Todd Bracher: May 12, 2011

Apartment Therapy Design Evenings

• Skip ahead to minute 7:30 for beginning of evening's talk

Pin it button big

• What: Apartment Therapy Design Evenings
• May Guest: Todd Bracher
• Apartment Therapy Design Evenings: Meetup
• Attendance: 217


Pin it button big

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan: Hi Everyone. Welcome to ICFF week here at ABC. I'm Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy. How many people are brand new and have never been here before? I've got a feeling there are a lot of new people here tonight. It's a credit to you, they want to hear all about you.

Just briefly, Apartment Therapy is a website. It started as a design service and then it became a website and the website over took the service. We publish to the web everyday of the week from morning to night. As of last month we have over 7 million readers a month. (Applause) It's a tribute to us, and we're very proud of that. We also have a pretty good mission. Our mission is to connect people with problems to people with solutions. Our subject is home and home design. What we do once a month, but this week we're doing twice a month, one tonight and one last night. We get off the computer and we get offline. As much as I love the fact that we have so many readers I am convinced that my eyesight is failing because of my job.

It is so important to get off the computer and go out and meet the people that make the things that inspire you. When you find out the story behind the design and the products that you like it deepens your understanding. That's what we do here once a month. Tonight we're going to start the evening as we always do, with two student designers and then I'm going to turn to Todd. Our two student designers tonight, they each get 3 minutes, they're both from Pratt. They get 3 min to pitch they're hot new idea to you, the captive audience. I know there are many influences out there, there are buyers out there, there are media people out there and they're manufacturers out there and I know that ABC is out there so you don't really have to go far for that. They get a few minutes to pitch to you, and then when they're done, you will be able to find them at the end of the evening right here up here at the front of the stage, if you want to ask them any questions. You will also be able to see them and they're presentation on the web next week. We do this every time. If you are a design student or know design students or any aspiring designers definitely talk to us so we can give everyone space. So without further ado I want to introduce our first speaker: Jess Spudler, from Pratt. Please put your hands together.

QUICK PITCH DESIGNERS

Pin it button big
Alvaro, Jess & Maxwell

• Jess Fugler
• Jam Sofa
http://www.jessfuglerdesign.com

Jess Fugler:
Hi everyone my name is Jess Fugler. I'll be presenting to you two of my projects. Its not really a pitch but more of how I work and my design philosophy. I bet every single one of you out there has fallen in love with an object. Whether it's a beautiful chair or a cellphone, if you don't have that object, its absolutely devastating. So I became really fascinated with this relationship of a person and they're objects. I kind of like to play with it and maybe change it and enhance it in my designs. So I started off it papers, I want to show you my progression in my designs. I was experimenting with paper. Especially with Village Voices because they're free. I was gluing them and stacking them and I came across this log, a kind of log of paper and it was really intriguing. I was intrigued that I made paper become wood again. So I was playing with it and I found that the natural properties of the paper, was that overtime it will wear away. So how do I make this into a project or an actual product? So I decided to bring this to hairbrushes and brushes. Yes you might think that's a little strange, but, your hairbrush is something you don't normally think about. Its an obsolete object in your life. You use it everyday. Whether its to shine your shoes or comb your hair...so how do I enhance your relationship with this product? So overtime, with these hairbrushes it'll start to wear away and form to your hand. So you become part of this products sort of story. Your influence the shape and it becomes yours, its sort of personal. So this object is no longer this thing that just sits on your shelf, its something that you are connected to you. If you don't like it or you don't need the hairbrush you can just throw it away and its bio-degradable.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

So my next product, this one is a little more risky. This project is focused on pleasure. I wanted to talk about the pleasure of man and people in general. The pleasure of lounging around on a Sunday or just hanging out in your la-z-boy, and also the pleasure of physical absorption. Becoming one with an object or a person. So I came upon this idea of sticking things into your furniture. How do you become closer to your object or furniture? This sofa is called Jam Sofa. You can lounge it and stick your remote it in. You can also hide your secrets in it. You kind of give yourself to the sofa. So throw your old Playboys in the center or something, no one will find it. For a more practical sense, I guess, you wont have any more dust mites between the cushions. So I would love if afterwards, you guys want to come talk to me about your favorite object. Thank you

