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Designer Interviews

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Designer Interview: Domenic Fiorello Studio

Becky

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I recently had the pleasure of bombarding furniture designer Domenic Fiorello with questions. Thanks so much to Domenic for joining us today!
Please tell us a little about your background and how you landed where you are today.

A bit over a year ago, I graduated from the Furniture Design program at the Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate NY. This program had a huge influence on the way I approach my business. It focuses very heavily on design, prototypes, finished objects and craftsmanship. All of my work starts out with my hands physically making the first product … even if it eventually gets subbed out a larger manufacturer.

Your background includes furniture making as well as exhibition design and displays. How did  that experience lead you to the design of your plant pod? The product shots look like mini-exhibitions to me!

Hahaha, yes, yes that is very intentional. While in school I worked with a local art gallery. After seeing how perfect (and white) the walls had to be to display the work, I realized that I wanted my work to be clearly represented in its purest form. I respect seeing products in their environments – it allows people to see the product’s potential in their own homes. But I also have faith in the beauty of an object standing alone.

As for making my way to this design, In school I designed a lot of objects that were very laborious; objects that would have to be sold to a certain class of citizens. Switching the approach to designing a product that could reach other classes, I wanted to come up with something that was small for the ease of shipment and used cheap materials. Something that could take advantage of new, efficiency-driven technologies. Also, to design something that would fit into homes of various styles. These factors just led me to create the Plant Pods … and I think I satisfied all of the above-mentioned factors.

Domenic Fiorello Plant Pod, made from White Oak; has keyhole hangers with screws and template for ease of installation

Where do you look for inspiration?

I look to fine art a lot. I am a huge fan of Sol LeWitt and Mark Rothko. I’m not going to try to define mid-century fine art, but these guys, in my mind, draw from using simple forms and compositions, but through subtlety, there is always a surreal “wow” effect.

Sol LeWitt image from Mass MOCA catalog

Subtlety is very important in my work. I also look to mid-century Scandinavian design as well. I’m in awe every time I see a collection of Hans Wegner chairs.

Wegner dining chairs; image from Vintage & Modern

Do you get creative blocks? How do you un-block?

My creative blocks always tend to happen while in the drawing phase of a design. I will start making models, anything to get my hands involved. It becomes a different way of thinking. Seeing an idea in 3 dimensions really opens the doors as well. Another thing I do is call up a few other designer/maker friends. We’ll get together drink a beer and just start talking about ideas. 3 heads are always better than one.

What else are you working on?

This is a new piece I recently finished, the KF table. The KF Table is a result of my studies in the visual texture of fabric. In recent years my work has been influenced by layering two-dimensional patterns over three-dimensional forms. To further push this idea I was curious to see if I could achieve a fabric-like look. Ultimately, the goal was not to mimic herringbone fabric, but to play off the qualities of the fabric.

photo from Domenic Fiorello Studio

This piece is more of an experimentation of pattern study than a product that will hit the market. I soon hope to push the textural idea into something more producible though.

Top of KF table; photo by Domenic Fiorello Studio

We can’t wait to see what else Domenic comes up with; for now, we’ll enjoy the beautiful Plant Pod perches he’s created for our succulents. Order one for yourself here.

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Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Designer Interview: Evan Stoller of Stoller Works

Becky

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Today I had the pleasure of getting to know more about Evan Stoller of Stoller Works. I sent him a list of questions and he answered me with a the fascinating story of his career path and all of these beautiful photographs. Take it away Evan!

Stoller with his Rail Table

My mother was a painter and my father photographed modern architecture. Modernism was kind of a religion in our home. Living with the works of family friends such as the Eameses, George Nakashima and Alexander Calder was an education in design.

After studying architecture at Pratt Institute I began doing sculpture in NYC. My friends and I rented an abandoned cheese factory in what was to become Tribeca. For five years I had a fabulous skylit studio and produced a series of animal sculptures that culminated in a 9’ x 9’ frog that was designed to jump in the rain. To me, The Frog was my first real-world study in architecture. Organic systems were interpreted, organized and overlaid within an aluminum and spring steel skeletal system. The concept of a moving animal developed along an architectonic path of questions and creative solutions.

Stoller’s Frog Sculpture
My wife Phyllis and I moved out of the city to an abandoned airport, and then to a disused gas station. I began making larger sculptures that were influenced by the lattice construction of cranes and the structural purity of bridges. I completed works that appeared more functional – things that looked like organic lifting devices and sculptures such as ‘Ramp’:
Ramp
‘Ramp’ is a 30’ long incline topped with asphalt. I called them ‘standing structures’ and they developed from, and as an expression of, the environment in which they were displayed. Some stood on long skids for optimal ground support or had pod-like feet to resist sinking into the turf. My sculptures were becoming supporting structures, close relatives of the tables I’m doing now. I completed a huge environmental sculpture in NYC that brought me back into the world of architecture. ‘Maya Station’ was an array of 40’ tension trusses spanning six 20’ tall towers and 10’ tall gates. My inspiration were the forms and spaces of a Mayan city. The sculpture defined an environment on an architectural scale, and after it’s completion I became an architect.

