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Designer Interviews

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Designer Interview: Peter Novague

Becky

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Today were sitting down with Peter Novague, Chief Designer at Novague. Peter is a product designer who has tackled items from tweezers to yachts. Somewhere in between the two lies The Novague Edge Chair – its form was inspired by Japanese origami, though it’s function, comfortable ergonomics, was the priority. 
Do you have any favorite chairs that inspire your designs?
There are many chairs I love for their form, among which I could name those by Eames, Panton or the Bouroullec Brothers (Vitra). For me, however, the key aspect of a chair is whether it is comfortable to sit on and many products don’t meet this standard; the ergonomics aren’t optimal. My flat is full of beautiful chairs, including the T3 by Maarten Van Severen, one of the most interesting pieces I know.

How did you come up with the Edge Chair?
In our small country, a designer like me gets contracts of a very different type. As my primary focus is on the product design, I work on items as varied as glasses or a smartphone. All my past projects were the result of a compromise between my idea and other circumstances (such as the production costs, technological limitations, deadlines, or continuity of the company product line). When I was working on a smartphone, for instance, I could only choose from a limited selection of plastics, and both the connector positions and dimensions were already fixed.

Yet as I’m now able to fund my own projects, I decided to work on a furniture piece and designing a chair seemed to be a challenging and interesting enterprise.

How do the wide array of items you design inform each other? That is to say, how does designing a yacht or a car influence how you design a chair or a smart phone? Are there any universal ideas that cut across all of these areas in your design philosophy?
Certainly. I think daily about why I do design, what I can bring to it, and what it brings to me in return. And it’s always inspiring to meet with company owners, CEOs and executives. I learn a lot from them, and it’s also perhaps what I enjoy the most about my job.
As for my contribution in making a new product, I find myself as a cleaner: I practically remove an idea of its unnecessary parts. I’m playing with the form and content, aiming to produce a natural-looking product. It’s important that in the end, it only consists of what should be there. In other words, while some products are complex sets of parts due to the manufacture and assembly processes, it is the aim of design to consider the product as a whole, something complete and seamless. The final product should be more than a some of its parts.
The second important idea that resonates with me is a kind of respect towards the history of the product and its previous models.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world; how does it inspire you?
Prague is a splendid place for relaxation at cafés and enjoying the many cultural events it offers. Yet it loses touch with the latest developments in industrial design. In that sense, I’d prefer to have an office in London, New York, or Munich.
What are you working on at Novague right now?
An electric bicycle or a paddle, a typical product of which many people think there’s no more space for further designing and innovation.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in a career in product design?
Don’t focus on the designers, study the individual products.
What kind of  products do you recommend buying?
Concentrate on things you enjoy. Buying one thing of quality and and keeping it in an empty flat is better than filling one’s life with products that mean a compromise.
Thanks so much to Petr for chatting with us today. Check out The Novague Edge Chair here; check out Novague’s other designs here.
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Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Unison – Made in Chicago

Becky

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We love to feature products that are made in the U.S.A. Check out this video from Chicago’s ABC Channel 7 about how Unison churns out their amazing products right in the heart of Chicago.

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Stellar Designers: Patricia Urquiola

Becky

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Lately it seems every light fixture or chair that catches my eye was designed by the fabulous Patricial Urquiola. Urquiola is a Spanish designer of many talents; she’s an architect, she designs exhibitions, she speaks at conferences and her furniture and lighting designs are well on their way to icon status. She’s collaborated with the most pre-eminent furniture manufacturers in the world, creating artistic, thoughtful and most importantly, highly functional products, from rugs to sofas, and side tables to outdoor furniture. Her use of the latest technologies and materials provides the function, while her imagination informs the form.

Urquiola working on new designs and showing off her fabulous ring

Her artful approach and dedication to function makes her designs stand out; one of the first ones I fell for is the wonderfully loopy Re-Trouvé chair. Available in a wide range of bright powder coated colors, the designs combine Urquiola’s contemporary sensibilities with some whimsical nostalgia.

Re-Trouvé High Back Chair

“Inspiration came from the marvelous icon chairs of the ’50′s, so full of curls and doodles. I wanted to create new models which would bring together a re-interpretation of this old fashioned design with a more humorous twist, produced with numerical control technology,” she says.

Re-Trouvé Pouf

The line, produced by Italian manufacturer Emu and distributed by Coalesse, also includes this eclectic stool/ottoman.

Last Minute Stool

Coalesse is also distributing Urquiola’s Last Minute Stool, a streamlined and ergonomic piece that comes in counter and bar height. The seat is made of flexible steel and covered in leather; the legs are sleek chrome.

