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Designer Interviews

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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Monday, November 7th, 2011

Designer Interview: Gitane Royce of Modern Playhouse

Becky

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Today we’re having a chat with Gitane Royce of Modern Playhouse. These earth- and kiddo-friendly playhouses make cozy modern spots for children to play and imagine. Who knows, they just might inspire your kiddo to become the next Mies!
1. Did you have a playhouse growing up?
I grew up in a rural New England setting and didn’t have a playhouse as a child. Instead I constructed countless forts made in and out of trees, couches, tables, and with lots of blankets. Modern Playhouse is my way of bringing my nostalgic rural childhood memories to an urban setting. The simplicity of my
playhouses leaves plenty of creative room for a child to make a space all her own… as I once did!
2. How did the Modern Playhouse concept develop?
My child was born. I wanted to give her a space truly her own in our home and hacked out my first modernist influenced playhouse for she and her friends to play in. I do maintain that my 2 year old didn’t care about the architectural influence on her playhouse structure but my idea was to make the openings simple enough that she would appreciate her defining space but still have a connection to the outside world from her domain. In this case the outside world was our living room and us.
The inside/outside connection in modernist architecture is well documented and I think a nice concept for childhood on so many different levels. I began to get orders for playhouses from other families in our San Francisco community and the Modern Playhouse concept was born: simple modern design for kids, made from sustainable materials, easily assembled, and made in the USA.
3. How do kiddos respond to your playhouses?
With overwhelming cheer! The pre-walkers crawl in and pop themselves up at the window, the early toddlers open and close the door and sit at the table with delight, and the 2 yr+ kids
engage in pretend play or artistic endeavors, snack eating, house decorating, and everything a child does but all with a proud sense of place. It is so fun to watch the kids play in their houses! Child-led play is so nice to observe and so important developmentally for them.
4. Why do you think it’s important to produce earth friendly products for kids?
I truly believe that good product design for kids has a sustainable element…whether it be recycled, recyclable, repurposed, made close to home, or made from responsibly managed raw materials. I think as a parent and business owner on this planet I am COMPELLED to do the best I can to manufacture
my kids products incorporating elements from the above list. By manufacturing this way, my hope is that my products reuse traditional waste materials, create less green house gases, and ultimately get passed on to other families after they are no longer needed. Truly there is nothing more satisfying than offering handcrafted, non-toxic, and long lasting sustainable products to my customer. Ok, besides the sheer joy the houses bring to the kids!
5. What is in the future for Modern Playhouse?
As a one-woman show and a parent, everything happens at Modern Playhouse from my perspective… and to coin a phrase from my father-in-law… in the fullness of time. Having said that, I am delighted to launch the Puzzle House during Fall 2011. This house goes together…well, like a puzzle… and is
manufactured from sustainable domestically sourced wood products. The Puzzle has a slightly smaller footprint than my existing playhouses. The Modern Playhouse product line has a bright future with other exciting products to be released in Spring 2012!
We can’t wait to see what’s coming down the pipe from Modern Playhouse. In the meantime, shop all Modern Playhouse.
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Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Designer Interviews: These Are Things

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with Jen Adrion + Omar Noory of These Are Things to learn a bit more about what inspires their designs, what Columbus Ohio has to offer and how their fascination with maps began. Those of you who have been reading Hatch for awhile know about my obsession with maps, so this was a dreamy interview for me.

How did you two meet? When did you discover you two together would make a great partnership?

We met in art school where our first class together was an intro to typography class. We always had a great time together so we made to sure to schedule as many of the same classes together as we could. Many hours were spent sitting in the back of classrooms, sketching and laughing. We didn’t discover our “great partnership” until we were a couple of years out of college.

Modern World Map in Aqua

Your world map reminds me of my Cold War youth – was the RUSSIA area a nostalgic reference?

Our original world maps were heavily inspired by the mid-century modern art of the 50s during the start of the Cold War. We wanted to capture that look but also bring it into this century with some refreshes and more modern labeling (for example, choosing Russia instead of U.S.S.R.)

When did your interest in maps begin? Is there anywhere you’re dying to travel to that you stick a push pin in?

