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