• Alvaro Uribe
• Copenhagen Chair
http://www.alvarouribedesign.com/

Alvaro:
Good evening. Tonight I'm going to talk about my Copenhagen chair. I did it while I was a student at Pratt Institute. I did this on a study abroad program in Denmark, that's why it's called the Copenhagen chair. Basically my design started with choosing the material. In this case its bent plywood. What I decided to do was to test the material and take it to a new level. You can see the chair has some really intense bending which you can see in the position of the legs and the backrest. What I wanted to do was bend it in a new way.

Pin it button big

Pin it button big

The way it works is, the backrest is thinner than the other parts of the chair, so when it unites with the body of the chair, it gives it strength. So it's finding a new way to unite the units of the chair and at the same time giving it a new look. What I was doing while sketching was looking for really dynamic movement through the lines and how it looks like its moving forward. You will find the chair looks really alive instead of closed to the space. In the end it was really about the material and looking at new ways of uniting it. Hopefully it will be produced. Like it said it's a new way of experimenting with materials and seeing how you can take it to new limits. You can see how the form flows really dynamically and if you have any questions I'll be happy to answer them and talk to you guys about it. Thank you.

TODD BRACHER

• Skip ahead to minute 18:20 for beginning of Todd's conversation

MGR: Todd Bracher. Todd is a native New Yorker. He is the founder of Todd Bracher Studio. He's a designer and educator currently based in NYC after a decade working in Copenhagen, Milan, Paris and London. Todd has collaborated with some of the world's most prestigious brands around the world from Furniture and Object Design to Interiors and Architecture. Todd has been pinned as 'America's next great Designer', which has got to be tough to carry on your shoulders, by the NY Daily News as well as received several nominations for Designer of the year in 2008 and 2009. His experiences range from working independently, heading Tom Dixon's Design studio, acting Professor of Design at l'ESAD in Reims France, to having been appointed Creative Director of the Scandinavian luxury brand Georg Jensen. Tonight we're going to be talking a little bit about his career and then he'd going to be presenting 'Truth in Design' which features and explores the concept of truth in design, tracing the art of design through its vision of research and evolution made to form. It is my pleasure tonight to present Todd Bracher.

So I want to tell you we're live streaming right now and its playing on Apartment Therapy's website. So if there's anything really important...pitch it to the camera.

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Todd a few weeks ago at the Navy Yard, in your studio. What was striking to me was when I met you, and as I said knowing very little coming in, I thought I was talking to an European. When you finally told me you were born and bred in Long Island, I did a double take. Then obviously, I found out about the stories and obviously we're going to talk about that but tell us about how you grew up and you got to Pratt, and how Pratt instead of introducing you to NY or the US actually turned you to Europe.

Todd Bracher:
Well I started designing after I finished Pratt in 96' for another designer here in NY and I was designing barbeque tools, spice racks and my favorite one of all was this thing called a Remote Control Caddy. It's this box that sits next to the sofa and holds all of your remote controls. And this is what I was doing, full-time.

MGR:
This is the 'Designer of the Year' talking.

TB:
There was a point where I realized this isn't what I went to school for. This isn't what I wanted from design or for my life. I wasn't learning and it wasn't exposing me to anything. I had no sense, literally. It was no ones fault it just wasn't where I landed. It was a very simple thing. A friend of mine, a designer, Mark Gets a friend from Pratt.

MGR:
who is still currently a teacher at Pratt.

TB:
Mark sort of nudged me, very politely, into furniture design. He just sort of pointed and said "take a close look at that". I fell in love with it and it meant so much, which we'll talk about. The beauty of it, the poetry of it, the history of it. All these things were sort of beautiful for me. Where did that take me but Copenhagen. I ended up a year later on a flight to Copenhagen.

