8 Things
Tahmineh Javanbahkt, Creative Director at Artecnica

For a company that’s become known over the past decade for its ethically responsible products and its work with indigenous artisan communities, it’s surprising to learn that Artecnica’s first product was made from a relatively noxious material like resin. A small, egg-like alarm whose ovoid shape magnified its face, the Dada clock was designed by Tahmineh Javanbahkt, who co-founded the company in 1987 with her husband, the architect Enrico Bressan. “In the beginning, we started out doing mostly architecture,” Javanbahkt told me one day earlier this winter when I visited her home in Los Angeles. “We did Gianni Versace’s office and store; we would do set design for companies like Sebastian. In some of the buildings, we would do panels or dividers in resin, and eventually we made the Dada clock, which is what successfully started us in product design. But now we make it in glass!”

Javanbahkt needn’t worry about backpedaling; Artecnica cemented its reputation as one of the most socially minded companies around years ago, not long after she and Bressan opened the brand up to working with outside designers. In 2002 the company founded Design With Conscience, a program that paired talents like Tord Boontje, Hella Jongerius, the Campana Brothers, and Stephen Burks with small, in-need artisan collectives in Guatemala, Peru, Vietnam, and South Africa. The Campanas made a seat from wicker and recycled bicycle tires, Boontje his famous Transglass vessels from discarded beer and wine bottles. “Our aim is to have a product that really is different from what’s out there,” says Javanbahkt. “It sounds cliché, but there really is so much stuff. When the company was younger, it would be like, ‘Ooh, I love this shape, let’s do it!’ Now it’s like, do we need this? Once it’s discarded, how will it affect the earth? We try in our own way to make a positive impact.”

Of course, Design With Conscience is only a part of the company; over the years Artecnica has made everything from chandeliers in copper foil to greeting cards in laser-cut paper. And though some projects have emerged fully realized from the designers’ studios, more often than not, they’re the result of a long collaboration with Bressan and Javanbahkt, whose mixed lineage as a couple (she emigrated from Iran at age 17; he hails from Italy) gives them a distinctly global sensibility. We recently caught up with Javanbahkt to find out a bit more about the influences that have shaped her and the brand.

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A collection of Artecnica's most recent works, including (top from left) the Themis mobile by Clara von Zweigbergk, Kaktus stool by Enrico Bressan, and Grand Trianon Tyvek light by Paula Arntzen.

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John Baldessari: Before Javanbahkt co-founded Artecnica, she was an artist in her own right. After graduating from Art Center with a degree in fashion illustration, she spent her postgrad years teaching and making art, and her home in Benedict Canyon is filled with collage-like paintings inspired by the likes of John Baldessari. (Above: His Raised Eyebrows/ Furrowed Foreheads (left) and Prima Facie (Fifth State).) “At an art museum, I can be as mesmerized by a Renaissance painting as by a Baldessari. But collage is the theme I keep going back to in my professional life, and his are so beautifully thought out. Our tranSglass candle scent Fresh Cut Grass was named after this painting.”

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James Rosenquist: Javanbahkt admires Rosenquist — who in his fine art appropriated the language of his former life as a sign painter — for many of the same reasons. “I once got a commission from a gallery to do a huge painting, and I was so inspired by him I had to be careful not go too far,” she says. Of his Marilyn Monroe I, she says: “I’ve also always been very interested in women as a subject — their stories, their beauty. It’s partly why I love fashion.”

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Of her process, Javanbahkt says: “I have a lot of fashion and design and architecture magazines, and I keep a library of pages that I put in folders —landscapes, women, hands, eyes, hair, fish. Usually I’ll find something that inspires me to go digging in my folders, and then I just use a matte or a glossy varnish. I’ve never really used three-dimensional objects; I prefer something more flat.”

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“With painting, there’s so much warm-up,” she explains. “But with collage, it’s instantly gratifying. The idea comes, you sense something, and an hour later you can have a finished product.” She reconsiders. “Although usually I keep collaging on top of that. Even when I painted, I would only finish when I had to load up the truck and send off a pallet. I like the idea that art can keep moving and it’s not so definite.”

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The collaging has even made it into Artecnica’s collateral, which is designed by Alex Lin. Shown here is a poster Lin created for the company’s 2007 Design With Conscience exhibition at Vivid Gallery in Rotterdam. From top, it depicts Boontje’s Come Rain Come Shine light and tranSglass vessels, Hella Jongerius’s Beads and Pieces vases, the Campanas’ wicker and rubber Transneomatic seats, and Stephen Burks’s wire Tatu furniture.

