Ron Gilad, Designer

One of the turning points in Ron Gilad’s career came late on a Sunday evening in January 2008, one of the coldest nights of the year. That’s when the designer, along with nearly 200 other artistically minded tenants, was evicted from his live/work loft building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn — the result, the New York Fire Department claimed, of an illegal matzo operation being run out of the basement by the building’s landlord. No matter that the Tel Aviv–born designer was out of the country at the time. “I extended my trip a week, but then I came back to nowhere. For three and a half months, I was homeless. And that’s when I started really playing with the idea of spaces and homes, and what, for me, a home really is.”

Gilad, whose studio goes by the name Designfenzider, eventually moved back in to his newly up-to-code digs, and when I visited last week, visual manifestations of those preoccupations were everywhere, most notably in a series of three-dimensional outlines of houses that stood along the length of Gilad’s massive Prince Ping-Pong table. (The designer is known in New York design circles as something of a table-tennis guru, though he claims he’s terrible at the game.) The abstracted homes are part of Gilad’s most recent project, called 20 Houses for 20 Friends. “The idea was to create 20 abstract houses in the form of sculptures that I slowly sold to friends from around the world. I wanted to create a fake neighborhood that wouldn’t exist in reality: It’s a perfect circle with no hierarchy. There’s no entrance, and no exit, and though some of the pieces were more complicated than others to produce, the prices were all the same.”

The series is both meant for an upcoming gallery show and the result of a previous one. Soon after the matzo debacle, Gilad was approached by the pioneering Chicago auctioneer Richard Wright, for whom he produced the 80-piece 2009 solo exhibition “Spaces Etc. / An Exercise in Utility.” He created objects that dealt with our relationship to the home, from a series of coffee tables inspired by architectural blueprints to the three-dimensional line drawings that eventually became the 20 Houses for 20 Friends series. Gilad approached the pieces the way he does most every project. He first researches a subject in order to know what’s come before and how those iterations have affected specific aspects of culture and economy. He then attempts to forget everything he’s just learned in order to come at each piece from a naïve perspective. This process is perhaps best understood through one of Gilad’s most famous works, a series of fruit bowls distilled into geometric, modernist lines: “It’s very easy for a 3-year-old to accept an architectural structure when his mother is telling him it’s a fruit bowl,” explains Gilad. “That’s the only fruit bowl he’s ever seen, so he accepts it, and suddenly a bowl is not something round. For us it’s absurd.”

Gilad has long skirted what he calls this “fat, delicious line between the abstract and the functional,” but while he seems less and less interested in the trappings of traditional industrial design, he won’t yet commit to pinning his work with the label of “art.” “I’d rather not waste energy defining things,” he says. “It’s easier for me as someone who creates to send it out there and let people work it out in their brains themselves.”