When Tim Wallace was 11 years old, he had an experience that would influence him for the rest of his life: He and his family moved from South East England to the U.S. "The three years we spent living in Pennsylvania had a huge impact on me," recalls Wallace. "It really broadened my horizons. I came to the U.S. as a naive little English kid and left with my eyes opened to how big and diverse the world is."
Living abroad was the catalyst for Wallace's love of exploring, which has served him well as a furniture designer. "I like to gather information and learn about all the issues from as many places as possible when working on projects," he says. "I do a lot of research before I actually start to design."
In fact, Wallace goes so far as to hide his sketchbook lest he be tempted to start designing too soon. "It's very easy to get seduced by some nice little sketch you've started," he explains. "But once you've got this image in mind, you might begin excluding features or capabilities that should be there. So I don't even pick up the pencil until I'm fairly confident I've got a clear picture of what it is I want to achieve."
Designing for an international market has its own set of challenges. Although working on Herman Miller's Abak environments crossed many cultural lines, "we came up with a set of core components or families that can be put together in different ways to shift the emphasis, depending on particular needs," says Wallace. "It was a fascinating project to work on, and what we achieved was enormously satisfying."
Wallace says he's part of a small group of UK designers who are trying hard to influence the industry overall. "My goal when designing furniture is to make it relevant for the way we live. It shouldn't be exclusive or impenetrable. It needs to be accessible to everyone."
The successes Wallace has had designing furniture for vastly different markets--from China to Italy to the U.S.--is a testament to his commitment.
The work world is a better place thanks to Tim Wallace's decision to become a designer rather than another path he once considered. "When I was young, I wanted to be a guitar player in a band," he laughs. "But touring with some friends as a roadie when I was 18 convinced me that maybe art college was a better way to go. And when I discovered industrial design, I knew I'd made the right choice."