Beautiful design enhances experience.

We believe that the thoughtful, artful integration of graphic design with the design of the built environment enhances human experience.

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August 15, 2014 at 10:06am
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Tray Set

Regina Connell, Communications Director at Heath Ceramics, answered our questions about the company and this summer’s seasonal Tray Set.


Tell us a little about the history and vision of Heath Ceramics.

San Francisco Bay Area-based Heath Ceramics was founded soon after World War II, and it’s been operating out of its Sausalito factory since 1959. In 2013, that factory was joined by a tile factory in San Francisco’s Mission District. 

The company was founded by Edith Heath, who established it as one the country’s premier mid-century potteries. In 2003, Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey took it over, and grew it to the design force it is today. We still make amazing dinnerware and tile, but we now sell goods by other like-minded makers, and throw creative/design and art-oriented events in  our showrooms and factories, and in particular our San Francisco factory and its Boiler Room event space.

What inspired the Tray Set?

This particular tray set is part of our Summer Seasonal ‘14 collection (other pieces pictured below), which was inspired by the subtle beauty of Icelandic landscapes, where one of our design team had holidayed. We love the colors in the collection: Basalt, Wildflower, and Leaf, and thought that the unexpected combination of Basalt and Leaf, softened up with one of our favorite glazes, Slate, would be beautiful. The Plaza collection (the dinnerware shape) is perfect for entertaining, and we loved the simple, modern, geometric lines when we put all the pieces together. The Edward Wohl pate knife complements the set perfectly.


Heath Ceramics’ palettes are beautiful and very subtle. Can you tell us a bit about the process for defining new colors? Who establishes the themes/inspirations for the seasonal collections?

Our amazing design team, led by Heath Creative Director Catherine Bailey, explores new colors all the time. The design process, as you can imagine, starts many months before the release of the Seasonal Collection. The team starts to open themselves up for inspiration both visual and metaphorical, and it all evolves from there. Since a beautiful glaze is a marvelous alchemy of aesthetics, technique, material, and temperature, there’s a great deal of trial and error, and a wealth of serendipitous discoveries that take place before we’re “set”. The constant conversation between the design and the making processes is a hallmark of the way we make our products at Heath.

Is this product available now? If not, when will it be?

The Tray Set, pictured above, is available until October (though it’s subject to availability, of course, and closer to October we may be running out of stock.)

Have you found any particular medium or method that helps you connect to your customers?

We’re phasing out our wholesale operations and going direct to customers via our website or through our showrooms. In fact, because of the way we’ve designed our facilities, design, production and retailing come together so what the customer is doing is always on our minds.

Do you have any new products or ideas coming up that you can let us in on?

Oh there’s good stuff coming up. A fresh, new palette for our always-in-stock Modern Basics Tile line. A new pattern using our Dwell tiles.  Travel influences our upcoming Winter ‘14 Seasonal (available October 1, pictured below) as well: in this case it’s the California-winters, Tahoe-style. The color palette includes a glorious Deep Blue, inspired by the lake, Glacier, which reminds us of that distinctive blue California sky reflecting off of the snow, and Moonlight, which brings to mind the contemplative side of wintery nights by the lake. And so much more!


For more information about Heath Ceramics and their seasonal collections, visit

August 11, 2014 at 10:33am
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Modern Amenity Lounge

Jessica Sanders, Brand Manager for Carolina, answered our questions about the company and their Modern Amenity Lounge.


Tell us a little about the history and vision of Carolina.

Carolina has designed and manufactured contract furniture for nearly 70 years, and really turned its focus to the healthcare market about 15 years ago. Healthcare environments witness a constant change and require both intuitive products and efficient spaces. Carolina’s goal is to deliver forward-thinking solutions that positively impact the healing experience for caregivers, patients and their families.  

Where are you located? How does your location affect the work/products you make?

Carolina’s main office and manufacturing plants are located in High Point, NC. With High Point being the “Residential Furniture Capitol” of the US, we have access to lots of skilled furniture designers and craftsmen that we can lean on to help us design and build the highest quality products. Carolina became part of the OFS Brands family in 2007, giving us the ability to expand our product offering thanks to their skill and experience in casegoods manufacturing. Currently all of our seating is still manufactured in North Carolina and all of our patient room casegoods and cabinetry are built at the OFS Brands production plants in Huntingburg, IN.  

What is Carolina’s product development process?

When deciding what products need to be introduced into the Carolina line, we start by looking at our product line in terms of a full facility approach. It is our goal to have a furniture solution for every area within the facility, so every product that we develop fits a specific need within the healthcare environment. Once we have narrowed down to the specific area of the facility that we want to focus on, we look to field research to see what key design features need to be included to make the product function as well as possible. Once we have a general idea of the product we want to develop and the functions it needs to fulfill, we enlist the help of a product designer to flesh out the product. Then we begin the engineering and development process until we come to a product that we all feel is successful.


What’s the story behind the Modern Amenity Lounge?