I am so happy that Design Public is carrying these stellar pieces from a superstar like Urquiola. We also carry a few items she designed in partnership for Kartell, including the flirty and strong Frilly Chair:

Kartell Frilly Chair

as well as the clever Matelasse Vase:

Kartell Matelasse Vases (these are 11.8″ high; I know it’s hard to tell the scale from this photo)

I look forward to seeing what she come up with next, and I’ll keep you posted when I find out!

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Designer Interview: Rapson-Inc.

Becky

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Architect and furniture designer Ralph Rapson trained at Cranbook under Eliel Saarinen, designed furniture for Knoll, sketched the most charming illustrations of his designs, opened the first modern home decor store  in the Boston area with his wife in the 1940s and practiced as an architect.

Ralph Rapson

Today his son, architect Toby Rapson, and President of Rapson-Inc. Chris Reedy are carrying on the elder Rapson’s legacy, working with designers to re-release high quality Ralph Rapson designs, sometimes with a few tweaks they believe he would have approved of.

Chris, who lived in a Ralph Rapson house (above), met Ralph Rapson when Rapson knocked upon his door to check out how his design was holding up.  So, Toby, did you and your father make a habit of doing this at all the houses you designed?

Toby: I occasionally stop in at homes that my father or I designed. I’m sure that I get this penchant for dropping in unannounced from my Dad.

Chris: My son was only 1 at the time and had just strewn a crunchy layer of Cheerios all over, and the doorbell rings and it’s the great man himself come to look at what we’re doing with his house … Ralph pretended not to notice the chaos and kindly went about charming us all.

How long did it take after that until you two were launching this business together?

Toby: Well, the story is a bit long – my parents originally established Rapson Inc. in Boston during the 1940s selling modern living equipment as well as pieces designed by Ralph.  My father continued to design custom pieces for architectural clients and it wasn’t until 50 years later while working with my dad at Rapson Architects that we started dabbling in reproducing the Rapid Rocker.

This led to collaborating with Blu Dot, producing his Dwell Lounge, and working with other interesting teams of designers on additional prototypes.  After my dad’s death I felt strongly about continuing his design legacy and perhaps producing more pieces from his extensive design library.  My wife and I put together a show of Ralph’s furniture drawings in late 2010 to gauge public interest; it was quite successful.  But, my primary business is Rapson Architects so I knew I needed help to make a stand-alone business.

Chris: As it happened, I came to this impressive show, saw some prototypes, and wondered if Toby was looking for a business partner. The timing was right, I made my pitch, we started the company a little over a year ago, and it’s been a really, really fun time.

How did you choose which designs to release first?

Toby: So far, the choices have been pretty easy. First, we wanted to continue making the bentwood Rapson Rapid Rocker that my father re-introduced late in life.  Second, we decided to produce some of my father’s best-known designs for H.G. Knoll from the 1940s, we call these the Greenbelt Line.  We are also currently working on his iconic ‘Chair of Tomorrow’ and a few others.  The hard part as we move forward will be sifting through the vast options that my dad has given us.

Chris: Those Knoll designs are very important to telling Ralph Rapson’s story in design, obviously, but they also use natural materials that are very appealing today.  It turns out ‘natural modernism’ or ‘rustic modernism’ or whatever you want to call it today has quite long roots.  And the Greenbelt Line has those sculpted, cantilevered arms that are still so daring.

Toby: Yes, those arms are a signature piece of my father’s work.  Just as we were getting started with the Greenbelt Line, I ran into Greg Benson, the CEO at Loll Designs, and we started talking about doing outdoor versions in Loll’s signature material, recycled plastic.

Chris: This was a bit of a discussion; there are definitely Modern purists who might wonder about this.

Toby: But I know my father always wanted to push the envelope and I feel he would have loved knowing the pieces he drew long ago could be for outdoor use; particularly in such a responsible, innovative and incredibly durable material. The team at Loll has been great to work with and we’ve licensed these designs to them. I’m just sorry my father isn’t around to be a part of the fun.

What was the biggest challenge in re-releasing your father’s furniture designs?

Toby: Quality is always a significant challenge. My father’s signature is on each piece we make. Even though we’re a scrappy small company, he would not have wanted any less than perfect chairs to be delivered.

Chris: We take great pride in continuing Ralph’s legacy.

Toby: Luckily, we have found good partners who are excited to make Rapson chairs and understand we’re a small company entrusted with great designs.

What kept you going when the challenges mounted?

Toby: My father’s furniture designs are second to none.  His designs are embraced as modern icons by many, Chris and I just need to do our part.

Are you ever going to re-release the slatted coffee table? Because I want one.

Chris: Stay tuned.

