Things you keep around your studio or home for inspiration: “Succulent plants (shown with our mini-pedestals), coffee, colored pencils, music, crystals, currently eating a lot of arugula salads (good brain food) and our view.”

Iacoli & McAllister, designers

It’s hard enough to be a young American designer. The lack of government funding means that prototypes must often be self-financed, and the difficulty in working with most European manufacturers means that young design studios frequently end up handling their own production as well. Now try doing it all in Seattle, a city that’s not exactly famous for its flourishing industrial design scene. “When we started working together a few years ago, we felt really removed from the world that might be interested in what we wanted to do,” says Jamie Iacoli, one half of the Seattle-based design couple Iacoli & McAllister, who have become known over the last year or so for a pared-down industrial aesthetic that’s matched with a supreme gift for color — think wrenches powder-coated in bright magenta or wire-frame pendant lights in emergency orange or cyan. “The thing that’s weird about Seattle is that because it’s so laid back, you get people who talk and don’t do. There’s no pressure to create, in part because no one here is buying.”
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Harry Allen’s studio encompasses three large rooms in a building in New York’s East Village. He has an apartment upstairs, but spends half of his time living upstate with his partner John, a landscape architect. That house hides most of the antiques and iconic-looking objects that Allen collects as research for the Reality series, whose process he likens more to hunting and gathering than actual design. “When I was making lamps out of paper, I started looking at what makes something lampy,” he says. “It should have an urn base with a fabric shade and a finial on top. If you drew a lamp to go on grandma’s table in the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons, that would be the one. So you’re searching antique stores for the perfect thing, and it’s really time consuming.”

Harry Allen, Product Designer

Harry Allen is a happening guy. From his design studio in New York’s East Village, he makes ironic banana bowls and pig banks for Areaware and is one of only three American designers working with the hip Italian furniture brand Skitsch, along with Jason Miller and Todd Bracher. His new Bang perfume bottle is all over the ad pages of major fashion magazines, strategically positioned atop a nude Marc Jacobs, and the skateboarding store Supreme owes its interiors to him. Allen is so evergreen, in fact, that it’s easy to forget the most basic fact of his biography: He’s been doing this for nearly 20 years. “Everyone treats me like I’m some kid, but I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “When I started in 1993, there was no Moss, no Wallpaper. Philippe Starck was king, and everything was shaped like a horn. I looked at Europe and thought: That’s what I want to be, I want to be like Starck. I want to be Starck.” But while he did follow that model when he set up his own design studio in 1993 — as opposed to joining a corporation like most of his American peers were doing at the time — part of the reason Allen’s presence in the design world always feels so fresh is that unlike Starck, he's constantly reinvented himself along the way.
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Geodes: Yes, geodes are trendy right now, but this is one instance where I’ve liked them since I was a child more because I was a nerd than a trendsetter. When I was young I collected rocks, and I had a purple geode I loved to just pick up and stare at. (I also had a rock tumbler, and I tried to grow crystals from a box a few times, too.) Now I have new geodes, and one set into a pendant that I found in a crappy rock shop in Barcelona for 3 Euros. I highly endorse decorating with them — plants are not the only things that can bring a natural element indoors.

Monica Khemsurov, Co-Editor

In honor of Sight Unseen's first anniversary, we, the editors, decided to turn the lens on ourselves, revealing what inspires us as writers about and champions of design and art. If you're an especially devoted reader of Sight Unseen, you might have noticed that Monica — who spent her childhood putting bugs under a kiddie microscope and was at the head of her high-school calculus class — often tends towards subjects inspired by geometry and science, while Jill — whose love for color and pattern likely began with an uncommonly large novelty earring collection — favors maximalist, throw-every-color-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks types. We were interested to see how those formative experiences would play out in a documention of our own reference points. Here's a closer look at eight of Monica's editor's picks.
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Book Case by Raw-Edges

It’s not very often that a designer’s work is accepted into the permanent collection at MoMA when he's just a year out of design school. But that’s what happened to the Israeli-born, London-based Royal College of Art grad Shay Alkalay, who debuted his Stack chest of drawers with Established & Sons at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2008 and saw it honored by the museum that same year. And no wonder: With Stack, Alkalay — who with his longtime partner Yael Mer forms the London studio Raw-Edges — stumbled upon a brilliant bit of reduction. The unit is made from a series of colored drawers, stacked atop one another, that can be opened from either side. There’s no frame and no back panel; in other words, it completely re-contextualizes what a storage unit can be. That same thinking went into the Book Case the pair constructed for their London flat, which is a bookshelf in the loosest sense of the word, seeing as there aren’t actually any shelves.
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The colors themselves also change as the pieces are fired. “I can now manage to calculate the right temperature for each color, but the patterns and the way the paint flows and drips is always different from what I expect,” Lee says. “But that’s what I enjoy about it.”