Modern Amenity is a refresh of one of our best selling product lines, Amenity.  The Amenity line was designed by Beck & Beck Design Associates about 10 years ago, and was so successful that we asked them to come up with a refreshed and improved version.  

Modern Amenity takes influence from Scandinavian design.  Refined lines and rich American Ash and European Beech wood options give a unique look to the healthcare environment. Modern Amenity is designed to bring understated style to not only healthcare public spaces, but any contract public space.  

What should architects and designers know about this collection?

Modern Amenity Lounge is part of the larger Modern Amenity Collection that includes occasional tables, guest, tandem, multiple, patient, and recliner seating solutions.  This gives designers the advantage of carrying a common design scheme throughout the entire facility.  

Modern Amenity has been tested to BIFMA standards and has design features such as solid surface arm caps, field replaceable parts, wall-saver legs, spring seat construction, and moisture barrier options that make it a great option for a healthcare environment. 

How has the Modern Amenity Lounge been received by A&D?

Modern Amenity has been very well received by the A&D community, the most common comment that I hear is “This is actually healthcare furniture??” It’s such a simple and beautiful design that people can’t believe it is built to the standards of healthcare furniture, which I’d say is a great compliment!

Does Carolina have anything new coming up that you’d like us to know about?

We have a few products in the works that we are excited to share with the design community, we will be unveiling them at the Healthcare Design Conference in November.  


Information, imagery and pricing for the entire Modern Amenity Collection can be found here. More products available on the Carolina website at

August 4, 2014 at 2:33pm
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Etch Mobile Markerboard

Watson Furniture Industrial Designer Bryce Moulton and Marketing Manager Alex Carmichael answered our questions about the company and Etch Mobile Markerboard.


Tell us a little about the history and vision of Watson Furniture.

At our core we are builders. We create jobs and careers by designing furniture products that excite us—and that others are pleased to buy. All our products are built here at the Orchard, our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that converts regionally sourced raw materials to finished goods.

Where is Watson Furniture located? How does your location affect the products you make?

Our administrative and manufacturing facilities are located in Poulsbo, Washington—about 30 miles outside of Seattle. As a Pacific Northwest company we have access to a wealth of recycled materials including particleboard that is made from 92% post-industrial by product. Regionally sourcing raw materials allows us to minimize the carbon footprints of our products and control each step of the manufacturing process for the best overall quality.

What inspired Etch Mobile Markerboard?

When I [Bryce] started designing Etch, I didn’t immediately look for inspiration in other products or existing designs. The goal to me was quite simple really, to create something as intuitive to use as a piece of paper. Its function was enough to inspire the form. I essentially tried to create a vertical piece of paper; no borders, no distractions. I explored a lot of different styles for the base, looking for something stable, that integrated well with casters, and wasn’t distracting, but not so unnoticeable that a user would bump into it. In the end the legs were inspired by the Tonic Bench, a fairly recent product for Watson at the time.

What was the product development process for this piece?

For me the design process starts in my head. I like to think about a problem for a while before I put pencil on paper or even start doing research. Once I’ve got some ideas for what the product needs to accomplish, and what it could potentially do beyond that, I start sketching. I don’t normally go looking for inspiration; I’ve found if I just keep digging internally, I can always come up with another idea. Once I’ve gotten through my brainstorm, I’ll start researching materials, existing products and how they could be improved. I was still new to Watson at this time, so part of my exploration and research was figuring out Watson’s brand, and their design language. That was a challenging part of it, different from the typical design problem presented to me as a student. Etch had to fit into a preexisting vocabulary. Anyway, I probably sketched a hundred or so mobile markerboards, with all kinds of forms and features. I made quarter scale models and eventually a few full scale models from MDF and cardboard. Watson strives to make as much as possible in the Poulsbo factory, so another big challenge for me was learning to design within specific manufacturing capabilities. Once the overall form was distilled, I worked with a couple engineers to figure out the best way to attach the skins as well as the removable legs. That was a key feature for me, so that it could ship as flat as possible. There were many iterations of prototypes made through the factory to get everything just right.


What should architects and interior designers know about Etch Mobile Markerboard? Where can specifiers go to see it or get more information?

I think Etch does a good job being unique and fun, but still blends into a space. It’s neither boring nor distracting. In the contract furniture market, you want interior designers to be able to make a product their own. It’s easy to think of furniture as the most important thing in a room when you are a furniture designer, but it’s just one element in a space.

We are working on getting Etch samples into Dealers around the country so check with your local dealerships to see if they have them. Our website is definitely the best resource for more product information.

How has Etch Mobile Markerboard been received by A+D? What percentage of Watson Furniture’s overall sales can be attributed to A+D?

We’ve spent a good deal of time sharing Etch with the A+D community across the country and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. By and large, the simple detailing and low-profile silhouette fit beautifully into a wide range of interior projects. Roughly 35% of Watson projects are directly influenced by professional interiors designers.

Have you found any particular medium or method that helps you connect to your customers?