We both have a love for travel. Besides the business, it’s where most of the money we earn goes. We had traveled to a few places before we designed our first map and thought it would be great if we could have some sort of physical pin map to track our travels. We searched for months and couldn’t find anything that matched the specific look we wanted so we decided to create our own. We designed our original world map (the World Map / Aqua) and had it produced in our first run of 50 maps. Fortunately for us, lots of other people liked the look of it too. We ended up selling out of our first run almost instantly and the rest is history.

American Flags Map

How are you reinterpreting and putting your own stamp on them?

A lot of what we work with is a simplification of whatever we’re mapping. Kind of like getting the essence of that area. This means that sometimes areas get cut which has spurned a few armchair cartographers. At the end of the day, there are plenty of great sources for maps with every city, country, mountain range, river, and so on labeled; we’re just offering an alternative to that.

Map of Washington, D.C.

I grew up in Cincinnati and people I went to high school with flocked to Columbus. What do you love about it?  What’s the scene like for creative types?

Omar actually grew up around Cincinnati too. He moved for the same reason many other college-bound teenagers move, to get some distance from his parents :) Columbus is a great city for starting a business like ours. While it may not be as culturally relevant as a New York or a San Francisco, it also comes with a much, much lower cost of living which has given us the ability to invest most of money right back into the business. Columbus also has a growing creative culture, tons of great restaurants and lots of fledgling design groups along with some large established ones. Simply put, Columbus is a great balance of culture and affordability which makes it a great home base for a creative business like ours.

Please tell us about your neighborhood.

While we live in Columbus proper, we live on the edge of a neighborhood called Grandview Heights (we’re technically right across the street from it). It’s a nice quiet neighborhood with a lot of greenery and we’re only a couple of blocks away from Jeni’s, the best ice cream in Columbus.

Could you please tell us a bit about finding the perfect fonts to correspond with your maps and the places they cover?

Type choice has always been one of the most important steps in our design process. We’ve always been fans of classic fonts that have stood the test of time. We also take into account the time period those fonts came from when matching them with the look of our designs. More recently we’ve become interested in older, hand drawn typography as well.

What do you do when you have a creative block to shake it loose?

The best part of working for yourself is that if there’s a creative block, we’re not forced to stew in front of our computers. On those kinds of days we shake the block loose by getting away for a bit. We bike or walk if the weather is nice, other times we try to see if there’s a cool event going on, and sometimes we just decide to take a nap on the couch with the cats. Going back to the screen with a clear mind almost always does the trick!

World Map in Black

What’s your studio like? Any advice for keeping a good space where one’s creative juices can flow?

We live in a fairly small one bedroom apartment which also doubles as our studio. Things used to be much tougher when we also stored all our inventory and packing supplies but earlier this year we hired a fulfillment company to store and ship our prints which literally gave us back half of our apartment.

We look at our space the same way we look at our designs. Over the past couple of years, we’ve pared down all the non-essential items in our apartment. It’s much less effort keeping a clean and clutter-free area when you only have a few dozen things in your house. Without all the extraneous junk, it’s easier to focus our work and also easier to relax when work is done.

Thanks so much to Jen and Omar for taking the time to chat with us today. I’m going to have to get to Columbus and see if Jeni’s can hold a candle to Graeter’s Ice Cream.

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Monday, October 10th, 2011

Designer Interview: Joe and Sallyann of FRUITSUPER

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with Sallyann Corn and Joe Kent of FRUITSUPER, a Product Design Firm. In addition to all of the consulting and expertise their company offers, they have also developed lines of products, including their silicon SBiR rings which are new to our site. They truly are So Big it’s Ridiculous, and that is, of course, why we love ‘em so much!

How did you come up with your company’s name?

Ahhh,that is always everyone’s first question! And the hardest one to figure out, apparently, since no one ever guesses the correct answer! But I suppose we can finally divulge the secret…Corn is Sallyann’s last name, and corn is technically a fruit (since it bears seeds). Joe’s last name is Kent, which is Superman’s last name. Smash those two together, and you’ve got fruitsuper design!

