American Design Hot List 2019
Los Angeles, launlosangeles.com
If LAUN was simply the only contemporary design studio we know of to focus on outdoor furniture, it would already stand out from the crowd. But in the hands of founders Rachel Bullock and Molly Purnell, LAUN becomes something else entirely, with a focus on local manufacturing, a sensitivity to materials and finishes, influences that range from Hollywood Regency to Victoriana, and a sense of fun firmly intact.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
American designers are allowed to be incredibly peripatetic in their lives in a way that I don’t think you see in other places. This country is so big; there is a lot of inherent diversity because of the sheer size. We might spend a year in New Year, a year in Portland, and several years in LA, and we absorb so much from all of those disparate places. American designers are always pulling ideas from “where they’re from” whether that means where you live now, where you grew up, where your parents came from, where you can trace your last name to, or some combination of these. We like that you can dive into those historical references or contextual, place-based references for inspiration.
American design also has a strong connection with manufacturing. We aren’t afraid to express craft and fabrication in our work. We make a lot of things ourselves and we’re able to approach manufacturers who are more specialized (they may typically make aircraft parts or first aid kits) but are willing to take on the experimental work of young, independent designers to help us realize our vision.
There aren’t a lot of rules you have to follow in American design and that’s really exciting. We have access to almost any material you can possibly think of and if you can come up with an innovative way to use it then you can just let your imagination run wild. For example, we really like experimenting with finishes on metal and we have access to this company that does yellow zinc plating; that’s a very industrial finish, something you usually see on nuts and bolts. It’s an economical but also an unpredictable finish. We’ve found that when you plate a large surface like a table you can get this beautiful iridescent pattern, which you would never be able to see on a nut or bolt, even if you were looking for it, which of course you wouldn’t be. It’s exciting to us to find the beauty in the utilitarian, and to draw attention to the things we normally overlook.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
We are releasing a new collection at ICFF this year. In this collection we’re exploring how to use common materials, like rubber bands, in new and unexpected ways. Because we like our work to be able to live indoors or out, we are somewhat limited in the materials we can use, but this also means we get to be creative and find ways to subvert the expectations of what those materials can do. We are hoping to debut a couple of fun and colorful new pieces at Sight Unseen Offsite. We were inspired by the way that certain painters combine their colors in bold and exciting ways. We looked closely at Georgia O’Keeffe, Lee Krasner, Amy Mackay, and Amy Sherald when we were establishing our palette for this mini-collection.
We launched LAUN Studio in 2019. This is our architecture and interiors branch, and we have seven projects slated to complete construction in 2020: five residential and two commercial. LAUN Studios is also evolving in terms of what kind of projects it takes on. In partnership with our friend Mary Casper of Social Studies Projects, we are working with the Women’s Center for Creative Work to help them determine their space needs for the relocation they have planned for this year.
Last but not least, we are making our first foray into lighting. We’re still early in the prototyping process but it’s an exciting new set of challenges and we’ve been learning a lot.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
Los Angeles — and, more broadly, California — is an endlessly exciting source of inspiration for us, both in its range of flora/fauna but also in its built forms. People build adventurously on the West Coast; sometimes to the point of ridiculousness, like when you see a Moorish palace next to a mid-century modern next to a storybook cottage. But chaos can be liberating.
Recently, we’ve been looking outside of California, to the places where we grew up. Rachel grew up outside Detroit where there’s the auto industry to refer to, but also the Scandinavian designers who came and truly made Michigan the epicenter of mid-century design. Molly is from the mountains in Colorado where members of the Bauhaus came in the fifties to set up a campus for the Chicago industrialist Walter-Paepke. We’re interested in how this European mindset influenced these small mountain towns and transformed the landscape forever.
Beyond the built environment, the colors, the quality of light, and the natural environment in California always play a role in how we develop our work. We’re always looking to forms in nature. Plants have structure and order and yet such an insane range of form. Karl Blossfeldt is always inspiring: he makes us look more closely at those structures. And we like to take strolls around the Huntington Gardens, especially the cactus gardens.
The West Coast attitude is casual and laid-back, but it also places a premium on self-determination, which in turn requires (or maybe breeds) self-confidence. That creates an exciting environment for us to design within because there’s a lot of freedom here to try new things, and a general assumption that you can and should do what you want.
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