Maya Station

Architectural commissions are a real ‘through the looking glass’ experience. The thrill and complexity of architecture is always a voyage through the unexplored, an arduous but incredible experience. We built our own home  and I began designing a series of houses, studios and more recently a medical clinic and a theater.

Stoller’s Home

A painting studio by Stoller

My most recent sculpture seems like both an architectural model and a huge piece of exterior furniture. ‘Hudson Ecliptic’ is a modular 40′ diameter circular form that floats over rough terrain. It’s constructed from 120 cellular units that each display a tiny painting. Seeming like a chain of galleries, the sculpture becomes a miniature museum.

Hudson Ecliptic

Stoller Works furniture started as custom pieces for architectural clients. I strive to express structural clarity and demonstrate an efficiency of of materials and fabrication. Working with big beams I invented a system to reinforce thin beam slices with tension rods and bolt them into extremely strong and rigid trestle assemblies. With remainders of deep rolled structural sections I make standing desks and podium tables.

Stoller Works Yellow Frame Standing Desk

My tables combine high-tech trestle structures with the warm surface of wood tabletops. We use walnut and ash from known sources and avoid the use of pollutants in manufacturing our products. All our plywood is FSC certified and coated with UV-cured finishes.

Stoller Works Station Table

Stoller Works Foundation Beam Coffee Table

Stoller Works City Desk

Stoller Works Podium Table

Thanks so much to Evan Stoller for taking the time to share his work with us today. Shop all Stoller Works tables and desks here.

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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Designer Interviews: Sharon & Ted Burnett of Strand Design

Becky

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Hey All, today we’re chatting with Sharon Burdett, co-founder, along with Ted Burdett, of Strand Design. Thanks so much to Sharon for sharing a little more about how a career leads to designing furniture at your own company, choosing recycled and recyclable materials, producing goods locally, and hip-hop night in Florence …

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

Strand Design was created out of our desire to work together on collaborative projects, and became an actual company three years ago when we both decided to pursue these collaborative projects on a full time basis.

The first project that we created together was a line of reclaimed vinyl bags that we called “Tree Theory.” We sourced almost all of the components from the waste stream, literally taking vinyl billboards out of the dumpster, and cutting seat belts out of cars in the junk yard. It was messy, and very fun. Since that project, we’ve continued to produce designs that utilize recycled materials, or can be recycled easily (i.e., no “monstrous hybrids”) but we don’t feel that the designs should have a specific “green” aesthetic; we want the designs to speak for themselves.

Strand Design Birdhouse Floor Lamp


What preceded the Strand Design phase of your lives?

Ted has been designing, creating, and making things from the moment he could hold a pencil in his hand (that the pencil was made from old-growth lumber would become an issue as his awareness of and love for the natural world matured).

Ted’s relentless curiosity, lust for life, and desire to create led to an equally curious education — anthropology, fine woodworking, and environmental ecology at The University of Wisconsin at Madison; dinner parties and hip-hop night at the Lorenzo de Medici Art Institute of Florence, Italy; and, finally, The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where he received his BFA in Industrial Design in 2004.


Ted’s design career began in soft goods at California Innovations’ Chicago office. There Ted was drawn deep into the world of product design on a massive scale, simultaneously enchanted and challenged by cost engineering and development trips overseas, high stakes design presentations for large retailers, and the ultimate challenge of trying to design products for six year old girls … luckily, there was foosball and the most amazing coworkers to help him cope with the stress.

In addition to his work at Strand, Ted is an instructor in Industrial Design at UIC. He loves it there.

Strand Design Better Dog Spotlight

As for myself, though fascinated by just about everything, a passion for writing and image-making led me to study graphic design over biochemistry, philosophy, psychiatry and poetry …

I received her undergraduate degree in graphic design from California College of the Arts in 2000, where I had the good fortune to learn from and work with some of the best designers in the profession. After graduating from CCA and working in The Bay Area for a few years, I headed back to Chicago to earn my MFA at The School of The Art Institute Chicago.

Before starting Strand with Ted in 2009, I worked as an in-house designer for the international fashion company Oilily, then at RGLA, one of the top retail design firms in the country, and I freelanced for several boutique design firms in San Francisco and Chicago.

When I’m not at Strand, I can be found practicing yoga, reading books, or eating chocolate. Sometimes all at once.

What’s your workspace like?

Our workspace is in an old warehouse in the west loop of Chicago. We are lucky to have a large amount of space, and we’ve been tweaking it continuously for the last three years. We have our prototype workshop in the basement of the building, our office on the ground floor, and our storage and assembly space on the top floor.