For the contract office market websites are incredibly important. Providing innovative digital tools and inspiring imagery help us share what we are all about. More recently we’ve been hosting pop-up showrooms in key markets where local Interior Designers can get their hands on the products. Furniture is challenging because many end users view it as a commodity, we’ve found that our products make the most impact when seen in person.


Bryce, what is your history with design? Do you have a particular ethos that motivates your work?

I received my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design in 2012 from Western Washington University. After graduating, I wanted to stay to the Pacific Northwest and applied to jobs in Oregon and Washington. I was hired by Watson in the fall of 2012. As for a design ethos, I’m not sure I can define the way I approach design into a concise statement so I’ll just share some of my thoughts on design. I believe products should be usable first. A designer must empathize; make every effort to understand the perspective of who they are designing for. Products should be simple, refined, not a distraction. A design is only as good as its details. A poorly crafted product will obscure good design. More personally, I try to act with humility and let my work speak for itself. Etch is the first product I’ve designed at Watson.

Do you have any new products or ideas coming up that you’d like to share with us?

2015 will be an incredible year for new products at Watson. We have two major projects in the pipeline that leverage European manufacturing technique. One will radically impact height adjustability in the American office, and the other will introduce an entirely new method for building laminate storage. That’s all I can share at this point but both of these new products will be available in early 2015.

For more information on Etch Mobile Markerboard, click here, or visit to explore more of Watson Furniture’s offerings.

July 31, 2014 at 3:32pm
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Specimen Speakers

Ian Schneller studied Sculpture at the School or the Art Institute and is now the founder of Specimen, a Chicago company crafting custom instruments, amplifiers and horn speakers.


How do you explain Specimen to people when you first meet them?

It’s been an ongoing story for three decades, so I’m versed in the matter. I started calling my work Specimen products when I was in graduate school or even undergraduate school. Specimen started out as a very simple vision for a business entity that represented my work as a solo artist. We write on the website that I thought it was a funny little ruse to pretend to be a company instead of an individual. That’s essentially what it was. I started signing my works “Specimen Products,” as if it was a commercial offering as opposed to the work of a solo artist.

I started operating as a string instrument manufacturer repair dude. The vocation stole me away. But, after attempting to service and maintain tube amplifiers and stringed instruments for three decades, I’d become intimately familiar with the failure modes; even worse than that, not only the Achilles heels of their various mass-produced constructions, but the actual evil intent—evil, greedy intent—on the manufacturer’s part to instill planned obsolescence into the product in the name of stimulating commerce. We just accept this blindly now as consumers. My work is to represent the antithesis of this concept.

Could you talk me through your product development process?

Sure. My work begins with mad vision.

Then it’s put through an empirical process of experimentation where I try to objectively evaluate the outcomes. I push and pull on a vision until it suits me. Sometimes they wind up getting discarded. Occasionally you have the train wreck of a vision.

For example, Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand turns me loose to follow my visions. Alex just told me he had an entomological bent, and he wanted me to create a guitar that was unique, and he said that he admired the blue-green iridescence of certain flies and beetles.

I obtained 600 emerald beetle wings from an odd fellow in Bangkok, and I vacuum infused them with epoxy and turned that into a pick guard for his guitar. It’s just flabbergasting because when you move it in the light, it turns from blue to green. It’s about five-eighths of an inch deep, and it’s recessed into the guitar. Even though it’s a rather typical Telecaster shaped guitar, it’s probably the most unique Telecaster around in a lot of ways.

That’s where the Specimen part comes in. I can make a unique representation of something that’s plebeian, pedestrian, yet I can put a historic spin on it, a different angle on it; set it apart somehow from the typical fray and let it speak a thousand words by being a subtle whisper.

What should discerning customers such as architects and interior designers know about your speakers?

That they’re very beautiful and they’re very functional and that they are legacy pieces that will not need to be replaced. In that capacity, they are adaptive to our evolving sociology and culture. They’re built for posterity and functionality and serviceability. Most of all, they adhere to all of the tenets of artistic design balance, and that way, it’s a fundamental concern to me that they be of the utmost beauty and they be balanced visually in a way that will enhance their emotive qualities.

What I’ve got is a device that’s got audiophiles really pissed off because they can’t gauge them. They can’t measure them according to normal, typical, traditional audiophile standards or parameters, because it’s difficult to quantify or draw a curve on something that’s an emotive force. How do you rate a kiss, or a hug? There’s no way to. Clearly, it’s impossible. It has to do with the mind so much that you can’t rate it.  

The Sonic Arboretum exhibitions are testimony to this in that I was so gratified to see women walking around the atrium of the MCA gently weeping, and men walking around with their lips quivering because of the effect that Andrew Bird’s compositions had coming out of seventy-two horns, spanning this vast, vast atrium.


The Sound Arboretums, how were they received by the artistic community?

Very well. The MCA reported an uptick in attendance of 20% for the month of December when it was installed in 2012, I think. They attributed it to the Sonic Arboretum installation. We’re very happy to have that feather in our cap. It’s part of why it’s going to ICA next year. If I say so myself, it’s a functional set-up, and I love the idea of creating a compositional context for various composers to work within.

