Five Questions For is GRAY’s weekly candid Q&A session with design industry luminaries around the PNW, in which we delve into all things personal, professional and occasionally humorous.
LAST WEEK, WE WELCOMED OUR NEW EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, TIFFANY JOW. She just moved to Seattle from New York, where she was the Design Editor at Surface magazine, an international print and web publication that covers design, art, architecture, culture, and travel. She joined the publication in 2007 as an Editorial Assistant, and served as a Contributing Editor before becoming its Design Editor in 2017. During her tenure, she worked to make Surface’s design coverage more accessible, inclusive, and human-focused while growing its audience.
We sat down with Jow earlier this week to get a deeper understanding of her interests, goals, favorite design objects, and the one item of clothing that proved to be a deal-breaker (very) early on in her career.
What are you most looking forward to about working for GRAY magazine?
There are not many design publications left in the world. Of the ones that do prevail, none are focused on the Pacific Northwest—except for GRAY. I believe in GRAY’s mission to celebrate design in this region, and I believe in its ability to provide a platform for those designers not only for readers in the Pacific Northwest, but for readers around the world. The work and ideas coming out of the Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver design scene are relevant, interesting, and part of the global design landscape. As someone who was born and raised in Washington State, I can think of no greater way to serve this region than to develop authentic ways to tell the stories of its creative community.
What one accomplishment during your career as a writer and editor are you most proud of?
In 2017 I had the honor of interviewing the late Wendell Castle, who was among the first American designers to question the divide between utility and fine art. He’s known for his bulbous sculptural furniture, usually made from laminated wood, and for his highly inventive use of a chain saw (when he could no longer wield one himself, he bought a computerized robot, named Mr. Chips, that did the carving for him). He was 84 years old at the time—a living legend—and took me through his studio in Rochester, New York. The most incredible thing was his work ethic: He never stopped trying to come up with new ideas or better, more interesting solutions. He drew and carved during every break in our schedule that day.
Wendell’s passing, in January of last year, was a tremendous loss. I spent the entire day thinking about the one I’d spent with him, which I consider a great gift.
What three objects are always on your desk at work?
I like a bare desk (if mine is messy, it’s a reflection of what’s going on in my brain). Usually there is a lined Moleskine notebook, a black Muji pen, and a tiny lavender-and-white wood rabbit figurine, which was given to me by one of the best editors I’ve ever had. It is a reminder of everything she taught me, which I try to implement into my work every day.
How did you earn your first dollar?
I worked at a food stand at a horse-racing track. They wanted me to wear a visor as part of the uniform, so I quit.
What’s your most prized design possession or object?
I’ll give you two. First is a rainbow-colored slab of paint that the Brooklyn designer Misha Kahn gave me several years ago. I think it was cut off of one of his furniture pieces, and probably destined for the trash, but it is too good to throw away: It’s these layers of different-colored paint, in a flat, round, palm-sized shape that looks sort of like a small three-dimensional elevated map. Anyway, I love it because it is from him and have it propped up near my desk at home.
Second is a painting one of my best friends made on a piece of wood. It’s of a girl with long dark hair and a blue dress, with a gold halo like you’d see in medieval art. It looks a bit like folk art, which I adore, and reminds me of my friend, who is a long-time champion of mine and a great artist, and an even greater woman. The painting sits next to a black-and-white still-life photograph taken and developed by my grandfather, who arranged the image using fake fruit and a poster of a lake, surrounded by pine trees. I like to be surrounded by these kinds of things.