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Set Designer Robert Storey

Robert Storey, Set Designer for Kenzo, Nike, and More

What really interests Storey is creating immersive environments. “A spatial design work can exist in an image and it’s great for people to experience it that way,” but it’s not the same as being there. The temporariness is an essential part of the experience. Here are 8 of the London set designer's most lasting inspirations.
Mast Brothers Creative Director Nathan Warkentin

The Influences of Mast Brothers Creative Director Nathan Warkentin

Nathan Warkentin has been driving Mast Brothers's creative direction for the past three years, nudging it away from its original Brooklyn aesthetic and towards something more relevant. “In the beginning everything was a little old-timey, with a lot of classic or nautical patterns,” says Warkentin, whose influences we’re profiling today. “I started looking for inspiration in interesting art and architecture movements, and the work of current textile and pattern designers, to make it feel more contemporary.”

From Ode To Things

Ode to Things stocks a tightly edited selection of water glasses, trivets, utility hooks, and notepads that share a common, stripped-down design language and are, above all, eminently useful. We picked our eight favorites.
Structure Systems by Heino Engel “In recent weeks we’ve been trying to really run with it, and failing a lot; we’ve been making larger structures, hollow geometric frameworks about 16” tall, and out of 12 of them 8 have broken during the making process or as they’re drying. The book has been teaching us new concepts like skew, rotate, twist, and we’re trying to apply that to our structures. The structures also reference Martin Puryear’s work – he’s made hollow structures that are rounded and look a bit like boats.”

Los Angeles Ceramicist Ben Medansky

Anyone familiar with the work of Los Angeles ceramicist Ben Medansky would be surprised to learn that, when he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, his work was actually colorful, spanning the full spectrum of glaze hues. But after he graduated and went to work for a succession of other artists — among them the Haas brothers, who hired him to set up and run their in-house ceramics shop, and Peter Shire, for whom he spent a sweaty summer splatter-painting dishware — he decided he needed to find his own signature style, so he abandoned color entirely upon setting up his own studio in 2012 and started by focusing exclusively on form. The strong, graphic shapes he’s been creating since, all in earthy orange stoneware peeking out from under a speckled-white glaze, have become instantly recognizable in the contemporary ceramics scene.
Spotti Milano, Summer Tales interior project, 2014

Studiopepe, Stylists and Set Designers

When describing their sensibility, Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto of the Milan-based Studiopepe invoke the versatility of classic white shirt: “You can wear it anytime, to go to the supermarket or to a soirée. The same is for design. Good design — whether a masterpiece or anonymous — goes with everything.” Their evocative aesthetic, though, is anything but simple. “Eclecticism and curiosity” are important starting points for them, and their output is rich with visual references, ranging from the harmony of classical forms to the glamour of Italian cinema in the ‘60s. But they don’t merely quote their source material, they transform it.

Peter Nencini’s Instagrams

Lots of people on Instagram tend to stop us dead in our tracks as we slavishly scroll through our feed, but Peter Nencini has been one of those arresting image-makers since before the app even existed. An illustrator by training, Nencini did away with the confines of pen and paper after graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in the 1990s and today creates everything from typefaces to ad-hoc sculptures. A keen photographer, he has always recorded the stages of his process, first with a point-and-shoot and now with his iPhone, and has long been the proprietor of one of our favorite inspiration blogs. So when I suggested he walk me through 8 Things for Sight Unseen, the stipulation was that it had to be images from his Instagram, and we’d be digging into his thoughts on the app. He asked me to choose the shots, and then he explained them: That is how it went down.
And this one, night night, from 2014. These are found, painted metal pipes that Coolquitt wired up and riveted.

Andy Coolquitt, Artist

“It was a weird thing for a kid growing up in a Baptist family to collect,” says Andy Coolquitt of the whiskey bottles that formed his earliest stockpile. “I was interested in the beautiful, sculptural shapes of the bottles and the graphic design of the labels. It was something we didn’t have in our house, so it was a bit exotic. I had them displayed in this little cave-like space off the garage.” The now Austin-based artist was raised in Mesquite, Texas, in what he describes as a “bland, boring suburban existence,” with little “interest in visual culture.” Rebellion came in the form of “having a whole lot of stuff around me and letting that stuff dictate my aesthetic.” Since then, Coolquitt has literally turned obsessive scavenging into an art form. Metal pipes and tubing, plastic lighters, aluminum cans — these are just a few of the found materials he repurposes and transforms, setting them up in conversation with each other and giving them a life-like, almost human quality.
Journeys: “As a fashion designer, if you don’t have the possibility to get this or that fabric, or can’t use this or that technique, it’s a limitation, but you have to make something good out of it. Good ideas can grow from that.”

