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Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design

There are several somewhat shocking things about Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design, the first book out from a new eponymous imprint by ex-Taschen impresarios Charlotte & Peter Fiell. First and most arresting is its bright orange, webbed half-slipcover, designed by the Brazilian shoe company Melissa and infused with that company’s signature scent: It’s somewhere between a piece of tutti-frutti chewing gum and a bottle of Designer Imposters fragrance. Second is the reminder that some plastics aren't wholly synthetic — a fact that’s easily forgotten — but rather the descendants of various amazingly named rubber plants, like Gamboge, Gutta Percha, and Caoutchouc. And third is the realization of just how many products would never have been possible, or would at least have been dramatically altered, without the material’s development: dental plates, curling irons, vinyl LPs, and more.
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Jonas Damon’s iPad Case and Fruit Bowl

The way Jonas Damon sees it, designers these days fall into two camps: those who hold fast to the principles of legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams and those who are partial to the camp and kitsch of pop artist Jeff Koons. It’s a theory Damon, creative director at New York's Frog Design office, picked up from his friend and fellow New York designer Ross Menuez — both of whom often produce work for Areaware, a design company that moves expertly back and forth along the Rams-Koons continuum. Damon is decidedly a Rams guy, which is perhaps why he feels so conflicted about the retro wooden enclosure he made for his iPad, one of the many things he’s built in his spare time for use around his apartment.
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Sruli Recht, Product Designer

Sighted on Design Milk: A Friday Five interview with the intriguing Icelandic designer Sruli Recht, whose studio is "a small cross-disciplinary practice caught somewhere between product design, tailoring and shoe making," it writes. In the story, Recht shares five of his materials inspirations, including the chest of an Atlantic Seabird given to him by a leather tanner.
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The ink continues to spread even after it's hung to dry, though Seilles says the polyester hasn't absorbed as well as her typical textiles do. She suggests readers try cotton.

Make an Osmose Lamp, With Clemence Seilles

Clemence Seilles was only four months into a job at Jerszy Seymour's Berlin studio when she started to feel it: that restlessness creatives invariably get when they're unable to fully express themselves. It's not that the job wasn't fulfilling — it was, and more — but working fulltime meant Seilles hadn't yet found a way to devote attention to her own projects. "I had this idea to make a piece that would do the work for me, something that would happen when I wasn't there," she recalls. One morning she hung a few felt-tip pens from the ceiling of her apartment, their tips pressed down against a sheet of Chinese rice paper, and left for Seymour's studio. "When I came back that evening, the work was made."
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Besides the 14-foot windows that overlook Manhattan’s skyline, a prototype of Gilad’s 2005 Dear Ingo chandelier for Moooi is the centerpiece of his 8th-floor studio. “My first studio was just above Ingo Maurer’s Soho shop, on Grand and Greene. I couldn’t not see his work every morning going down for coffee, and I decided to create an homage to what he was doing over there. At the time, lots of his chandeliers were combined from parts he’d found on Canal Street. I was looking for a very simple fragment that I could reproduce to create a larger piece, and I found it in a task light at Ikea.” In the rear are shelves lined with Designfenzider’s other best-known works, including red and yellow Fruit Bowls, Clipped Cubes, and Ran Over By Car vases.

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.”
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One of the living room walls hosts a makeshift art installation consisting of photos the pair took on a recent trip to New York, photos from past projects, gifts from friends, and in the upper right corner, their first art purchase — it's part of an art workshop a friend conducted with children in Africa. The chair halves were part of Seng's diploma project at school.

Judith Seng and Alex Valder, Designers

Despite what most people imagine, you don't just find 3,300-square-foot apartments in Berlin these days — they have to find you. In Judith Seng and Alex Valder's case, it was a newly divorced friend of a friend, abandoning the loft he'd lived and worked in with his musician wife, and searching for someone who could fill the sprawling space. Seng and Valder, two process-oriented product designers with a habit of accumulating furniture off the street, signed the lease immediately. In May, they moved their home from a 1960s Socialist housing bloc on the historic GDR boulevard Karl-Marx-Allee, then packed up their separate studios, creating a common office in the apartment's living area. There's a dishwasher and a fancy Duravit bathtub, a spare bedroom and a roof terrace. Space may be abundant and cheap in Berlin, but this is not the norm. Friends seeing it for the first time routinely gape.
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45 Great Jones: In honor of its 5th anniversary, New York design producer Areaware refashioned the first floor of this empty lumber warehouse into an exhibition space.

Introducing the Noho Design District

Even non-New Yorkers know Soho, the swath of land below Houston Street in Manhattan, colonized by artists in the '60s and now the domain of the rich and the retail-obsessed. Noho, on the other hand, still flirts with obscurity, despite having been home to some of the city's most legendary artists — Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Stella, and Chuck Close, to name a few — as well as its first Herzog and de Meuron building. Sure, as an emerging neighborhood with several hotels on the rise, its streets are often crisscrossed with ungainly spiderwebs of scaffolding, but beneath that lies a creative energy so strong we at Sight Unseen figured it would be the perfect place to create a new satellite destination during New York design week: the Noho Design District. All of the elements were already there.
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Benjamin Graindorge’s Sketchbook

Benjamin Graindorge really wants to design a fireplace. But here's the problem: When he tries to draw fire, it tends to end up looking like water. You can tell it's fire because it's yellow or orange, he thinks, but once he makes the flames brown or green or black, well, not so much. "When I find a way to represent it with another color, I think then I'll be able to move on to the real object," he muses. Clearly, drawing is an instrumental part of the young Parisian designer's process. In fact, most of his objects don't even start off as ideas, they start as swirls of color and form: "The first stage of my work is only a nebula, without humans or objects."
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A typical vignette in the Scholten & Baijings studio includes graphic tests and models for their latest furniture collection, plus strange ephermera like a tiny silver spray bottle that contains a distilled spirit for perfuming almost anything edible.

Scholten & Baijings, Product Designers

The story of Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings began, like many Dutch stories do, in a church. In the late ’90s, Baijings was working for an agency whose headquarters were located inside one of the country’s many abandoned houses of worship. Scholten, a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, had a burgeoning design practice nearby. Scholten was asked to design a small bar for the agency’s office, and “the rest is history,” says Baijings.
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"At the end of the 1950s, both Marlene Schnelle and Ingeborg Kracht, who later became Dieter Rams wife, worked as photographers at Braun. Photography played a significant part in corporate communications."

Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams

The products featured in Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams will be familiar to any Rams disciple, but what struck us most about the book was a section devoted to Braun’s beautifully understated communication design and to that department’s fearless leader, Wolfgang Schmittel. He ran a tight ship — an in-house manual went out to each member of the design team with instructions on how to appropriately and inappropriately market the Braun product line — but as a result, the Braun image “differed greatly from the existing design forms of other manufacturers at the time, due to its clarity."
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Mathematically speaking, the Rubik’s Snake — a twistable length of 24 right isosceles triangular prisms — can attain more than a zillion possible configurations. This made it a go-to toy in Dror’s childhood repertoire. “It’s a very simple joinery of triangles, and yet the possibilities are incredible,” he explains. “You keep on discovering new geometries.”

Dror Benshetrit, Designer

This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.
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