Do you have any new products or ideas that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m making a brand new amplifier called the Schmone, a tube amplifier, which is uncharacteristic of my typical flea powered offerings which are low-wattage units which embody single-ended purity, a beautiful linearity, circa 1940s circuitry. This new amp is called the Schmone—as in “tone, schmone.” It’s a 300-watt amplifier. It will have eight power tubes, and it will be a massive thing similar to my Octoblock, a slightly more condensed version. It will be a mono-block, so a single channel of high power. Instead of eight eight-watt channels, it will be eight power tubes creating over 300 watts of power. This will have a cast-iron griddle attachment that fits over the tubes so that you can cook on the heat of the tubes. Yes. It will have a little grease moat running around its perimeter and a little drippings jar to collect the grease. This way, when you go to Momofuku in New York, and you order the Japanese pancakes, the special of the day, you can order them and have them cooked on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

It is crazy, and I told you that things spring from mad visions. David Chang doesn’t know this yet. But I’m making it. And I’m just going to take it to him. That’s the way I operate. I like to foist things on people and make sure that they don’t have any choice but to say, “Oh my God, I have to have this—how much?” That’s one way of operating.

For more information on Specimen Products, visit There you can learn about Specimen’s instruments, amplifiers, classes, and stay up to date about displays around the country.

July 29, 2014 at 4:21pm
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cloud softlight

Todd MacAllen, cofounder of molo with Stephanie Forsythe, answered our questions about the company, cloud softlight, and the soft collection.


Todd MacAllen and Stephanie Forsythe started molo 10 years ago, but have been working together as husband and wife for over two decades. Both trained architects, they wanted to set up a studio that would allow them to be their own clients; to work on projects that they personally “felt a strong emotion towards.” We asked Todd if there was a particular ethos that motivated their work.

“We wanted to work on products that were about enhancing particular experiences, bringing out the richness in life, bringing out the richness in the basic things,” Todd said. “We found that doing that—enriching the basic fundamentals of living—it’s just a simple luxury.”

Todd traces this philosophy back to drinking tea with Stephanie out of a tea set that they themselves had made. It was a simple thing to do, he said, one they could afford; but at the same time, the experience was really enriching for both of them. Drinking tea from that set became a ritual for them together. “We thought we would try making things and just put them out there and see what other people felt.”

Another part of the ethos molo has been interested in from the start is the idea of simple, flexible space; of open plans, of ways to use smaller amounts of space more generously. They began thinking about this when Todd and Stephanie moved into their first studio (a 700 square foot loft) after working in regular houses.

“It wasn’t the greatest place, but the fact that it was just an open floor plan—that we could do whatever we wanted with—we found to be a luxurious thing. We just had all this space!” In subsequent work, better use of space became a focus.

“We started thinking about modular, flexible wall systems or flexible rooms; ways of using a space where we could create intimate rooms, spaces where you could get away or hide things: hide the clutter or hide the fact that you’re also working there, make it a gentler space that doesn’t have clutter in it, or create a private space. But then, at the same time, we wanted to be able to pull it all back to reveal the open plan again and have that generous, large room.”


We caught up with molo at their NeoCon 2014 display where they were featuring products in their recent soft collection. Though molo is open to many types of materials, this collection uses mostly an unusual, lightweight, paper-like material to explore some of the company’s ideals. The collection includes room dividers, seating, and several types of lighting, including the cloud softlight (discussed below).

The paper- and sheet-like material used for the soft collection calls us to look at structures in a slightly different way than we may be used to. Todd explained that, particularly in North America, we see a lot of heavy structures with the intention of durability—structures that can’t be destroyed no matter how hard you try. “We’re clunky and rough and hard on things, so we have high demands for durability and robustness and strength. When you think about structure, you think about rigidity and weight.”

In contrast, molo prefers materials that are simple, calm, and light. They started exploring paper and paper-like materials, and (rightly) anticipated getting some flak for it.

“There were a few people that we invited to look at it from the start who just thought, ‘What’s the point of this? Who are you selling it to?’ We would just say, ‘We’re not selling it to anybody. We’re just doing it because we like it.’ I think that’s another part of the ethos. We have to do things that we feel have importance and emotional strength for us.”

The paper-like material was inspired in part from their work in Japan, where they saw paper being used in the architecture of traditional buildings. Movable screens framed with very lightweight wood were sheathed with paper. “Nowadays, parents will complain about their kids poking holes in the shoji screens because they’re not in tune with the idea of it,” Todd explained. “They’re getting used to western heavy structure.”

Because molo’s material is so thin and unusual, Todd says he’ll sometimes see people trying to tear it. “You don’t need to poke holes in it just because you can. You don’t need to purposely try and tear it. Yes, you can tear some of the materials—but why would you?

“Why do we use things so roughly? We talk about sustainability and things lasting and being able to recycle things back into other things, so maybe we should consider taking care of things a little bit, too.”