Svenja Specht of Reality Studio, Fashion Designer

Having graduated from fashion school in Dusseldorf, Reality Studio founder Svenja Specht still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life, so she decided to study product design. (Her thesis project was a designy tampon dispenser, which she presented to the class in the university bathroom.) In the midst of those studies — during which she also interned for Jean-Marie Massaud in Paris — she took classes in photography and graphic design, the latter of which she practiced for four years at ad agencies in Beijing after finishing school for good. “I wanted to see and learn as much as possible,” she says of that time. But having had all of those experiences, she recalls, it was New Year’s Eve of 2000-2001 when “it came to me suddenly, just like that, that I needed to go back to fashion somehow.” And so she packed up, moved to Berlin, got a job as a trend forecaster, and three years later launched a clothing line that was every bit as eclectic as her own background, if not moreso.

COS’s 50 Things From America Project

Each spring when we head to Milan, there are two must-see stops on our agenda that aren’t strictly part of the furniture fair circuit. The first is lunch at the no-frills Latteria, where we gorge ourselves on raw artichokes and lemony pasta with chili peppers. The second is the COS flagship on Corso Venezia, where we’ve been known to spend hours stocking up on the kind of simple, directional wardrobe staples that are the London-based brand’s bread and butter. For years, COS has been the secret weapon of pretty much every design-world tastemaker we know, and it’s become an excellent source as well for keeping up with what’s new in art and design, what with its print magazine from the people behind Fantastic Man and its blog highlighting work by talents like Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Charlie Schuck, and Julian Renault. When we heard COS was finally coming to America — stores in New York and L.A. are forthcoming this fall, and an e-commerce site is already up and running — we were thrilled. To celebrate the launch in its inimitable fashion, COS recently launched a project called “50 Things: A Collection of Things We Love From America,” which includes a mix of Sight Unseen regulars (Bec Brittain, Doug Johnston), amazing new discoveries (we’re obsessing over Utah’s Daniel Everett), and odes to some of the country's most beautiful examples of architecture and natural phenomena.

Seattle Still Lifes, By Photographer Charlie Schuck

Every creative scene has an unseen hand, the type of person who seems to know everyone, touch everything, and generally act as the glue holding it all together, all while falling just below the radar of the average outside observer. In the Seattle design world, Charlie Schuck fits that profile to a tee. A photographer and the proprietor of the former brick and mortar storefront Object — which he filled with commissions by designers from around the Pacific Northwest — he not only produces stunning product shots for locals like Totokaelo, Iacoli & McAllister, Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, and Filson, he also curates exhibitions, like the recent pop-up Future This Now and an upcoming museum survey of regional talents. He's so committed to his role, in fact, that when we approached him about doing a story on his own work, he came back with the idea to do a photo essay on everyone else's: "A still life series of personal items that speak to the influences of Seattle creatives," he says. "Objects from those who produce objects."
Roula Parthenou, Parts and Wholes, 2013: “Roula’s earlier work consisted of pieces she called handmade readymades: She’d buy pre-made canvases from art supply stores, find objects in the same size and shape like books or pieces of lumber, then paint the canvases as replicas. These tables, from her recent third solo show with the gallery, contain objects that look like books or other mysterious things; things that look like holes but aren’t holes, or that look like they’re part of something but you don’t know what. There are blocks of wood that look like sponges, but there's also part of a rain pipe that’s an actual pipe. Very few of them are found objects, but you start to question that.”

Michael Klein of Toronto’s MKG127 Gallery

According to Canadian curator Michael Klein, when people think of art in Vancouver, they think of photo-conceptualism. When they think of Winnipeg, it’s the Royal Art Lodge, the drawing collective founded in 1996 that launched the careers of talents like Marcel Dzama. But Toronto, on the other hand, resists such classifications — it’s one of the most diverse cities in the world, says Klein, and the same can be said for its art scene. So why do we automatically associate the city with the kind of clever, minimalist conceptual work that Klein shows at MKG127, the gallery he founded there in 2007? Blame the artist Micah Lexier — we covered his amazing A to B installation on Sight Unseen in 2010, and then proceeded to fall down the MKG rabbit hole, marveling both at the subtle, obsessive-compulsive thrills that characterize many of the works shown there and at the weird cohesiveness of Klein’s vision.
Tony Smith’s Gracehopper, 1961/1988: “Two years later I launched a series of aluminum furniture forms at ICFF based on the same set of angles. The initial show included the Tidal Shelf (pictured), Jack Stool, H1 coffee table, Prop Bookends, and the A_Stool. These continue to be my best sellers 6 years later.”

Jonathan Nesci, Furniture Designer

When Jonathan Nesci was 23 — with a one-year-old at home, and working as a forklift operator at FedEx in Chicago while attending night school for 3-D drafting at a community college — one of his coworkers gave him a fateful nudge: “He knew I wanted to design furniture, and he was like, ‘You can do it!!’,” recalls Nesci, now 31. And so he cold-emailed Richard Wright, founder of the eponymous Chicago auction house, and promoted the heck out of himself until he landed a job managing Wright’s restoration department, where he stayed for five years before founding his own studio in early 2012. As he tells it, his cheerleader at FedEx deserves substantial credit for inspiring him to take the leap that changed his life. But to know Nesci is to realize that no matter what happened, the results would have been the same — he was destined to be a designer.