MGR:
But it wasn't, you were supposed to still be at Pratt, but you went to Copenhagen because you got an opportunity to go there. Tell us about that.

TB:
Yes I had sort of accidentally; I ended up with a Full-Bright grant and that sent me to Copenhagen. I didn't expect to win it and I didn't expect anything from it and suddenly, a week before I needed to be in Copenhagen, I'd won this prize and I needed to be on a flight and I was not prepared at all. It was one of those things I did not prepare for.
MGR: and the prize as you explained to me, doesn't really give you anything. It put you into a program in Denmark. But it didn't give you a lot of money. And it also was for only a year.

TB:
No it didn't, that's right. Its mostly to fund your expenses but it turns out the school is free, as most European schools tend to be, so it was a great opportunity. So it more pointed me and open the door and got me going. It wasn't financially supporting me in any way, which was fine. You just do what you gotta do. A lot of sacrifices, a lot of not such good food for a long time, to get through it but...

MGR:
How old were you then?

TB:
I was 24.

MGR:
And so you'd been one year at Pratt...

TB:
No I did 4. The whole undergraduate program...

MGR:
Alright so you finished the program at Pratt. And then you...

TB:
I worked for a few years in New York. Realized it wasn't for me. At the time what design was in New York, wasn't for me. And that was as it turns out, furniture design; which was flourishing in Europe. That's where I wanted to be.

MGR:
Yes tell the difference, when you say furniture design was flourishing in Europe. Particularly in Denmark, What was the difference?

TB:
Well I tend to use the reference of the Yankees, for people who want to play baseball. Some people here in New York want to play for the Yankees and even if you live in England. It's not so easy. You need to move to NY to play for the Yankees. So at the end of the day, it feels like to get into that world of poetry and craftsmanship and history and all of these coveted qualities, that's the furniture world. For me, is based and built up around northern Italy and northern Europe.

MGR::
And Denmark, what you learned there; what you said to me was that you learn how to actually build and construct furniture, which was something you hadn't quite learned in the states. Explain that.

TB:
I have to say, Pratt was wonderful for me to really get a conceptual understanding of design, but it didn't have a practical side. It didn't really engage me on how to put the material together and things like this. So I felt confident in how to conceptualize and process, but the nuts and bolts of how to design I learned in Copenhagen. It was the foundation of it.

MGR:
and that program was very practical?

TB:
Yes very much so.

MGR:
And it was one year?

TB:
Two year course actually.

MGR:
OK, two year course. And then you said to me, having experienced Danish furniture design, you'd felt like if that was the Yankees, you'd done sort of the Miami version of the Yankees and there was another Yankees still to be discovered, and that was not in Denmark. And then you went where?

TB:
That's Milan. Anyone that's relatively familiar with this business knows somehow they're the kings and food tastes a little different at that table, so it's a nice place to be.

MGR:
What was the difference between the Danish approach to design and the Italian approach?

TB:
For me the Danish approach, it's very honest. It's very natural. It's very introvert in some ways. Take Jacobsen or take Kerholmes designs and they're very much about feeling good indoors. For me I very much connect that to the weather. They have sort of bad weather there, you could say. So they're colorful, warm and simple; whereas the Italians for me are more about poetry. More about the craftsmanship, more about the quality. They're both equally beautiful for me but somehow the Italians have a little more flair for it, I guess you could say. To me its poetry, that simple.

MGR:
So you went to Italy, without a, correct me because I have a terrible memory, but its usually a very dramatic memory. You went to Italy. You had no job in Italy. You had no reason to be there but you knew you had to get a job in Italy. You didn't have a lot of money, you went to a hotel and then you went...you wanted to work at Zonata.

TB:
Yes I wanted to design for them.

MGR:
You wanted to design for Zonata and they didn't know who you were.

TB:
No.

MGR:
and you...I can't remember if you called me or you mailed them a letter or knocked on their door but they said no repeatedly, tell us that story.

