LUXE Design Magazine Interview with Jamar Simien

LUXE Interiors + Design
A conversation with Jamar Simien, Creative Director of Contour
By: Paulette Pearson, Homes Editor – Texas

Tell me a little about your background:

My educational background is in landscape architecture. In 2007, I graduated from LSU, which is annually ranked as the #1 program in the country. Because of my strong foundation at the LSU College of Art and Design, my design sensibilities are rooted in the practice of site-specific design, the importance of storytelling through design, and the impact of designing with the intention of connecting people to places.

While working for a leading design firm in Houston, I was able to travel and work in collaboration with other design professionals on large-scale real estate developments around the world. Through my diverse work in the profession, I gained extensive experience in historical preservation as well as urban design, which led to a meaningful balance of skills that have contributed heavily to my recent work with Contour.

My design values are my North Star. Good design can be restorative, timeless and evoke emotional responses. Good design is always carefully composed to satisfy the demands of both form and function. This is our core focus at Contour- we make beautiful art you can actually use. We have found that there is unity through diversity. Because I understand the power of a solid team, I personally embrace the collaborative approach to design. As a company, we believe that the design process is foundational and our main concern will always be the people behind the process.


When and why did you found Contour Functional Art?

I believe the foundation for Contour was laid years before its inception in 2017. My passion is for me; my purpose is for others. I’ve always wanted to use my diverse creative skill set to empower others, especially young people. It started in the classroom as an award winning art educator in Texas. Through my role as a teacher and a mentor to young artists, I was able to help them execute goals and realize dreams. I learned that young people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This lesson resonated with me and propelled me to dream beyond the classroom and work on ways to scale my impact.

As a 2 dimensional artist that specializes in oil painting portraiture, I was ready to turn a corner and push my own perceived boundaries in art and design. I quit my job as an art teacher and hopped on a plane to Malawi, a small country in East Africa. My good friend from LSU lived there with his wife, who works in child protection for UNICEF. Living in Malawi in 2018 became my most dynamic life experience and it changed the trajectory of my design career. My eyes and heart were both opened to help transform communities through design. This is truly when Contour was born.


What does Contour Functional Art offer in terms of products?

All of our handmade products are approached as art that functions as timeless furniture and home décor. From our repurposed material palette to our sustainable design process- we create legacy pieces that will last forever. We’ve designed and built custom coffee tables, end tables, dining tables, creative wall décor and handmade bowls. We also offer specialty designs including creative commercial display cases and kiosks. If it can be imagined, we can design and build it.


What does Contour Functional Art offer in terms of services?

We’re a fully outfitted design and build firm that offers everything from design consultation, to project facilitation through construction, to shipping our handmade bespoke pieces around the world.


What makes Contour Functional Art unique?

Contour is unique because of our team, our process, and our wood species. We only use sustainably sourced exotic wood species that are all handcrafted by our team in East Africa. Balance is key- we focus on the human aspect of what we do while still being concerned about the environment.

Human connection and environmental impact guide our collaborative work in Malawi. We are black owned and operated, which is rare in the design industry. From our company leaders to our artisans and support staff, every aspect of what we do involves people of color that all bring unique experiences of value to our team. It is our hope that we can inspire young black designers and woodworkers to push their own perceived limitations to refine their craft and seek ownership of their creative output.


What are your main goals for your business?

Our mission is to empower and connect Africa and America through sustainable design. Everything that we do ties back to our mission. Our main goals for Contour are to establish meaningful relationships with retailers and other design firms in the industry, which gives us more opportunities to be impactful in East Africa through our outreach work. Our core values are represented by the acronym R.O.S.E. It stands for Reinvest, Outreach, Sustain and Empower. These are the values that actively guide us to support and execute our mission.


What are your plans for the future?

Our long-term goal is to work with artisans throughout Africa and to build design schools across the continent. Through this platform, we will provide the educational tools that are necessary to establish a career in design. We will set up partnerships with some of the top design schools in America- including my alma mater, LSU. The school will be called the Contour College of Art and Design, and it will be fully staffed and led by artisans from those respective countries in Africa.


Where may our readers go to find out more about your company or purchase one of your products?

Our products can be found on our website or contact us via our social media pages. Within the next few months you will be able to find some of our products in exclusive boutiques in select cities across America.


Anything else you’d like to add that our readers might be interested in knowing?

The idea of sustainability is important to all of the owners of Contour Functional Art. We view sustainability and design through the lens of legacy. We understand our impact on the environment as well as the people that are involved with our work, from our East African creative team to our clients in America. For every Contour piece sold, we have made a pledge to plant fruit trees with a non-profit organization located in Malawi. Once the trees are planted on behalf of our clients, Root to Fruit provides a GPS location for each tree. This will ensure our client’s connection to the origin of our work and help offset deforestation and our collective carbon footprint.




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