Tell us a bit about your neighborhood.

We absolutely love our neighborhood. It’s an exciting and almost bizarre mix of different businesses. The west loop is home to some of the most respected restaurants in the city, great galleries and boutiques, and packed in between all of these “tourist friendly” destinations are old meat packing shops and food wholesalers that have been around for decades. It inspires us both to think about how much the city changes, and how many layers of history are present simultaneously.

Strand Design Basket Lug Trug

Tell us a bit about designing sustainable products and some of the sustainable materials, processes and/or technologies you employ.

There are many reasons that we are committed to sustainability, and some of those reasons may not be as obvious at first as others. As designers of objects, we are certainly interested in reducing the environmental impact of the objects that we make, and this can be seen most clearly in our material choices.

• We use urban lumber or reclaimed lumber instead of wood from forests

• We use locally fabricated steel because of steel’s almost endless ability to be recycled,

• We use recycled rubber and recycled plastics.

• We also design our products with the intent that they can be disassembled into their component parts, which facilitates recycling as well as ease of repair.

Strand Design Eleven Side Table

In addition to our commitment to responsible sourcing of materials, we’re passionate about producing our designs locally. We work with local manufacturers, many of whom have been in business for decades, and the relationships that we have forged with these great local companies have a huge impact on the quality of our work. In addition to supporting the local economy, we truly believe that we can produce better products here.

Strand Design Tripod Table/Stool

Where did the name Strand Design come from?

The name Strand Design came from the very first collaborative project that Ted and I did together almost a decade ago. We were experimenting with carbon fiber jewelry, and the tiny fiber “strands” are just so amazing looking! The name just came from that moment of inspiration and we stuck with it.

What’s next for you and your company?

Slow and steady growth, and collaborations with other designers are on the horizon.

Thanks so much to Sharon Burdett for visiting with us today! Click here to see all of Strand Designs’s current line.

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Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Designer Interview: Fredi Brodmann

Becky

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Ali had the pleasure of interviewing  Freddi Brodmann, of Brodmann Blade fame a little while ago. Whether you’re an old-school or a new-school Ping Ponger, you should give them a whirl. If you’re headed to some popular p.p. spot, bring them along and blow everyones’ minds. Without further ado, take it away Ali and Fredi!

The Brodmann blades are fantastic! I can think of so many times when a pickup game of ping pong is in order…especially at 3:00 in the afternoon at work, when you feel like napping at your desk, the conference table is free, others are also close to napping…why not ping pong it? Or in a park, or in the basement, or right on the kitchen table. Any other places or times we haven’t thought of?

Thanks for the compliment! I believe in Ping Pong Therapy, too!
Tell us about the design process in creating the blades and what sparked the idea initially.

Yes, they are quite a species. It was not the usual design process as you know it that lead to the result,rather an accident at the beach three summers ago when I played velcro ball with my son. He threw the ball and I will never forget how I flew through the air like a goalkeeper to catch it and fell into the sand. When I looked at the plate that was strapped to my hand time stopped and there was the red ball stuck to the surface and I thought “why not ping pong like that?! Then I slowly turned my hand 180º like a robot and the next thought came: “… and a plate over that side, too.” And the rest is history.

Word on the street is that your “invention represents the first revolutionary update since the beginning of the sport in the 1800’s.” What would you say are the major differences between your blades and the more traditional paddles?

I was born in Vienna but left my home town in 1979 to come to NYC. Ironically, that is where the Chair of Rules world wide resides. Through continuous research in the course of the development one of my contacts I found Dr. Neubauer, who makes high performance rubber layers for the pro sport, and he was the first person giving me positive feedback on my concept at the earliest stage in 2006. He encouraged me to go ahead and provided me with many valuable names that matter in the table tennis industry, amongst them Rudolf Sporrer in Vienna.

The major difference between traditional paddles and the BRODMANN BLADES™ is they are different but they are not really different and they are very fun to use. Because there is no grip to hold on to and because we eliminated the middle man, a player can respond more directly and naturally to a ball. You are the paddle!

Once you get into it there is a wide array of movements and shots available. You discover as you go forward. Kids learn to play right away and ambition is triggered to really control your hit. The slightly shorter reach forces you to be faster and get on your toes more. The work out impact is tremendous so it is a great training device. Also for the elderly who have a hard time holding a paddle handle it is an ideal tool for some exercise and fun.

If you could see your Brodmann Blades on the hands of anyone who might it be?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Designer Interview: Rich Williams of ModProducts

Becky

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Cat Owners: Got a case of the litter box blues? It’s time for a ModKat Litter Box, a modern litter box with “rooftop access,” which cuts down on the pesky litter spill and which looks much more attractive than any other box on the market.

