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Designer Interviews

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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Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Designer Interview: Debra Folz Design

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with Debra Folz of Debra Folz Designs, learning a bit more about her studio, her work and what inspires her.

Please tell us a bit about the path that led you to where you are today.

I look to industrial materials to act as a canvas for domestic embelishment in a way to modernize a traditional craft, and also present it as an embedded and integral part of the object.  I enjoy the blank nature of industrial sheet materials and investing the quality and quantity of time to create something that is one-of-a-kind.  Other times it can be a desire to soften surfaces or explore geometries created by the combination of hard and soft materials.  I am consistently working with ideas of hard versus soft, industrial versus domestic and traditional versus contemporary processes.  I enjoy the tension of working between these ideas and finding the spaces between.

What makes you want to make things go “askew”? How does that change our perception of the object or the space?

That is such a great question that no one has ever asked me :)  It’s only at the point that you’ve make several objects that you can look back and start to see connections you hadn’t anticipated.  Drawing from work such as The Whole Story, Askew Shelves, and Askew Carpet, I am intrigued by the idea of an object appearing to have a relationship to a specific environment / surface.  Because the pieces are interdependent from the space in some way, it makes them feel more integral to that space.  I also enjoy the idea of reconsidering the way we approach objects and arrange our spaces.

Please tell us a bit about your studio in the South End. What’s the ‘hood like?

My studio is in a large artist building which has served as a great way to introduce my work though open studios and the SOWA Sundays in the summer.  On a typical day I will chat with some of my wonderful neighbors, get a visit from the adorable cocker spaniel down the hall, and enjoy coffee and lunch at the Mohr McPherson Cafe downstairs.  I am able to walk to the studio from home, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a great place to meet a friend for an after work-cocktail/ dinner.

How does your space/neighborhood inspire your work? Where else do you look for inspiration?

Inspiration for me comes from many different places: Observing the way we use objects, experimenting with materials both old and new, incorporating textile and embroidery techniques, etc.  However I especially enjoy opportunities to learn traditional manufacturing processes and imagining their adaptation to more modern objects.

Your business is taking off quickly! What’s next?

I’m currently working on developing a small gift line, expanding the first production collection recently exhibited at ICFF (available on Design Public) and working through some potential ideas for my next studio collection/ limited edition work.  I enjoy working concurrently in these markets, as I find the ideas can bounce between and inform each other.  Beyond [all] that, who knows … the unexpected opportunities that pop up can be the most exciting!

We’re looking forward to seeing what pops up! Thanks so much to Debra Folz for chatting with us today.

SHOP DEBRA FOLZ

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Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Designer Interview: Clark Davis from Sprout

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with Clark Davis, creator of Sprout, a company that creates wonderful interactive furniture for creative kiddos.

Please tell me a bit about your background – what led you to creating Sprout?

I feel that my childhood had a huge influence on me as a designer/inventor/entrepreneur.  I grew up in rural Utah, in a small community called Genola.  I am the third in a family of eight.  We didn’t have any close neighbors until I was about 10 and we didn’t have a TV growing up, so as kids we learned to entertain ourselves. This does great things for your creativity.  All summer long we would build huts, bike trails, and rope bridges in the stand of trees down the road. Then come winter our free time was spent our time making lego empires.  My mom would tell us that legos were made to make and break, meaning that the value was in the learning and creating processes more than in the final product.  I think it is true.

As I got older I went from hand tools to power tools.  I worked at my dad’s cabinet shop where I gained alot of experiences in wood working. We also taught myself to weld and work with metal.  I think it was my junior year in high school that my younger brother and I made steam engine out of old machine parts that we found around the cabinet shop and entered it into a science fair.  I was very blessed with a great developmental environment: Lots of stuff (junk) to work with, parents that modeled a desire to learn, and the freedom to try with out mom freaking out.

I realize that not everyone has the same opportunities but I feel blessed that I did.  I want to give some of that opportunity to kids growing up.  So while every kids mom won’t let him use saws and welders at a young age, I think I can bring the thrill of building your furniture (or at least having a part in it) to them.  That is what legos did for me.  Think about it.  Legos let a 3-year-old kid become an inventor.  They lower to barriers to creativity and allow real exploration.  Not just role playing with stuff, or using stuff.  But creating the stuff.  How amazing is that?  I love learning.

The world is the best classroom, if you learn to see it that way.  As a child this is the natural and only way we learn.  We shouldn’t loose this ability to learn from everything around us.   Overcome the fear of being wrong.  We don’t learn by being right, but trying, making mistakes and adapting.

Why the name Sprout?

I love the color Green!  But really, sprouts grow – I love the imagery.  I hope this product will help little sprouts sprout. Also, our products are designed to be eco-friendly. Recycled  and local materials, little waste, made in the USA, smart cardboard packaging, compact shipping.  I think there is beauty in simplicity.

I find nature absolutely inspiring and try to mimic the simplicity of nature when I design.  One example is the way that our furniture assembles.  While most designers use screws or nails, Sprout uses the natural flexibility of the wood to keep the parts together. We try to take advantage of the inherent properties of the materials we are using.  Another example is the natural raw edges of the furniture.  I wouldn’t paint them if I could.  I think that they naturally add to the aesthetic of the product.

How did you start Sprout and where is it going from here?

I first had the idea for an easy to assemble student desk about 2 years ago – at the time I couldn’t make a desk at an accessible pricepoint for students so I started doing kid furniture. But in the future, we might (wink wink) have some student products coming.

What’s your workspace like?

Just a few months ago I moved from the basement office gig to a studio and I love it.  What a difference.  It also makes it a little easier to bring on some other people.  There are a couple of us working together and what a difference it makes.  The studio, but has a skylight.  Absolutely love the natural light.

Thanks so much to Clark for taking the time to wax philosophical with us today!

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