TB:
As any young designer knows, they're first question is how do you get in manufacturing? How do you get in production? How do you break in? and I had those same questions. When I first arrived to Milan, the first thing everyone told me was 'You need to know someone'. And I thought 'oh, I don't know anyone'.

MGR:
And you didn't even know the language.

TB:
No I didn't anything. So it was kind of, I don't know if its American sort of spirit or its ignorance. At the end of the day, I decided to just knock on the doors and show up. I remember calling Zonata over and over. They're an Italian manufacturer, a very prestigious brand for me. I'd call them every week and say "Hello, my name is Todd and I'm a young designer". Of course they didn't really find that interesting. So I didn't know how to get past that so I got to a point, I'll never forget. I basically lied and said I was right down the road, and can come in and show you my work? And then they said Yes and I actually wasn't. I had run out of ideas on how to get there. I made them feel bad that I was just so close that they had to let me in. but the good news is they said "we can't see you today so can you come back next week?" So I thought well that great! But then I realized I now need to design some really really great things.

MGR:
You didn't have anything?

TB:
No I didn't. This was going on for a long time, and I didn't know. I probably should have designed first and then called them.

MGR:
What id they had said "sure your down the road, come one by"?

TB:
I would have designed something while walking. I would have figured this out. What happened, to sort of finish the story, I finally got in there. I had my meeting. I showed 10 projects and I'll never forget it, they told me "We make one sofa a year, one table a year, and one chair a year. And we get 300 proposals a week, so why would we make your work? And I said I don't know. So they also said well you're American and at the time I was 26 years old.

MGR:
And your not even speaking Italian

TB:
No and I felt like boy I really don't know what I got myself into. But somehow I showed them a couple of pieces and they let me feel kind of bad about it and then I left,

MGR:
You left, thank you very much. Close the doors and then?

TB:
I left and then I went to call my mother to just say "Hi Mom" and hi to my brothers to just say I finally got in and had my meeting and as it turns out it was Zonata that was calling at that moment, five minutes after I saw them. I answer the phone and they were laughing, I mean really laughing. They really had taken fun and they said your sofa you showed us we want to make it. just send us your drawings as soon as possible. They really gave me a hard time and it was really funny. That's a great part of all the Italian manufacturers. They have a great sense of humor. They understand what it means to a young designer. To have my first project made was with them and that was my dream and somehow it was the first thing that happened so it was a great start. So the table is one of their products.

MGR:
Right here. So you found a home in Milan, you'd been in Denmark for two years, but you still got 6 more years to go. But all of those 6 years you spent in Milan.

TB:
Well no, I spent 2 years in Milan, I was also working for another designer, to pay the bills, part time. While I was still coming up with things for myself, knocking on doors.

MGR:
Because after all that was only one sofa.

TB:
That's right.

MGR:
I mean that was a huge success but that's just one sofa. And you don't get paid a lot.

TB:
You get paid very little and it takes many years of actually very good successes to start to generate some income with it. But at the same time while you're building that income, certain pieces are starting to die that you've already set in motion from years earlier. So it's a bit like plate spinning.

MGR:
Explain how that works because I'm not sure everyone knows how designers make a living. But its different in Europe than the US, but when Zonata said we would like to buy your sofa design, in essence they don't pay you anything up front right?

TB:
No

MGR:
So its not like a publisher gives you an advance. They simply take the design and then you have a royalty based on the sales of that sofa, is that right?

TB:
Well you know it works in all different kinds of ways. I mean I would dare to say each designer has a unique scenario. Some get paid advances, some get paid a fee, some don't. You know it depends. When you're a young designer, its very very difficult, I would say nearly impossible to get any money from a company because they don't know what you can deliver for them.

MGR:
So it's a speculative thing for them?

TB:
Absolutely. Assuming in that role they do take on your product, then yes you do take on a royalty based on the amount of sales each quarter. So which adds up to very little money. Also knowing we're making niche product. We're not selling things that they're making hundreds of thousands of.

MGR:
It's not Walmart.