Molo’s product development process involves a lot of play and exploration. “Generally, things don’t start with a particular function. The direction might just be one of exploration, and then, as we’re working on something, it’ll just become what it wants to be.” Once they have a material to work with, they “look at different things it could be, or put a light in it and see what happens, or sit on it and see what happens. Or change the configuration and then sit on it and see what happens. It becomes a series of tests,” Todd said. “What it might mean is that you alter the structure or the strength, and then it becomes this other thing. As we work, we are becoming a bit more aware of what we’re trying to do with it.”

The cloud softlight came through this process as well. “Lighting was an idea soon into the development of soft products”—using that paper-like material. “We were putting lights in things—different types of light and different types of lighting fixtures—to see how it would react with the tubular cells. We talked to some lighting people, and they said, ‘This is really great, because your structure is distributing the light very well; the tubes act almost like light pipes and they’re bouncing that light around and creating a very nice, even distribution, which is quite a calm, ambient type of light.’

“Then we started to create some other shapes. We were literally just cutting out different shapes and opening them to see what they would turn into, like cutting snowflakes. We came upon a shape that we could manipulate and that could take on different forms. We liked it a lot, and that’s what we call urchin.”

After exploring several variations of lighting with urchin, the team started wondering how they could hang it. The idea was to flatten it out and turn it into a rigid form, then by hanging it, allow it to float from the ceiling and be affected by the warm and cold air currents moving around in a room. Iterations later, after hanging countless shapes, it became cloud.


We asked Todd what architects and interior designers should know about cloud. He told us that a lot of people wonder if it actually gives enough light or if it just glows. “In fact, it does,” Todd assured us. “It’s giving a very high quality of workable task lighting which can be adjusted. You can dim it down if you wanted.” Specifics on luminosity as molo has tested them are available upon request.

“It’s a very calm light,” says Todd. “It’s not straining at all. It’s not making you squint when you look at it. It’s a great little light for many different types of environments or use. It’s adjustable light.”

A surprising feature of cloud is that it has great acoustic properties. “Instead of putting up ceiling panels, just leave your ceiling open and put up a whole bunch of these,” something that a few designers have already done, says Todd. Tested specifics on acoustics are also available upon request.

Todd is especially pleased with these features of cloud softlight “because they’re just there without shouting out ‘I’m a light’ or ‘I’m an acoustic panel.’” At first, people think they’re looking at a sculpture, but it turns out to be a thing of function. “I think a lot of the products are like that. I guess we look at them that way, too. We’re interested in them at first as abstract sculptural objects, and then, over time, they turn into a functional design.”

The cloud softlight has been received very well by the A+D community. Todd says that any of the offerings in the soft collection—softwalls, softblocks, softseating, all the softlights—they’re like building materials more than products. What this means, he says, is that designers can use them not as complete designs (like a chair or a sofa or a table), but to design something themselves and turn it into their own. “It’s like a brick. Then Louis Kahn creates something amazing with a brick, and then it’s his design.”


Todd and Stephanie were brought to this point in design through a similar history.

“We’re both quite curious, always remaining curious about things and always looking at the same thing in different ways. We’ve both always been interested in art and making things. I think both of us, from childhood, would always be building stuff—not just strapping it together, but really crafting things.

“We both spent a lot of time at different trades: glassware and woodwork, heavy construction, even to the level of working on bridges and things like that; not as designers, but as builders. We both ended up in architecture because it seemed like an interesting application of art into function.

“I don’t think either of us would have become painters or become sculptors, but this is what we have become. For us, it still remains very much about fine art, sculpture, and curiosity.”

To see molo cloud softlight or get more information, click here or visit To purchase, visit

July 23, 2014 at 3:14pm
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Felix Chair

Dean Jeffery, Marketing & Communications Expert at the Grand Rapids Chair Company, answered our questions about the Felix Chair.


The Grand Rapids Chair Company was started fifteen years ago by founder Dave Miller in his own garage. There, he and another employee made what is now known to the company as the Baby Dome Chair. “It was for something like McDonald’s,” says Dean Jeffrey, Marketing & Communications Expert at Grand Rapids Chair. From there, the company slowly grew.

Now, Grand Rapids Chair is run by Dave’s son, Jeff. “Jeff’s really made a lot of progress as far as developing the brand from just a restaurant chair company to where we’re actually hiring designers and working with designers to create products specifically for us.” 

Grand Rapids has proved a perfect location for the company. “We have such great access to suppliers that we work with,” says Dean. For instance, “we don’t mold the wood shells at our office for the Felix Chair, we work with companies in the area to press the shells for us, and then we finish them with stain and topcoat. But I think having access to really highly skilled and talented partners—because of the Steelcases, the Herman Millers, all the big companies in the world being right here—we get in at that level and we use the same suppliers, but we do it with our own spin.”

One of Grand Rapids Chair’s big pushes is to try to stay as local as possible through every step of production. “We’ve been partnering with just Midwest designers lately,” Dean explains. “I think there’s such an energy for the Midwest, and a lot of times it gets overlooked because there’s the West Coast and the East Coast.” Grand Rapids Chair proudly showcases Midwest talent through their product launches.