Meet Brett Teper and Rich Williams, the creatives behind ModKat. Today we’re sitting down with Rich, and he’s answering a few questions how he got into the business of building a better litter box.

Hi Rich! Please tell us a bit about how your company came to be – your creative background and how you began to build your business.

Brett and I first met and collaborated in the design department of a large PR agency during the tech bubble. After the burst we individually freelanced, but we stayed in touch via IM complaining about clients, swapping music and occasionally working on projects together. Eventually, we both tired of working from our tiny apartments, craving human interaction and decided we should join forces and find an office space. Thus began Fulton Street Design, our graphic design agency. We worked with clients like Morgan Stanley, HBO, Van Kampen Investments, Bumble and bumble., Coach, Colin Cowie… The Colin Cowie project took us to China, the furthest we had ever traveled for a press check! Our translator, Jim, was a young, knowledgeable Taiwanese entrepreneur, who we quickly befriended.

We conceived of ModKat in 2007, at first as sort of a hobby, but as the design quickly took shape we realized we had something. We formed ModProducts and immediately called Jim, we were in Taiwan a few weeks later to discuss producing ModKat. We introduced ModKat at The International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2009, where we received the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Accessory and then in 2010 picked up a prestigious Red Dot Award.

Brett has an industrial design degree from RIT, I have a visual communication degree from FIT.

As a cat owner myself, I can guess how the ModKat litter box came to be, but please tell us how  you got the idea for its design.
Ah yes, why design a litter box? Well, it all started when my wife and I decided to outfit our living room with some new furniture. Our small Brooklyn apartment suddenly looked great except for one thing… the ugly, cheap, beige litter box in the entry way. I researched the entire internet for a nice modern, cat litter box solution and came up empty. Obsessed and annoyed, I complaining about it every night. My wife had enough and said ”stop bitching about the cat litter box – you’re a designer… go redesign it!” A lightbulb went off in my head and I came in the next day and told Brett about the idea. He was on board right away and we both began sketching. At first we set out thinking that we just needed to make it beautiful, but after reading reviews about existing litter boxes we realized that we needed to explore its functionality as well.  We spent the next two years designing and producing The ModKat Litter Box.

Please take us on a bit of a virtual tour of your studio. What’s the neighborhood like? What were some of your priorities when finding a space where you need to be creative?

Our studio is located in Manhattan’s Financial District in the Bennet building, the largest cast iron building in the world (built in 1869). We were allured to the space by the huge windows with views of City Hall to the north, World Trade Center site to the West and the tips of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to the East. However, it wasn’t all perfect – drab gray carpeting covered the original pine floors, a drop ceiling with fluorescent tubes masked the top 1/3 of the windows and the vaulted subway station ceilings. We rolled up our sleeves and gutted the space bringing it back to it’s original glory, right down to the exposed steam and water tower pipes. Like our product we kept the space minimal, white and grey walls, simple furniture and a bunch of iMacs.
There’s also a spectacular rooftop to walk out on and take in the view, make phone calls, have coffee… it is really our extended office. The commute is a bonus as well. Brett has a 30 second walk to his apartment and I am in Brooklyn so downtown was perfect.
Where do you start when designing something new? A sketch? A dream? A brainstorming session between the two of you?
ModKat came from a real need, we feel these are how the best designs are created. We try to think of things that we want to use, things we like or need. The best ideas come from the casual conversations when we stop the every day work and start discussing a thought one of us had. This leads to a flurry of ideas if we get excited about the concept. After that, sketches and research then on to engineering. We refine and simplify the design along the way adding only the essential details. We really like seeing how far we can pair something back to reveal its essence.
Now that you’ve perfected the litter box, what other everyday objects do you have your eye on?
We are currently working on three new innovative pet products for early next year. Two more for cats and one for dogs. We are also experimenting with product ideas related to music, which is another area we are passionate about. We always strive to reinvent everyday objects, we want them to be the best they can be. Some say it is just a litter box, we say it is one of the items in your home that you live with and use every day, make it something you love!
How do you stay inspired? Any advice for those who are suffering from a creative block?
I find that so many things that I touch or see on a daily basis have been ignored. If you start to scrutinize everyday objects you will find that they can inspire you to take them further, to change how they are used and perceived for the better.
We also try and escape from the office on occasion to visit stores, restaurants or even just sitting in a bar can inspire unique ideas. We’re fortunate to have so many great resources within our reach.
Do you have any words of wisdom for creatives who are ready to make the leap into a quitting their day jobs and building a business?
After working for clients for years we would really say to any designer that they should do something completely from their own voice without compromise.  Something you are passionate about or know you want to do. It is really amazing what doors will open up and how much you can learn about yourself. When we were only doing client work we never won any awards, received any press or were ever asked to speak about design, after creating ModKat we have been lucky enough to do all of these things.
Thanks so much to Rich for chatting with us and giving us a peek into the ModKat studio!

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