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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, 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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