Pharrell Williams is perhaps best known for two things: producing ultra-catchy earworm songs like Happy, and that enormous, Mountie-esque hat he wore to the Grammys hat a few years back. But he’s also a design nut, having tried his hand at furniture with a chair called the Tank; shoes, with sneakers for both Chanel and Adidas; and fashion, including sweaters made from upcycled ocean plastics for G-Star Raw. Recently, he unveiled his largest design project to date, a two-tower condo development in Toronto, done in collaboration with architects IBI Group and interior design studio U31, called Untitled. The Globe talks to him about the difference between making music and buildings, the power of curiosity, and why diversity makes design better.
In a sense, I grew up listening to Bob Marley’s music. My mother was born and raised in Mandeville, Jamaica, and although I wouldn’t say she was necessarily a big fan — we probably listened to The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber more than Legend — I definitely wore a One Love t-shirt in grade school and could probably sing along to No Woman, No Cry, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics. My grandmother was the main source of exposure, though. She managed a hotel in the Cayman Islands where my brother and I would spend part of every summer. To satisfy rum-drunk Brits and Americans, the hotel played Stir It Up, Is This Love and Jamming on a seemingly endless loop. It’s because of this over-exposure that I developed a cynicism about Bob Marley in my teens. I didn’t really pick up on the poetry of his lyrics — the songs just felt like touristy kitsch to me.