My Secret Life: John Pawson, architect, 61


My parents were ... brought up Methodists. My mother had an enduringly complicated relationship with the material world which I have inherited, along with my father's appetite for absolute quality.

The house/flat I grew up in ... was in Halifax, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. As the youngest of five children – I have four older sisters – I started life in the smallest room in the house: a room about 4ft wide, above the kitchen. I woke up every morning to the smell of bacon and egg.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... James Bond.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would be more relaxed about the things that don't matter. It's hell being a perfectionist.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... I was very good at sculling at school.

You wouldn't know it but I'm no good at ... sketching. My cartoons are sought-after in the office, for their eccentricity.

At night I dream of ... the usual transport crashes and not making it on time. This has become worrying recently, as I flail and shriek alarmingly while I'm asleep, according to my wife Catherine, who tries to wake me.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... Not the back of my head, where the crown is balding, except in those aeroplane loos.

My favourite item of clothing ... A suit given to me by the people at Calvin Klein, to wear at their 40th anniversary party in New York a couple of years ago. The cloth and cut are exquisite. Calvin Klein trusted me to design many buildings for them over the years, but not to choose my clothes.

I wish I'd never worn ... flared trousers.

I drive/ride ... a Seven Cycles Odonata – a custom-built bike from Massachusetts, for which you are measured like a suit. A few years ago I competed in the L'Etape in France. I'm currently training for a race from London, through Holland and Belgium, alongside my wife Catherine, raising money for juvenile diabetes.

My house is ... in Notting Hill. It's a traditional row house, which I completely stripped out behind the facade.

My favourite building ... The 12th-century Cistercian abbey of Le Thoronet in Provence. It's such an important point of reference for me that, in 2006, I designed an exhibition explaining its impact, Leçons du Thoronet.

My favourite work of art ... Pieter Saenredam's 'Interior of the Buurkerk', Utrecht, 1645.

A book that changed me ... 'Architecture of Truth', Lucien Hervé's extraordinary photographic essay of Le Thoronet, with a foreword by Le Corbusier. It was originally published in the 1950s. I designed a new edition of the book for Phaidon, which came out in 2001.

Movie heaven ... Something well-made, like 'Apocalypse Now'. It's still relevant.

The last album I bought/downloaded ... The XX – one of my elder son Caius's bands.

My greatest regret ... I wish I could have done something to slow the driver down before we had the accident in India that killed my friend.

My real-life villain ... Cancer and Aids, which have taken away friends prematurely.

The person who really makes me laugh ... My younger son, Benedict.

The last time I cried ... was looking out to the ocean in South Africa, when my father died while I was away.

My five-year plan ... It's all about the work.

What's the point? Best not to dwell on this.

My life in six words ... Too short.

A life in brief

John Pawson was born in Halifax in 1949. After working for the family textile business and as a teacher in Japan, he established his own architectural practice in 1981. Pawson has used his minimalist aesthetic in the design of homes, art galleries and fashion stores. An exhibition of his work, Plain Space, opens at the Design Museum in London on 22 September; see designmuseum.org

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