I never would have guessed that, as I had no idea that corn was a fruit. Anyway, how did you two meet?

We met in 2004 while both studying Industrial Design at The Art Institute of Seattle. We gravitated toward each other, because we had opposing skill sets, which made us perfect partners to work together. We also both have the same sarcastic sense of humor, obsession for all things design, and a ridiculous love of food and travel. Starting our own company had always been one of our goals early on, knowing how well our skill sets complemented each other. After working for other companies, we both decided to go back to school (Pratt Institute) to round out our education experience and Pratt has always been known for cultivating entrepreneurs.

What inspired your geodesic-ish rings? What gave you the guts to go so large scale?

Sallyann is a huge lover of giant jewelry (no pun intended). Her philosophy when it comes to jewelry selection is that if no one comments on the jewelry she’s wearing, it’s not big enough. And after extensive research, we realized she wasn’t the only women that felt this way. A great big piece of jewelry can be the perfect conversation starter, and the right piece to pull a perfect ensemble together. This line of geometric inspired rings was born out of the exploration of materials. We both have quite a bit of experience working with Silicone, so were familiar with all of the properties it has to offer. No one is currently capitalizing on these properties in the jewelry arena. That’s why we chose it for this line- we were able to create these chiseled geometric gemlike shapes that are juxtaposed by this soft, squishy material. The stretch properties in Silicone make them comfortable, lightweight, and easy to wear, which are uncommon features in large jewelry.

What does SBiR mean?

SBiR stands for So Big it’s Ridiculous. These rings most definitely fall into the category of ‘statement jewelry,’ and we intended them to be that way. They are not for the faint at heart, they’re big, they’re bold, and they’re equal parts of ridiculous and awesomeness!

O.K. I should have figured that one out! Love it! How long have you been in business? What inspired you to start your own creative business?

We founded fruitsuper design in 2008, to create not only our own objects, but to take on other challenges as well. We’re one half a product consultancy company, and one half design producers of our own products. This adds multiple levels of challenges as well as a firm understanding of the entire design process. Taking on projects for outside clients keeps us grounded, provides fresh approaches, as well as inspires us to do more of our own work! So it’s a great balance!

Where do you look for inspiration?

We are both museum junkies, and will escape the office and studio any chance we can! We’re also obsessive travelers, and firmly believe that contrast and context are the keys to great design thinking. Traveling opens our eyes to new foods, new ways of thinking, new colors, patterns, and entire worlds of opportunity. Just talking about traveling is making us feel the need to book a trip somewhere and fill the reservoir!

What’s your workspace like?

Our workspace is constantly evolving. Since we’re always juggling between our own product development, as well as client projects, our space has to be extremely flexible. It’s held together by paperclips and masking tape, as we’re always rotating drawings, sketches, and models to focus on the project at hand. And tucked away in every possible nook and cranny are objects of inspiration, TONS and tons of books (as we’re both bibliophiles), our pear collection, and Sallyann’s millions of post-it note lists.

Thanks so much to Sallyann and Joe for sitting down with us today. See all of the SBiR rings here.

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Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Designer Interviews: Edgar Blazona of TrueModern

Becky

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Today we have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Edgar Blazona of TrueModern, and learning about his new playhouse design, which may just nudge your toddler into becoming a budding Modernist.

We know you’ve had a background in prefab architecture. Tell us a bit about how your experience with prefabs lead to the creation of the playhouse.

When I started building modern prefab architecture, I was trying to create a space that I could fill with my furniture designs. I felt that I needed a place that was truly modern from the moment you walked in the door. Modern architecture is sometimes unapproachable in cost. Living in the Bay Area, there really isn’t a way to be able to build a modern home. I started in the backyard, thinking I could create a small building that could house my modernist books, mid-century furniture and my own designs. Basically, the playhouse is the same sort of situation. I wanted to create an environment for kids so that they too could grow up in a modernist setting. I have noticed that kids enjoy a little simplicity when they are taken away from the primary colors of plastic play structures.

What influenced the playhouse design?

