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Designer Interviews

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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Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Designer Interviews: See Scout Sleep Dog Beds & The Best Models Ever

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with Katie Logan, one half of the creative juices behind See Scout Sleep and chatting about dawgs, the Gulf Coast, handmade goods, eco-friendliness, dawgs, dawhtahs, Bahbara, and dawgs. Oh wait, I just channeled Linda Richmond for a second there. Anyway, the first couple of things I mentioned. Onto the locally crafted, eco-friendly and super duper comfy and stylin’ dog beds of See Scout Sleep!

Please tell us about Scout! And Ruby, and Bayla. Are they your dog bed models?

Bayla, unfortunately, is too large for any of our beds at the moment. Scout and Ruby are my go-to models. Easy access, you know? And it is a little strange how much they both love being in front of the camera. Scout actually understands the command “model.” She looks at the camera when I say it. Mila, a blue heeler, modeled the medium size beds for us. She took a break from her busy schedule of herding cows, dogs, and people. She is also an avid frisbee catcher.

Scout is a rather special lady. My boyfriend and I took her in from the streets about a year and half ago and she has brought nothing but joy. She is a pit-bull lab mix I think, with a heart of gold and quite the sense of humor. Scout is pretty much perfect. She likes to swim, cuddle, play with children, save the world, and sniff peoples’ butts when they are least expecting it.

Ruby, on the other hand, might be the devil incarnate. I almost ran over her a few streets from my house. I took her in temporarily, thinking I would find her owner or a good home, but what can I say… she has really won us over with her ability to put her and our lives at risk at any given moment and her oh so soothing and loving biting habits. Really though, she is hands down the funniest dog I have ever met. Not having ever been a “little dog person”, maybe all Chihuahuas are like this, but man Ruby is weird and wonderful. She hates bicycles, humans, dogs, the wind, and too many options, but she really loves us and her tail. I guess she is staying.

And then there is Sherman, the 25 lb cat I just had to have at PetSmart. He really rounds out the crew with his amazing food consumption abilities and constant meowing tactics.

Bayla is a great dane mix that owns Sarah Killen, my partner in crime. She is a majestic and wonderful animal that has been with us through all of our endeavors together and has been an amazing friend to Sarah. She REALLY loves squeaky toys and somehow gives the impression that a six year old human girl, maybe even a princess, is trapped inside of her. She also pushes me all the time and is getting very annoyed that the XL beds are not ready.

How did your company get its start? What led you here?

Sarah and I met through a mutual friend in 2005. We became friends and started crafting together. She was playing around with making dog beds because of the lack of attractive options on the market, especially in great dane size. We made a few beds from vintage textiles and they were a hit with our friends. Other activities took over for a while, but the seed had been planted for See Scout Sleep.

By the Shore Medium Bed

How does Louisiana influence your design sense?
I don’t even know where to start. I feel that the entire aesthetic of the company reminds me of Louisiana, a little rough but still comfortable and elegant. The illustrations from our first collection are obviously straight from the source, our local seafood. A horsetail plant growing a block over from my house inspired the pattern on the back of the beds.

back of a bed!

Did you see a hole in the pet bed market? If so, how are you filling it?
Sarah and I are both textile lovers and collectors and are very passionate about interiors. There are many lovely options on the market, but none that really fit our style. We kept our first collection neutral enough for any space, but hopefully funky and striking enough to add to the design scheme of an interior. We are also going to keep all of our beds the same shapes, so as new patterns and collections come out, you can purchase just the cover and change things up if you wish.
We also noticed that even with the eco friendly options, most dog beds are filled with polyester. It is usually recycled polyester, but we wanted a natural material. We also wanted a bed that wouldn’t flatten out so much that you could feel the floor through it in a couple of months. What to fill our beds with became an obsession. We finally decided on two inner beds. One filled with Kapok and the other with buckwheat. They really are more like a mattress than a traditional dog bed.

