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.
Faye Toogood, the London-based interiors stylist and creative consultant, has designed exhibition stands for Tom Dixon, windows for Liberty, displays for Dover Street Market, and sets for Wallpaper. But in all of her career, she’s had only one job interview. At the tender age of 21, having just graduated from Bristol University with degrees in fine art and art history, Toogood was called for an interview with Min Hogg, legendary founding editor of the British design bible The World of Interiors. “I had found out about a stylist job and decided I would go for it, even though I didn’t even know what that meant,” says Toogood. “I went in and it was the strangest thing. She asked me, ‘Can you sew, and can you tie a bow?’ I actually couldn’t sew, so I lied and when I got the job, I had someone do it for me.”
If you were to chart the degrees of separation among young American designers, you might do well to start with Alex Lin. Since 2007, Lin — a Yale School of Art grad and former designer at 2x4 — has created all of the branding and collateral for Brooklyn-based furniture designer Stephen Burks, who often does work for the sustainably minded home accessories company Artecnica, who recently launched a line of pendant lights by Rich Brilliant Willing, who produce their Excel light series with Roll & Hill, who shared an exhibition space at this spring's Noho Design District event with Areaware, who commissioned a special 5-year anniversary piñata from Confetti System, who did the set design for United Bamboo’s Spring/Summer ’09 campaign. Confetti System also happen to share an 11th-floor Manhattan studio with Lin, who is the mild-mannered, super-talented graphic designer at the vortex of this Venn diagram–gone-haywire. Lin has headed up his own shop for only two years, but in that time, he’s worked with every creative on this list and then some.
“I was so dim,” says Greg Krum. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Krum, best known around New York as retail director of the wonderfully quirky Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, is puttering around the sun-drenched kitchen of a renovated 1890s townhouse he shares with two roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s trying to recall the origins of his other career: that of a photographer about to mount his first solo show this May at New York’s Jen Bekman gallery. “Growing up, I was always attracted to making art, but I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s out.’ Then I finally realized it’s not about that. It’s about living a life of ideas.”