Designer Interviews

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Designer Interview: Debra Folz Design


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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.



Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Designer Interview: Clark Davis from Sprout


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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!

Shop all Sprout


Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Designer Interview: Domenic Fiorello Studio


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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.


Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Designer Interview: Evan Stoller of Stoller Works


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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’ 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.


Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Designer Interviews: Sharon & Ted Burnett of Strand Design


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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.