By the Shore Small Pet Bed

How do you keep your beds green and healthy?
When designing a product from the ground up, the options are limitless. We make choices about what material to use and how to have our beds made based on what is important to us. We care about our earth and about our community. They are our favorite things! So we try to make the best decisions we can. We have noticed this usually means spending more money :)

Who makes your products?
I was determined to find a way to have See Scout Sleep beds produced in Louisiana, as close to New Orleans as possible. I draw and design all of the patterns and illustrations. Then the fabric is cut and screen printed in Covington, about one hour from New Orleans. I then deliver the pieces to a very amazing woman in Franklinton, LA to be sewn. She sometimes employs her family members to help. After they are constructed, I pick them up and bring them back to New Orleans. Either I, or my broke and jobless musician friends, stuff the inner beds, and prepare them for shipping.

By the Shore Large Pet Bed

What is your workspace like? Any advice for our readers about how to set up their creative spaces?
See Scout Sleep is run from my home. Dog bed land is a little tricky because I must have 3 separate spaces: one for my office and design area, one for assembling and shipping, and one for stuffing. And these puppies are huge! My house is pretty much taken over by dog beds and boxes. But I love it!

I have always worried about creating the perfect office/ design studio, but I realized recently that I actually think moving my work space around allows me to be more creative. I move my desk almost every two months. Sometimes I am in the living room, sometimes in the bedroom, etc. Although, I think I would save a great amount of time if I would just go ahead and set up shop in my kitchen. I find staring into the refrigerator 10x a day to be very helpful.

You give 10% of your funds to The Gulf Coast Fund. Please tell us a little more about the charity and how we can help.
Trying to choose a charity to support is a difficult decision. There are so many. We chose The Gulf Coast fund because of its “umbrella” like structure. They are a grant making institution that supports local people and groups that are trying to help the Gulf Coast community, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.  It was formed in reaction to a series of hurricanes that devastated the region, but was an integral part of the awareness and aid during the BP oil spill in 2010.
You can donate directly on their website, or participate in any of the many groups they support, or just become aware of the serious issues this region is facing. However, I think the best option is to just come visit us and enjoy all the wonders of Louisiana!

Katie prepping for a glamorous canine photo shoot

I know I was very entertained and charmed by Katie’s answers and her attitude; not to mention loving how clever and stylish the products, product shots, and sketches are.  It gave my morning a lift! Thank you so much Katie! We cannot wait to see what else you and Sarah come up with.

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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Designer Interview: Darin Montgomery of urbancase

Becky

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Today we’re having a chat with Darin Montgomery of urbancase, to find out how his company came to be and to take a look at some of their work, from the design of a shelf to the interior design of an entire restaurant. Without further ado…

Sidebar in Walnut

How did your company get its start? What led you here?
I had a sculpture studio in South Seattle and was building custom furniture on a limited basis when I met a couple of cool guys who had a design/build firm across the alley. We immediately hit it off and started collaborating. It was a particularly interesting time in Seattle because quite a few restaurants and coffee shops were opening and we were able to work on a number of cool projects. The experience pushed me further towards designing functional objects and the idea of a furniture studio grew from there.

What was the first piece of furniture you remember making?
I was somewhere around 8 or 10 and made a wine glass rack for my Dad. I used scrap material found in our garage. I took great care assembling it but had no idea it should be clamped together until the glue dried. My Mom picked it up by the top and it fell apart. I was crushed. I repaired it, but it was known as Frankenrack from then on.
How does being in Seattle affect your design sensibility? What inspires you?
It’s difficult to specifically define how Seattle affects our designs but I believe everyone is influenced by their environment and we’re no exception. Seattle is a great city…pretty laid back, comfortable, easy to manage. I feel it’s reflected in much of what we do.

I’m inspired by thoughtful design (of any type) and a simple life.