As you can see in my buildings, there is typically a glass corner or the appearance of one. You can see that within this playhouse as well…

It’s really easy to see the similarities between my prefab work and my playhouse. Frankly, the playhouse is a no-brainer given my extensive exploration into kids’ furniture, which we’ve been doing for years now.

How often have you played in your playhouse?

That’s funny you should ask. I recently had a tea party with a neighbor’s kid. We got inside it, I squeezed through the little door and sat down with her. Funny thing was, we didn’t have any furniture. It kind of make me think we should do some furniture to go with these. What’s a modern playhouse without modern furnishings? Truth be told, we just sat for a bit, giggled and played, and ended up having a really great time.

If you could find the playhouse in the home of any one person who might it be?

Brad Pitt, no doubt. A long time ago, Brad Pitt’s assistant gave me a call. I’ll never forget the day. I was working for Pottery Barn at the time ( yep- the modernist used to work for Pottery Barn! ) and this women called very interested in my Modular Dwellings structures. After I questioned her for a bit, she finally fessed up that she was Brad’s assistant. I was shocked that Brad Pitt was interested in my work. I certainly could imagine him with a whole group of these structures for all of the kids that he seems to have nowadays.

I love the Danish modern aesthetic of the 11 Ply collection. Tell us how you came about the design on these pieces.

With 11 Ply, I was trying to create a new kids’ furniture collection that could not only sit with our existing kids collection, but still look fresh and new. The name 11 Ply actually refers to the 11 layers of veneer, making up the thickness of the plywood. We started with selecting a material and then worked backwards. I chose birch plywood to be used as the main material to create a better quality item (it’s stronger and actually made up of these layers of birch veneer, creating basically a solid birch panel). I then chose a manufacturing technique that would accentuate this type of material. We’re actually using the material as it was intended. We are not putting a veneered edge; we are exposing the natural edge with sanding and clear-finishing. All of the parts and panels are cut on a CNC machine. If you notice, most of the shapes have a rounded top or the drawers have a shape that overhangs the top. The fact that we are not veneering the edges allows us to do this type of design. We even use a simple cutout to work as the drawers’ handle, allowing the user to easily grab on and open the drawer.

We noticed that TrueModern is expanding out of kids bedrooms and into the rest of the home. Tell us more about your “grown up” pieces.

We launched our first sofas a few years ago. We started with two – Luna & Lift. Although Lift hasn’t been a great success, Luna has done really well. People have really responded to the Danish looking, somewhat Haywood Wakefield-inspired legs. Just recently, we launched a few new sofa collections called Dane, which is even more Danish-inspired. The legs are solid walnut and tapered with some interesting stitching technique across the back of the pillows. These pieces in particular are a little more comfy and let you get a little cozy. Marfa is more of a lounge-type sofa, inspired by my favorite artist and modernist, Donald Judd. This block-style sofa is very low and great to kick back, while still looking super cool. Each of these collections are available in several different configurations. It’s been quite a struggle getting all these configuration options perfect and available for purchase. It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally got it and we’re super excited to show these to our customers.

And lastly, what is this Modernism For Life t-shirt brand you have launched?

Yeah- I’m really excited about these new shirts. We are having so much fun making fun of ourselves yet exposing so many to a new way of life. The idea here is that we are modernists, we are proud of our ways, and we want to wear it on our sleeves. Literally.  In a way, we are somewhat poking fun at our need for clean lines, simplicity, and good design to fills our lives. Frankly I am using  this humor to push back on the status quo. I guess I am bored with the big box stores, Pottery Barn and brands alike. Who decided that the design standard in the US needs to be a “freshened up” version of an antique? And what about clutter? We don’t need clutter. As modernists we are sick of clutter in fact. Frankly clutter makes me have anxiety you just can’t imagine. I think it all starts in the home; being comfortable at home does not need to come in the form of “stuff.” Quite the opposite in fact. Being comfortable in life is so important and I believe modernism can help us all get there. You know, it really cracks me up when you go to someone’s home and it’s a huge mess, yet they go to yoga four times a week to keep their sanity and life in check. Hello? Try getting rid of that clutter and start seeing the light. Modernism For Life- Live it!, as I say.

Thanks so much to Edgar for sitting down with us today!

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