Jason Rens’s future as a designer pretty much began — though unbeknownst to him at the time — the day his grandpa bought him a Taliesin West t-shirt. Rens was still a kid growing up in Arizona, and his grandpa, Al Farnsworth, was an architect who liked to make pilgrimages to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed winter home each time he came to visit. When Rens grew up and graduated high school, he worked at a clothing company slash record label for awhile, but then a random job at a design/build company activated some long-dormant impulse buried inside him: I want to be an architect, too. He made it halfway through architecture school in Boulder before shifting gears and finishing his degree in crafts in Portland, where he’s now known for both his interiors and, increasingly, his Rason Jens line of sculptural objects. “In architecture school, I started to feel like what I wanted to do was a bit different from standard traditional architecture, maybe more sculptural and artist-bent,” he recalls. “So much of the conversation there was about is this art? Is this design? Putting these things into categories. I thought it was cool where they all met in the middle. Finding people like ROLU, Alma Allen, and Martino Gamper, those were all real epiphanies for me, where I was like, ‘Holy shit, you can do this.’”
Unfortunately his classmates in Portland didn’t agree, unanimously trashing his 2012 graduation project, a series of raw wood shapes and totems called Pink/Frequency that had little discernible function except to engage the eye. But it didn’t matter — Rens was already gaining a reputation in the Portland design scene for his contributions to the interior of a cultish local art gallery and waffle café, Jace Gace, and through the shared studio space he’d founded in 2010, Supermaker. After graduation, one of his studio mates introduced him to Joseph Magliaro and Shu Hung of the new concept store Table of Contents, who changed the course of his career again, unexpectedly putting the very graduation project he’d had to defend into the context of a retail store. Rens is now looking forward to expanding the Rason Jens line and selling the objects on his forthcoming online shop. “I’m really interested in expanding function beyond utitlity,” he says of the work. “I think a lot of design becomes so functionally dominated it almost becomes sterile; it loses feeling. I really believe that the act of everyday living, and having a home, and being in that home with objects — that’s real life. Having a beautiful object or something that inspires you or makes you see things a little differently is a completely valid function, and one I wish more people paid more attention to.”
Design object you wish you’d made: “The ones I haven’t made yet! I have so many feelings and ideas that I want to create. So many incredible objects surround us every day. Everything from this computer I’m using to the window I’m looking out of. The creative flow is so deep and wide. It’s a joy being able to take a swim in it for a bit and see what comes up, you know? I look forward to being able to work with more people, in more ways and in new places.”
Tell the entire story of your life as a designer in seven words: “In appreciation of simplicity and minimalism, I did it in six, haha: ‘All situations are stages of change.’”
What you’d make if you weren’t allowed to use any wood: “Well ,I already use other materials besides wood, but if I imagine moving outside of working with physical materials, my mind quickly goes to making music and/or film. Which is funny to say because I’m developing some works with film and digital video currently. It’s in the early stages, but we plan to be shooting this spring/summer. Looking forward to working in this medium — no sawdust!”
Best thing about living/working in Portland: “Affordable, Europeanish, entrepreneurially friendly, proximity to variety of natural landscapes.”
Worst thing about living/working in Portland: “You can’t see the stars very well and the sun gets really shy in the winter.”
As the youngest child of a Parisian architect — with three older brothers working in the same field — Victoria Wilmotte had one thing going for her when she started studying furniture design at London's RCA four years ago. But she also had a few handicaps: she was only 20 years old, she had just been rejected from Paris's ENSCI school, and her professor at RCA, Jurgen Bey, couldn't comprehend her strange working methods. Obsessed with materials and surfaces, she wanted to spend all her time in the workshop, skipping the thinking and brainstorming part and going directly to prototyping. "Jurgen Bey was really into concepts," says Wilmotte, now 24. "He was more about a table telling stories, but I only wanted to talk technically. He basically said, 'I don’t understand you. But continue.'"
One of our favorite things to do when we discover the work of a new designer is to play the internship guessing game. You can typically spot a former Bouroullec acolyte, for example, just by their use of shape and color. But Stephanie Hornig? With forms this clean and utilitarian, we never would have guessed she once worked for the doyenne of decoration, Patricia Urquiola. Perhaps a more telling clue in Hornig's case is the fact that the Austrian-born talent went to design school in Berlin before moving on to her current home in London — her geometric tables, accordion shelves, and minimalist chairs lean more towards functionalism and the beauty of classic everyday objects, albeit subtly tweaked with new colors and ideas. We asked the recent graduate to tell us a bit more about her fledgling practice, which we'll no doubt be keeping an eye on.
Jonah Takagi claims he has ADD, and he may be right. Since graduating from RISD in 2002, the Japanese-born, New England–bred, Washington D.C.–based designer has worked as a cabinetmaker, a full-time musician, a set builder for National Geographic docudramas, and a producer for an indie-rock kids’ show called Pancake Mountain. In the weeks leading up to this story, we talked about skinned cats, prosthetic kidneys, and smoking pot out of an art-school professor’s peg leg. But Takagi’s work is anything but schizophrenic.