Toby: I thought you were supposed to be the business guy.  Get her credit card number.

photo credit: Larry Weinberg

While we’re on that topic, which designs are you hoping to release in the future?

Chris: The next chair we do will be the first piece based solely off drawings Ralph left behind.

Toby: I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said “your father drew like an angel.” But beyond that, his furniture drawings often included people sitting, lounging with a martini, reading a book, sunbathing, etc; his drawings had personality and his designs were scaled for people.  It’s astounding how faithful we can be to his imagination – that is, his renderings – and still have a chair that’s very, very comfortable.

Toby: Actually, the public had a say toward this new chair.  We had an opening with Danish Teak Classics; a local gallery that showcased our Greenbelt chairs and we asked the public to vote between three designs.  They made a wise choice.

Chris: In fact, we’re behind schedule because I took the first prototype home, put it in front of the TV, and didn’t want to give it back because it’s so comfortable. The chair actually seems like it’s trying to put you to sleep.

Toby: Becky, I know, you’re thinking “Give me a break! There are a lot of comfortable chairs!”  But my father developed his approach while working with Eliel, Eero, Hans and Florence, Harry, Charlie and others, and brought his innovation to early modern furniture design and the design of this chair that adds both character and comfort in a way that’s surprising and still unique and timely 60 or more years after he drew it.  We can’t wait to get it into production.

No break necessary; I can’t wait to check it out. I also like that you’re on a first-name basis with the greats (Readers, that’s Saarinen, Saarinen, Wegner, Knoll, Bertoia and Eames, I think)! Where can we see more of Ralph Rapson’s amazing drawings?

Toby: We have literally hundreds of drawings, but a nice selection is included in his biography, Ralph Rapson: 60 Years of Modern Design.

Is there anything else you’d like people to remember about Rapson-Inc.?

Toby: Most importantly, I want people to learn more about Ralph Rapson and his role in the development of modern design.  One goal of the company is to ensure the legacy of my father’s designs; I hope people will view what we’re doing at Rapson-Inc as a thoughtful extension of his design process and philosophy.  Moving ahead, we are embracing collaborators and innovative materials with the spirit of my father as we expand the catalog of Rapson designs in production.

Thanks so much to Toby and Chris for taking the time to speak with us today. Readers, All Rapson-Inc. products are 15% off through October 31, so get shopping!

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Friday, September 14th, 2012

Designer Interview: Studio 1AM

Becky

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Today we’re getting to know Donna Piacenza and Jody Work of Studio 1AM a little better. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Please tell me a bit about your background and how it led you to start Studio 1AM.

Jody: In undergrad I studied both Graphic Design and Metalsmithing, so I took a job working with industrial designers in order to fulfill my need for being involved in the 3-D world. We met at that company and it was immediate bliss!

Donna: I’ve always been a tinker-er so my studies led to a degree in Industrial Design. Working together allows us to explore across a broader design spectrum, making the most of our unique perspectives.

Studio 1AM Cork Cuff

Where do you go to find inspiration?

We find inspiration in travel and people. Life experiences fuel design.  We’re also fascinated with processes – How can we take advantage of a process by changing the system, encouraging mistakes, etc.

Please tell us about your process, getting from 2-D to 3-D, and what that means.

Our most successful projects happen when the process informs the end product. We love having a hand in making things ourselves as well as the end user making the final touches. Then there’s our love for manufacturing processes and getting to know them as craftsmen.

We’re focused on creating meaningful messages. Whether these messages take the form of typographic signage, objects, or print materials, we believe our reciprocal process (going back and forth between 2-D and 3-D) strengthens the message.

Studio 1AM Measure Me Stick

Why did you name your company Studio 1AM?

It’s quite literal, actually!

We worked together at a product design consultancy for years but desired a more creative outlet. We’d get together with other designer friends at night to work on our projects to keep each other inspired and motivated. Those late night projects eventually turned into a business.

What’s next? Where do you see the company headed in the next few years? What else are you chomping at the bit to explore?

We’re always inclined to use what we have available to us. We work locally as much as possible and find challenges in seemingly simple projects. We’ve been asked by Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery to help make use of some beautiful oak bourbon barrel staves and are excited to explore the potential there!

We welcome anything new and different. Design is changing rapidly. It’s much more recognized and integral to daily life in the digital age, therefore we cannot solely be stylists anymore. It’s heavily intertwined with media and there are many untapped avenues in this area which make it both really exciting to be in design and challenging because we are forced to change methods and ways of thinking at all times. Design is a dialogue. We think collaboration and crossing of disciplines is important and strive to create meaningful, message-driven work.

Studio 1AM Dreamgate Wallband

Thanks so much for Donna and Jody for taking the time to share their story with us!

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