The Felix Chair came about from a collaboration with external designer John Kaloustian. Grand Rapids Chair approached Kaloustian and told him their dream of creating something for the training room—for schools, universities, and educational settings, including training rooms in the corporate environment. Kaloustian came back with a new, original design: a two piece shell.

“We fell in love with the fact that it was extremely unique and it married our craft of wood with a training room application, because a lot of the training room chairs are plastic right now,” explained Dean. “Then, if you look, there’s a little smiling face. We thought it was fun.”

The happy face was not intentional, but was embraced when noticed. Grand Rapids Chair has a tradition of naming their chairs after either people that have worked for the company or their family members, so they decided to name this chair after the first employees of the company: Felix Ramos and his son, Felix Jr. Felix is the Latin word for happy, Dean told us. “Having a chair that was happy and could bring a smile or at least a little bit of a spark of curiosity to somebody was a definite plus,” says Dean. “We thought it was a way to make people smile through furniture, and one of our internal tag lines is, We want to be the nicest damn people you’ll ever buy a chair from.”

But the two-piece design is not simply to make people smile; it makes the chair more ergonomic. “The actual chair flexes in two different places, so it’s extremely adjustable for the body to just naturally move without any of the bells and whistles of ‘let me turn this crank’ or ‘let me adjust this knob.’ You just sit there and it moves with your body.”

Felix is available in custom laminates, in various upholstery options, in all wood, and twenty stain colors. “But we do custom color matches for anything,” Dean says. “A designer can send us a color they used—they can send us a rock from the ground that they found and we would do our best. We’d work with them to get the match created.”


We asked Dean how Grand Rapids Chair connects with their customers. Digitally, the company has a very active Pinterest account that they use not only for keeping their own products visible, but for inspiration for upcoming trade shows or showroom design. Print-wise, Grand Rapids Chair has partnered with Restaurant Development + Design Magazine, which is targeted to designers of hospitality spaces. “It’s probably been one of the best investments that we’ve made, because it’s our exact audience,” says Dean. Grand Rapids Chair attributes 50–60% of sales to A+D. 

Grand Rapids Chair continues to grow. At NeoCon, they launched two brand new collections and revealed their first all wood table, as well as their first outdoor collection. Dean shared with us some images of two upcoming chair lines—not yet available on their website—Sadie and Andy:


Dean has been at Grand Rapids Chair for a year and a half. Before that, he was at a Belgian school furniture company. “It’s cool to work for a company where you actually want to buy their products. Because you never need a student desk as a twenty-five year old. You can always have an awesome lounge chair as a twenty-five year old.”

To see all Felix products, click here. More information can by found at or by emailing

July 16, 2014 at 2:13pm
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Hinchada Modular System

Jessica Sanders, Brand Manager for Loewenstein, answered our questions about the company and Hinchada Modular System.


Tell us a little about Loewenstein and its history.

In 1966 Hank Loewenstein founded our company, with a philosophy built on the foundation of bringing world class furniture to the North American contract market. For years we dominated the market with our unique and progressive designs, and now we are reinvigorating that philosophy for the modern day. “Loewenstein for your lifestyle.”

Where are you located? How does your location affect the products you make?

Loewenstein was originally located in Greensboro, North Carolina when OFS Brands acquired the company about seven years ago. OFS Brands’s main corporate office and production plants are located in Huntingburg, Indiana, but we also have a manufacturing plant in Hight Point, North Carolina as well, and Loewenstein products are manufactured in both locations. OFS Brands has a great pool of resources, and their history in woodworking really opened a lot of doors for Loewenstein as a brand, allowing us to expand and grow our product offering beyond just seating.

What is Loewenstein’s product development process?

Since Loewenstein has just gone through a pretty strong rebranding process, our product development process has undergone an overhaul as well. To decide what products we feel are important to have in our line we start by stepping back and looking at the current offering, noting areas in our product line that we feel are lacking solutions for Loewenstein’s specific market. From there we brainstorm within our own marketing and design group, and also bring in independent designers to help us come up with solutions. From there we begin the design/build process that ends up in great prototypes like those we showed at NeoCon.


What’s the story behind the Hinchada Modular System?

Hinchada was an in-house design that came about from discussions within our design team. We were discussing the idea of different lounging postures, and wanted to create a modular lounge collection for Loewenstein’s new “lifestyle” direction that allowed for a much more relaxed posture. Our other major design focus was the idea of the end user having more of a hand in the design and layout of the product I think that within the idea of a “lifestyle” brand it is important for the people who will be using these products every day to have input into the final design, both with color and configuration. The great thing about Hinchada is that color and material combinations are endless, and if the layout ever needs to change, it’s no biggie, all components can easily be switched around.  

What should architects and designers know this product?

Architects and designers should know that even though we are marketing this as a lifestyle product, it is engineered to contract furniture standards and has passed BIFMA testing. Hinchada is designed to be easily specified. With all of the options for upholstering Hinchada, we have fabric programs with all of the major fabric manufacturers and have literally thousands of fabrics already graded in to our standard program.