What is your workspace like?
Our studio is in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle. It’s a working class community with a mix of light industrial and residential areas. We have a modest but efficient shop space set up primarily for building prototypes, mock-ups, etc., which also includes a product display area where we keep a few pieces on hand. We’re lucky because we have roll up doors so we can bring the outdoors in and we’re very excited about our upcoming studio remodel.

1.2 Chair

What’s your favorite material to work with at the moment? We’ve been experimenting with Corian recently and have been having great success. But…walnut usually makes its way into the mix.

How does your team work together? What does each one of you bring to the table? One of us will generally come up with an idea or concept and throw it out for consideration. We’re comfortable sharing ideas without fear of sounding ridiculous even if something doesn’t come directly from it. And we’re honest and direct in our opinions. We each have different skills and backgrounds that seem to complement each other, but I believe it’s what we don’t bring to the table that is most important…ego.

Tell me a story about one of these pieces of yours that we sell. We were setting up at ICFF and I received a phone call from a gentlemen who, after he identified himself, I recognized because we shipped a Ledge to him the week before we left.

The conversation went like this:

Customer: I have a crate from urbancase sitting in my office and I have no idea what it is.
Me: It’s the walnut Ledge you ordered. We shipped it last week and sent the                           tracking number to your office.
Customer: What the @#%+ is a Ledge!?
Me: It’s our wall mounted desk.
Customer: I own a textile company, what do I want with a wall mounted desk.
Me: You’re asking the wrong guy…I didn’t order it.
Customer: (Laughter)…I guess you’re right.

We spoke later and had another good laugh. Someone in his office ordered the Ledge for display and a photo shoot and he wasn’t aware of it.

urbancase Ledge – Walnut

You’re also a design firm; please share a few portfolio shots from your projects with us! 1) Tilikum Place Cafe in Seattle. This used to be a print shop. Worked with the chef/owner on a full interior design:

2) All City Coffee – Seattle. A collaboration with Steve Withycombe on interior fixtures:

3) Residential railing – Seattle. Collaboration with NY based architect Mallory Shure:

Thanks so much to Darin for taking the time to share a little of his history and his work with us today! Personally, I would love to see a new, ridiculously sleek wine rack named Frankenrack that would redeem him from his early failure with glue.

See all urbancase products

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Monday, July 18th, 2011

Designer Interview: John Eric Byers of Jeb Jones

Becky

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Today we’re sitting down with John Eric Byers, the furniture designer behind Jeb Jones. Jeb Jones is an environmentally conscious company that creates furniture distinguished by simple geometric forms, traditional construction methods, hand-tooled surfaces and hand finishing. Based in upstate New York, the designs are influenced by the four seasons and the surrounding countryside. Without further ado, meet John!
Jeb Jones Spools (Short)

What was the first piece of furniture you ever made?

I made a ladder back chair in high school shop. Gave it to my Mom of course.

What has your career path been; what led you into designing furniture?

I always had a desire to work with my hands and with wood. When I discovered the furniture of Wendell Castle I was hooked. I was very fortunate that he had a small school of which I attended for 2 years and then went out on my own.

Jeb Jones Stacking Drawers Dresser

What is your philosophy when approaching the design of a new piece?

Excitement and anxiousness.. I get this kind of  buzz.

What inspires you? What do you do to overcome a creative block?

Honestly, I have never had a creative block. But the best cure to indecision is to stay disciplined and make a decision and hope for the best.

Jeb Jones Wood Ball

Please tell us a bit about the sustainable aspects of your practice and products.

At the onset  I wanted JEB JONES to represent sustainability and enduring quality. We use only FSC select hardwoods and VOC-free environmentally safe opaque and clear coat finishes. Our costs are higher but I refuse to cheap out on the environment . When you purchase one of our pieces, you can feel proud that you are doing right by your planet. And you can feel that way for a lifetime because our pieces will last a lifetime and our warranty supports that.

Can you tell us a quick story about three of your designs and how they came to be?

