Designers on Design: Gabriel-Scott

Interview

Gabriel Kakon and Scott Richler of Gabriel-Scott have been in NY for the past few days. The young Canadians aren't seeing many of the city's sights, however. They're here to show their first furniture and lighting collection, Blackened Gold, at ICFF (The International Contemporary Furniture Fair), the annual furniture fair that's currently taking over the Jacobs Javits Center. Their collection, star-shaped tables accented by gold pieces, and bling-tastic chandeliers, hide an intriguing secret; they're actually flat packed and come deconstructed. I sat down with them to talk inspiration, perspiration and anticipation as they prepped for the big weekend.

So tell me a little bit about you guys. How'd you meet?

Gabriel: Well, Scott and I are actually brothers-in-law; Scott is married to my older sister. We both have architectural backgrounds and we're both from Montreal. Scott and my sister had started a fashion design company, Jennifer-Scott. They designed and manufactured handbags that were sold all around the US and the world.

Scott, how'd you get into handbags?

Scott: I got into jewelry first and then we expanded into women's accessories. Handbags are a good thing to get into! Every woman needs one, right? Then a few years down the road, Gabriel came to work with us.

So handbags to furniture? How does that happen?

Gabriel: Furniture was something that Scott and I clicked on, that we'd always had a passion for. So we started doing furniture under the same name, Jennifer-Scott Decor. We actually opened the store right next to the bag store! It was custom furniture, made to measure. And we started to expand outside of Montreal. But custom is very hard to market. It's a very niche business, it's very hidden. In order to have access to it, you have to go in with an architect or a designer. It's not a very democratic product. By then I had finished architecture school and Scott and I looked at each other and said, Okay, so what can we do to make this a little more interesting? The line of furniture that we're launching at the ICFF is a line of casegoods and lighting that are actually all made in Canada at a price point that is accessible and really targeted to the retail and commercial market. Scott: It was born in reaction to the "to the trade" market. We were looking at trying to make a product that still had the same qualities and the same details that I appreciated in jewelry or handbags or custom work. It incorporates a lot of the same sensitivity to material and details that we would have in custom work. For example, instead of powder coating our steel, we blacken it in the old way, which is more of an artisianal process that preserves the texture and depth of the material. In this case, we incorporated brass, even though it's in very small amounts, it's the idea of using a material, in the same way that a stud is used on a bag, so we arrived at a collection of pieces that, I think, preserve that sensitivity to design and detail and luxury.

So the pieces are flat packed?

Gabriel: Yes, we ship them to the client flat-packed. They come apart. While it wasn't the motivating design factor, logistically it was little more interesting to be able to pack this thing into something small and obviously it saves on shipping costs for the user and makes it a little bit more efficient. But it wasn't our first objective. We actually came up with the line and then, in terms of manufacturing it, that's how we'd receive it. Those brass components, even though they're small, are really highlighted. They're actually the lynchpin for the designs -- literally and figuratively! The thought was, why not have the end user put the whole thing together? The manufacturing process lends itself to being able to ship things flat-pack. So it was sort of a serendipitous discovery.

So is everything flat packed?

Gabriel: The lighting fixtures we're showing are chandeliers that are sent out in two parts: the top and the chain. The idea is really to be effiicient in production, efficient in cost, and efficient in distribution. So some parts are a no-brainer, they flat pack really easily, and the others not so much but we sort of made it so that it could all be done in pieces. In other words, we really tried to strive for efficiency all around.

So the brass detail and the flat-packing really play off of each other?

Scott: We were looking for a way to make an interesting form, a table, in a simple way, without, for example, having to weld it and that's how we arrived at it, via an assembly method, if you will.

So the brass motif carries throughout the entire collection?

Yes. It's a thread that ties it together thematically.

So are the brass and the flat packing something you plan to bring into the next collection?

We'll see what happens organically and I think that it all happens through evolution. You learn things from making pieces. We may discover another potential for perhaps the same type of approach. So this is step one in this discovery process and okay, I like this type of system and what else can I do with this...and that could very well carry through.

I like the idea that the desire to keep costs low married with design produces this.

It's chic and accessible. Which is a lot of what we challenged ourselves to do.

So how'd you get into ICFF?

Scott: We did a presentation to show them what our product looked like.

And how's it been so far?

Scott: A lot of waiting for the crates to arrive! We put a lot of effort into an all around package that would really show the stuff off. We created this arm system to display the chandelier that looks like two giant desk lamps. So we're excited.

What pieces are part of the line? What will you be showing at ICFF?

Side tables, consoles, coffee tables, little dinette tables, and then also the chandelier for our lighting series. We're actually working on a whole bunch of other lamps: table lamps, desk lamps and floor lamps that we're not showing. The chandelier is to show that we're starting to tap into lighting.

So almost like jewelry for the home?

Scott: Actually it looks quite a bit like jewelry!

So, when you're designing something, where do you start?

Gabriel: Scott is really the starter. He lights the ignition for the idea. And from that we'll grow it together. Scott and I grew up together. We've known each other since we were kids [Scott met his wife, Gabriel's sister, when he was 15]. So we've been exposed to a lot of the same things. We've grown up with very similar interests in terms of design and architecture. We've influenced each other a lot and we've always been very verbal. So the creative process is actually a very nice process. It's not confrontational, it's very complementary, it's a very give-and-take process of coming to an end result.

Where are you finding your ideas from? Is it, "oh, we need a table for the house"?

Scott: I'm not that practical! Gabriel: You can't say that you're not influenced from some trends in architecture and design. We keep up with what's going on but we're really trying to create something that's timeless and that's also reflective of who we are.

How does your [Scott's] background in fashion influence what you do?

Scott: I think what happens is that there are trends. I mean obviously we're answering a need for furniture, but, besides that, I think that, for example, when you're designing handbags or shoes, you're starting with forms that are fairly well known and accepted and familiar. So you start with that shape and you sort of reformat it using materiala and detaila to add texture to it. I think that we approach furniture in pretty much the same way. It's about adding the right texture or the right detail so that it becomes a more meaningful piece, a piece that appeals to a lot of people and also lasts a long time. Gabriel: And then we both worked in high-end residential interior design, so we bring that to it as well. And I think that's what made us sensitive to a lot of these things. And I think that what's unique about what we're doing is that while it's contemporary, these are pieces that would also work in a more traditional home as much as they would work in a huge loft. So I think it's very multi-faceted in terms of where it can work. So I don't think it belongs as much to a particular style as that it's a reflection of the way we see design and the way we apply taste and trend to furniture design.

So what do you think your influences are? Where do you look for inspiration?

Gabriel: We actually talk about this a lot. Our influences are not necessarily from within furniture design. It's in fashion, it's in the in the arts, photography, graphic design. I think we're always looking for good design, for something that's well thought out, complete, a little bit different. Scott: My answer's probably just as vague! But it's true. It hard to pinpoint. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I'm always looking!

What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't doing this?

Scott: I like installation work and sculpture. Gabriel: I probably would pursue my architectural degree and work in high-end residential.

So you're feeling good going into the weekend?

Gabriel: Everything happened really quickly but we're happy with it. I think it's a nice all around package that we've put together. So be careful!

(Images courtesy Gabriel-Scott: Dean coffee table, Marx stool, Kelly chandelier, Marx table)

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