How has Hinchada been received by A&D?

Hinchada was very warmly received by the A&D community. Standing in the area of our NeoCon space with both products, I heard tons of comments from designers brainstorming where they could use Hinchada in their projects. I heard discussions about using it anywhere from public areas in higher education all the way to healthcare waiting areas.


Have you found any particular medium or method that helps you connect to your customers?

We are finding that our social media outlets are really picking up, especially Instagram. It is a great way to really connect with our customers on a more personal level as opposed to an e-blast or a new page on our website. We can show them what we are working on right this second and get their feedback which is a great way to connect. 

Does Loewenstein have anything new coming up that you’d like us to know about?

Definitely stay tuned, we are still in the process of finalizing all of the products that we showed at NeoCon, and we plan to have more exciting products to show at NeoCon East and BDNY this fall.


More information on the Hinchada Modular System can be found here. Hinchada will be available to order by Fall 2014. To see other products by Loewenstein, visit their website at

July 14, 2014 at 4:12pm
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The Alexander Girard Collection

At NeoCon 2014, Skyline Design launched ten graphic patterns by 20th century architect and designer Alexander Girard. Today, Girard is mostly remembered for his textile designs and work as the director of the Herman Miller Fabric Division. Skyline Design seeks to honor this American designer by bringing his patterns to glass. Deborah Newmark answered our questions about Skyline Design and their Alexander Girard Collection.


What inspired this product?

Charlie Rizzo, the President of Skyline Design, was inspired by “Textiles by Alexander Girard; Exhibition of Vintage Designs and Objects” at the Herman Miller showroom in Chicago in 2012.  Later on, he discovered Girard’s enormous body of work via “Alexander Girard,” by Todd Oldham & Kiera Coffee. It seemed obvious that much of it was transferable to glass application and that glass, as a medium, was suitable for exploration. 


What was Skyline Design’s product development process for this project?

Lydia Esparza, Design Strategist at Skyline Design, reached out to Girard’s grandson Alexander Kori Girard and a constructive dialogue quickly established. The Girard Studio, led by Kori and Aleishall Girard, felt that it was important to bring Girard’s legacy forward by seeking out partners with common values, ethos, and esthetics. The partnership between Skyline Design and the Girard Studio seemed like a natural fit, and the translation of Girard’s work onto glass an important evolutionary step. The project progressed quickly, and, in fact, was completed to introduction within a year’s time. Skyline Design worked closely with the Girard Studio to uphold the integrity and retain the spirit of each original pattern. Available color options were selected from the many iterations created by the prolific Girard, and adhere to strict application guidelines set in terms of colors, techniques, and scale. This is Skyline Design’s first archival collection and, unlike our other collections, the patterns may not be customized.


What should architects and designers know about The Girard Collection?

As a trained architect, Alexander Girard was interested in all building materials and their interaction in space. Layering and translucency form a continuous thread in his architectural work. Thus, glass seemed an ideal material to explore his interest in patterning in a contemporary context.

Translating the woven textile to the translucent medium of glass enhances the patterns with luminosity and affords areas of privacy. Girard’s designs become architectural with all the benefits and characteristics of glass. Skyline Design’s efforts resulted in a collection that enhances color, luminosity, movement, and privacy in the built interior.

Throughout the process Skyline Design worked closely with the Girard family to retain each pattern’s original expression. Archival research yielded meticulously translated images into digital files. Color was equally important. Though Girard was known primarily for his perspective on color he also developed many neutral variations of his designs. Skyline Design selected to develop both neutrals and color for the collection to celebrate the Alexander Girard Legacy and bring it forward into the 21st century.

Adding a graphic anchor to spaces, the Alexander Girard™ Collection is suited for a broad variety of markets and interior applications such as room dividers, conference room walls, workstations panels or accent wall panels and feature walls. Application techniques were chosen by Skyline Design to accurately represent the intent of the original ten artworks and result in products that enhance color, luminosity, movement, and privacy in the built interior.


To see The Girard Collection or request additional information, visit or Skyline Design’s Chicago showroom in Merchandise Mart, Suite 1060.

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Wayfinder Wallpaper

Mike Simonian and Maaike Evers work together to form Mike&Maaike, a progressive industrial design studio. Mike answered our questions about their Wayfinder Wallpaper.


Tell us a little about Mike&Maaike and its history.

Maaike is Dutch, Mike, Californian. Our studio functions as an industrial design laboratory. We work independently and with partners/clients on a wide variety of subjects including products, furniture, technology, wearables, environments, and vehicles.

Where are you located? How does your physical location affect the products you make?

San Francisco. We are in a land of variety and contrast—city, nature, high tech, old-world architecture, laid back California mixed with frantic innovation. This affects our work by providing variety and a feeling that anything is possible.


What’s the story behind your Wayfinder Wallpaper?