Kwangho Lee’s Enamel-Skinned Copper Series

Kwangho Lee fancies himself a simple man. The 29-year-old grew up on a farm in South Korea watching his mother knit clothes and his grandfather make tools with his bare hands, which ultimately became the inspirations behind his work. He values nostalgia and rejects greed, and more like a craftsman than a designer, he prefers sculpting and manipulating ordinary materials to engineering the precise outcome of an object. “I dream of producing my works like a farmer patiently waiting to harvest the rice in autumn after planting the seed in spring,” he muses on his website. It all starts to sound a bit trite, but then you see the outcome: hot-pink shelves knitted from slick PVC tubing, lights suspended inside a mess of electrical wire, towering Impressionist thrones carved from blocks of black sponge. Lee may have old-fashioned ideals, but he designs for the modern world, and that’s the kind of transformative alchemy that draws people to an artist.
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Mexico: “With the fruit on the table, this is like a color still life,” says van Eijk. “I’m intrigued by them. The Settings project I did for the Zuiderzee museum was really about setting and still lives. And this was just standing on the street somewhere, not designed at all, like a coincidence. Maybe no one thought about it looking nice. If you really designed it or styled it, it would never look as special as this. Then you almost start thinking, is it good to be a designer? Isn’t it nicer if there are no designers in the world? It’s interesting if you can keep this kind of intuitive thinking in your work, and try not to direct everything, but to let coincidence play a role. It’s really hard to achieve; you have to put a lot of effort into making something effortless.”

Kiki and Joost’s World Travels

When Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk were invited this year to each create a series based on the collections at the Zuiderzee Museum, an art and history center in a former port region in the north of Holland, they got to do what they’re known for doing best: looking backwards to research archetypal objects from the past — in this case old Dutch ironing boards, apothecary pots, and shipping trunks — then reinterpreting them using new shapes and luxe materials. What most people don’t realize, though, is that the couple are equally obsessed with looking outwards, having backpacked their way through far-flung countries together each year since they graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, photographing intriguing uses of color, pattern, texture, and technique along the way.
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Your Favorite Mid-Century Furniture Designers, At Home

It’s possible you’ve spent hours foraging flea markets, wondering how a Russel Wright pitcher or an Eames shell chair or a Jens Risom credenza might fit into your home décor. But did you ever stop to wonder how those pieces may have figured into the homes of their own makers? Leslie Williamson, a San Francisco–based photographer, did — and the result is Handcrafted Modern, a new book that offers an intimate glimpse inside the houses of 14 of America’s most beloved mid-century designers.
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Once in a while, Uhuru's small custom-designed pieces end up in one of their New York Design Week collection debuts. This ebonized walnut media unit, made from a single slab of wood held together with metal plates, may be a 2011 addition, though the studio is also contemplating a line of outdoor furniture.

Uhuru, Furniture Designers

If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum. But while it's true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear.
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The finished chairs. “In the original project, the chairs were all beaten up, so it was nice to fancy them up. But Richard needs to have something consistent if people want to buy a whole set, so these chairs are brand new. I still have a back stock of vintage ones, though, and if I see a cool folding chair, I’ll buy it.”

Tanya Aguiñiga, Textile and Furniture Designer

Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”
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Isaac Manevitz of Ben-Amun: Design aficionados should be salivating at this photo. In the relatively unassuming entrance to Manevitz’s New Jersey home sit two very important pieces of furniture — an end table designed by Michele de Lucchi in 1984 and a sofa designed by Peter Shire in 1986, both produced by Memphis, the furniture collective founded in the 1980s by Ettore Sottsass and others. Turns out that Manevitz, the designer of Ben-Amun jewelry, is a collector of Memphis furniture. His other pieces include the totem-like Carlton shelf and the Treetops lamp, both designed by Sottsass, and four chairs by de Lucchi.

American Fashion Designers At Home

There's a certain taboo attached to pop stars who attempt to forge acting careers, and vice versa. Painters aren't normally supposed to take up fashion design, and just because you're a great photographer doesn't mean you'll make a great chef. But here at Sight Unseen, where we attempt to travel to the very heart of creativity, we delight in any and all cross-disciplinary meanderings, which is why our ears perked up when we heard about American Fashion Designers at Home, by Rima Suqi. Even if some of the more than 100 CFDA members featured in the book hired professionals to craft their spaces, the translation of their aesthetics from one genre to the other is an endless source of curiosity.
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“With my carafes, I was also referencing normal plastic containers, but finding a way to elevate them into a piece of art.”

Victoria Wilmotte, Furniture Designer

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.'"
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Northampton, England: “Northampton became a center for leather and shoe manufacturing because it’s surrounded by forests, and you need tree bark for tanning. It was also on the route joining south to north. So I grew up around all these companies, like Gloverall and the Regent Belt Company, whose products I carry at C’H’C’M’. It’s funny how it’s come back to that: After living in Northampton and not giving it any attention, wanting to wear my Nikes and thinking the shoes produced there were for old men, now I absolutely love them. I visit the factories near my house every time I go back. You’ll see Japanese kids outside taking pictures, so you know something’s going on.” Above: A pair of Trickers shoes Patel purchased in Northampton last year.

Sweetu Patel of C’H’C’M’

“I like selling clothes that make people hyperventilate,” says Sweetu Patel. “Furniture doesn’t do that.” Trained as a furniture designer himself, Patel was the original founder of the design brand Citizen Citizen, but after giving up that business and putting in five years on the sales floor of New York’s Cappellini showroom, he shifted gears to start the online men’s clothing shop C’H’C’M’ last year. As it happens, though, Patel’s purveyorship of classic heritage brands represents more of a return than a departure — back to the clothing he grew up around, back to his sartorial instincts, back to the business model Citizen Citizen was originally meant to follow. We’ve always been a fan of Patel’s work, so we asked him to tell us his story, then share the eight inspirations that have led him to where he is now.
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