Most of my designs start as quick thumbnail doodles, I never do working drawings. I often have a few designs being made at the same time and then I begin to see variations on the pieces as they come to life.

Jeb Jones Open Form Bench/Table

The idea of emphasizing the interior space of the Open Form Tables led me to to extend that interior consideration and attention to detail to all the open pieces in the collection.

What’s your workspace like? How do your surroundings in upstate New York influence you work?

My private studio is short 30 foot  commute from my 1860s farm house which makes it easy to go to the studio every day.  I think the simplicity of my lifestyle in the country has contributed to the simplicity of my design forms . The four seasons certainly has influenced my color palette.

Thanks so much to John for sitting down with us today! Here are more of his designs.

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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Designer Interview: Maria Boustead, Founder of Po Campo

Becky

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Today we have the pleasure of sitting down with Maria Boustead, co-founder of Po Campo, a Chicago-based company that has found a way to produce some of the cutest and most useful, durable and weatherproof bike bags around. An avid biker herself, Maria knew exactly what she needed from said bag and what she couldn’t find on the market. She partnered up with her friend Emily Taylor and the rest is history. Here’s the history and some advice from Maria:

What inspired your business ?
Biking has always been my favorite way to get around Chicago. It’s fun and practical for city living. However, I don’t like wearing backpacks or messenger bags because I get too sweaty and they hurt my back if I’m toting a lot around. In the summer of 2008 I was biking to work with my normal purse bungee corded to my rear rack and I wondered why there weren’t any bike bags more appropriate for women biking to work. I was picturing something more professional and tastefully designed that could easily attach and detach from my bike, something to bridge the gap between riding my bike and the rest of my life. I shared the idea with my friend and fellow designer Emily Taylor and we decided to design a line of bags that would do just that.


How did you start your business? Were you sewing at home? What’s the production like now and how did you grow to this point?

Designing the first bags was pretty straightforward because we knew what we wanted. We identified two times when the typical bike bags on the market didn’t work because they were too basic, blah and masculine: Going to work and going out on the town. Then, we designed bags to fit those occasions. Our first Rack Bag (now the Armitage Satchel) was large and roomy for going to work and the Handlebar Bag (now the Streeterville Clutch) was small and cute for going out with the girls or out on a date.

We sketched up our ideas and made some rough prototypes on our home sewing machines. In the beginning, it was really important for us to produce locally and it took quite a bit of legwork to figure out how to do it since most cut-and-sew production has moved overseas. We finally found the right partner in Chicago with a proved track record of quality bags and the ability to scale up as we needed to. We’ve been working with them ever since.

What inspires you? What do you do when you have a creative block?
I like being out and about and experiencing things in the city, anything from attending an arts event to people watching to hanging out at the lake. Chicago is full of interesting creative people and I love being around that. Creative blocks for me are usually solved by a long bike ride, yoga or hanging out with friends and throwing ideas around. You never know where the next idea will come from, so I always try to stay receptive to new things.

What is your personal workspace like?
Ha ha, sadly nothing too glamorous. Po Campo is half of a desk in my apartment that I share with my husband! For now anyway….

Any advice to those who are looking to make the jump into starting their own business?

Just go for it, ask lots of advice and don’t look down.

Where does the name Po Campo come from?
Our brand name Po Campo comes from a character from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove novel (my favorite book). Po Campo was the cook that went along on the cattle drive from Texas to Montana. We found him inspirational because he did things his own way, was always open to adventure and found something to appreciate in the most mundane or trying of times. Starting a business making fashionable bike accessories in Chicago, we needed a dose of his self-assuredness because we heard plenty of “that will never work”. As time has gone by, though, I feel his openness to what’s around the next corner continually inspirational. It’s kind of like the beauty of bike riding because you can go at your own pace and go where you want to go and experience new things each time.

Thanks so much for maria for chatting with us today! And for sharing this shot of herself and her bag in action!

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