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Martin Margiela: Javanbahkt adores Margiela as a matter of personal taste: “I’m a tall girl, and his work sits on me well,” she says. But she's also hugely influenced by the house’s ideas about branding and the value of objects. “He was one of the first to make a shirt that was frayed on purpose, or with the sleeves torn. It’s the idea of making precious the things people would normally throw out.”

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Martin Margiela: “You go to the Margiela store in Los Angeles, and they’ve put Xeroxes on the wall and painted plywood white. It’s simple, but there’s thoughtfulness in the way things are manipulated.”

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“In many ways, that’s the whole concept behind Design With Conscience,” she continues. “TranSglass (above) is in the permanent collection in the architecture and design galleries at MoMA, but it’s just discarded beer and wine bottles.” She also points to a recent project Artecnica did in collaboration with the ad agency TBWA, turning disused Apple billboards into reusable bags.

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Bryce Duffy: Perhaps in part because of the designers Artecnica works with, people tend to assume the company's based in Europe and can hardly imagine that its showroom sits on sunny San Vincente, in the shadow of the SLS Hotel. “I’m always telling Alex Lin, ‘Why don’t you collage some palm trees and ocean into my pieces,’” Javanbahkt laughs. “But really one of the things I love about L.A. is the beach in Malibu, and L.A. photographer Bryce Duffy takes the most interesting pictures of it.”

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Ingo Maurer: Artecnica is in talks with more designers Javanbahkt can’t yet name, but if she had to pick one dream designer who hasn’t yet worked with the company, it would be Ingo Maurer, the German-born, New York–based lighting designer whose whimsical One From the Heart table lamp sits next to her bedside. “I’m forever amazed by his creativity,” she says.

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Isfahan: Perhaps the biggest influence on Javanbahkt’s sensibility has been Isfahan, the Iranian town she was born and grew up in. “It’s shaped so many things about me, especially my appreciation of color," she says. "The mosques are full of reds and pinks and mustards; they used to call it the Florence of the Middle East because of the domes and the craftsmanship and complexity. This is Si-o-se Pol, the 33-column bridge I used to walk over every day going to school. As a child I didn’t appreciate it because every bridge looked like that, and even when I came here, I was so amazed by the modernity and simplicity that for a while I rebelled against the kind of ornament I was brought up around.”

Naghseh-Jahan

Isfahan: “This is Naghseh-Jahan, the area behind my high school. After years, I'm finally appreciating the beauty I had as a child. It had a great impact on me without my realizing it, although as a young girl I always wanted to be a designer or a painter — or a stewardess,” Javanbahkt laughs.

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Wirework charms: “I bought these gold pieces at a craft fair in Italy in some really tiny town because I liked their craftsmanship. It was around the time that we launched Garland in the States, and I couldn’t resist buying some for Tord and myself. I plan to do something with them one day, I just have no idea what!”

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Saints: When she travels, Javanbahkt tends to collect things like colorful quilts and crafts, but over the years, she’s also amassed a sizable collection of these wooden saint sculptures. “They’re each carved from a single piece of wood and they have glass eyes, but the glass eyes often fall off when they’re very old. I had a friend from the Philippines who had an incredible one in her home. She said, ‘If you paint a portrait of me, I’ll trade you a saint.’ This was about 20 years ago, and after I brought that one home, I bought another in a little market in Guatemala, and I just kept going.”

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“That’s why projects like Design With Conscience are so important,” Javanbahkt continues. “In the market where I bought the saint they had maybe 30 little stands, and everything was handmade by Guatemalans. Now you go and there are 500 stands, and 490 of them have things made in China. The craftsmanship is dying little by little.” Above, the most recent Design With Conscience project, a series of totes silkscreened by the rehabilitated gang members of Homeboy Industries. “One of them was 18 when he went to jail, and he’s 34 now,” Javanbahkt says. “In jail, he taught himself how to draw, and his drawings are better than most of my classmates from when I graduated Art Center!”

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FRIDAY GIVEAWAY: From now until 5PM EST on March 18, you can enter to win Artecnica's Tord Boontje–designed, organic, soy-wax Transglass candle in Fresh Cut Grass, a $36 value! Simply "Like" Sight Unseen on Facebook to be entered to win. One winner will be drawn at random from among all our fans on March 21, and notified via Facebook.