Wayfinder is a line of wallpaper produced by Rollout. We designed it to serve a functional purpose within the context of architecture. Wallpaper is typically decorative. Symbols are typically functional. The combination of the two creates new possibilities for architects, interior designers and space planners. Creating a wallpaper series, for us, required a departure from the decorative approach that is usually associated with wallpaper. We wanted the wallpaper to serve a functional purpose and it seemed natural that the design would convey information, rather than decoration. We experimented with applications and information that may be useful to apply to entire walls and came up with a list of things- numbers, symbols for common things that people want to find in a space. In doing this research, we discovered that in 1974, a system of symbols was produced through a collaboration between AIGA and the US Department of Transportation. These open-source symbols were created for use at the intersection of modern life and have become some of the most widely adopted and universally recognized in the world. We started experimenting with applying these symbols to wallpaper in a variety of ways. We were also inspired by an application of supergraphics inside the women’s changing room at the Sea Ranch pool, where Maaike and I often go for short summer vacations. Painted on the walls inside are the most amazing and beautiful supergraphics created by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon in the 60s. We wanted to apply non-descript, universal symbols and numbers to wallpaper in a vibrant and colorful way that captures this optimism and confidence and creates new possibilities for architects, interior designers and space planners.

Where has your Wayfinder Wallpaper been installed?

Lots of different types of places—probably the most interesting is a medical marijuana dispensary.

How has your Wayfinder Wallpaper been received by A+D?

We were pleasantly surprised by the reception. There seems to be a renaissance around wayfinding/signage and the wallpaper is just one of a lot of interesting approaches we’ve seen recently.


Wayfinder is available in a very wide range of symbols, patterns and colors. More information can be found here. To see other products by Mike&Maaike, visit their website at

July 11, 2014 at 5:12pm
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Michael Nÿkamp—Architectural Illustrations


Michael Nÿkamp grew up in a small farming town in southern Ontario, watching Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, disliking grade school (except Art class), and being considered an “art nerd.” “My parents were mortified when they found out I was going to ‘Art School,’ as they called it,” he says, “but are glad now that I didn’t listen to them.” Michael studied Fine Arts, Illustration and Interactive Design in Toronto, Canada, and has since established his own studio, mkn design.

“As a kid I loved to draw and create. I always knew I wanted to do something within the arts field. That was where my ‘love’ was and I focused on that throughout my young pre-teen and teenaged life and throughout college. In college I studied illustration, but didn’t love it enough to make a career out of it. I then moved into interactive design and then naturally into graphic design. It was only about five years ago that I started getting back into illustration.

“Getting back into illustration, I decided that I would start an illustration sketchbook on my website and produce illustrations, artwork, and artifacts to get myself loosened up and see what I could do. I soon found out that I had somewhat of my own style—line work or simplification of objects—which I have latched onto and continue to enjoy.”

About five years ago, Michael decided to go independent. “It was a risk,” he says, “but the better risk, for me and my family.” Michael says that the name of his business, mkn design, only came from the necessity to attach his name to an entity. Now, “mkn design has grown enough for people to know who I am and what I do.” Some of those things include direction of projects, graphic design, and illustration; “but being independent, I’m also the accountant, project manager, mediator, etc.,” he adds.

We asked Michael why clients work with him. “I hope they work with me because they perhaps like me, value my thinking, illustration, and design sense,” he says. “Maybe it’s the security they feel that I have 14 years of experience working with large, small, and non-profit companies, or maybe it’s a ‘novel’ thing to be working alongside a Canadian.”

While we enjoy all of Michael’s work, we were particularly attracted to his series of architectural illustrations, featuring four Chicago buildings: Merchandise Mart, Marina City, the Civic Opera Building, and the Smurfit Stone Building. The inspiration for these illustrations came from his first travels to Chicago. “I was amazed at the varied styles—from the old Chicago Water Tower to the 1960’s modern Marina City to the modern Smurfit-Stone Building.” Michael admitted that he doesn’t know much about each building or their architects, but “just the same, I love to look at their facades.” Working for a lot of furniture manufacturers over the years has taken Michael to NeoCon every June—held in Merchandise Mart. “I love its immense size,” he says, “it’s like it has its own city inside.”



Michael describes his process for making these illustrations this way:

  1. Find a building that I like.
  2. Scale it to the correct size of the series.
  3. Find reference and detail images on Google.
  4. Use Photoshop, but create the buildings out of solid, defined pixels.
  5. Iterations, iterations, iterations.
  6. Hang on wall.
  7. Post on my private website, as an “art show.”

“My intent was merely for self promotion when I had downtime between clients,” says Michael of this project. We asked if he had plans to continue developing illustrations of this type, beyond Chicago. “I hope to,” he said, though “trying to find the time to do so is hard, especially in-between work, family life and other projects that I want to create or have interest in—I have pages of ideas and most likely not enough time to get around to doing them… . [But] maybe there is a series for other cities around the US and other countries.”


Michael Nÿkamp lives with his wife Kaylyn and sons Emmett and Landon in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and wishes that people in the United States would greet each other with hugs more often. Specifiers, enthusiasts, fans, groupies, and fellow Canadians can see these illustrations, more of Michael’s work, or request additional information at, or by emailing Michael directly at