TB:
No very very small quantities of things. Slow production, high price points, you know its not the ideal scenario to earn money in. But it's a fun scenario. You know you go in to the workshops and into the factories and you're seeing things you cant imagine that they have the skill to do. The craftsmanship and they're love for it. That's the part that you get addicted to. That's the part you want to be involved in not the money end of it because it's not there. But somehow you go back for more because you love that behind the scenes part. It's just so beautiful.

MGR:
So then you also ended up in England at Tom Dixon. Tell us a little bit of that trajectory. You went Denmark, Italy, England.

TB:
Yeah, I had gotten a job offer from Tom. Tom Dixon is another, he's a UK based designer and some of his pieces are floating around.

MGR:
How did he hear about you? You seem to meet people by knocking on doors, I'm curious.

TB:
That's exactly what happened. I knocked on Habitats door. They're a shop, kind of like a convent shop in the UK and Tom was the creative director there. Coincidentally but I knocked on Habitats door with some furniture ideas. Maybe they would produce it like Zonata produced my furniture. They tend to sell more than Zonata. Somehow Tom saw the work and very fortunate for me decided to make an offer where he would have me to go his office instead. He also had his own brand as a designer and to go help grow that for him. So I then left Milan to London.

MGR:
So he just saw your work on paper, he must see many designers as well, but he said I'd like you to come work for me.

TB:
I mean I think it was just good timing. It was one of those things. There are a lot better designers out there it. It was just one of those good timing things.

MGR:
Alright, and then George Jensen.

TB:
Yes. Jensen I have been designing for I guess since 2003-2004. And doing several products for them. Some of them are up here. I've done, I don't know, 8 or so products for them. Over the years the relationship just got closer and closer. To the point where there was an opportunity to do a creative direction for them. And if anyone knows also Jensen, they're famous for their watches, for their silver smiths, and also they're jewelry. And then they also have a living collection. So I had this opportunity to help steer them and to work with them, strategically, not just as a designer. I started to realize there was more to design not just drawing and making product. You realize you can have influence on their company and help grow their business. So the business side of design started to open up for me and I realized there is a whole new world there and that's sort of now what bring me into the US market. Its that sort of more of a business skill or mindset, combined with European design language or European design skills, I'm not sure how to phrase it.

MGR:
So you came back to the states just 3 years ago? 4 years ago?

TB:
4 years ago, yup.

MGR:
When you came back, what did you, having been away so long, what did you notice was the chief difference between the design world as you came to know it in Europe and back here in the States?

TB:
Well I had already preconceived notions of not wanting to be here. I was convinced that this was not a place for me. I knew I left it for reasons. It wasn't anything patriotic it was about business and the love I have for, for example, Italian manufacturing. I don't see that here because I don't know it. So I had fears. Now having spent a few years here I'm learning there are things here. There are gems here. There are new opportunities. I'm realizing as myself, the young designer, I have to learn how to branch out and evolve. This is a new territory for me and this is a wonderful place to start exercising muscles I didn't have.

MGR:
Has the US design or manufacturing business changed? I sense the recession hasn't been good for anybody, and certainly not for the home and design furnishes business. But from your perspective, having been here for the last four years, how do you see it?

TB:
It has changed. I'm not sure I'm the best one to say it. You know everyday my opinion changes to or about what something is. You know everyday it's something different. I mean I feel like design is becoming, I mean just take ICFF for example. This week, it feels like it's grown 2x than what it was last year. Before that 2x than what it was prior. I feel like there's a real awareness for it. Young designers have platforms now. It's still far behind, I think, European design but in the appreciation for it, I don't know, or the desire for it, but the designers here...I really feel like, the new generation specifically, probably the generation behind me, are a lot more savvy. They're a lot stronger. I think they have a will that didn't exist in my generation at the time. I think that is really going to start to push this thing in the right direction.

MGR:
In terms of people who buy design, and peoples relationship to their home; you explained that in Denmark, they have a very strong affinity for their homes and their interiors. I think you told me when you first got there, no one would invite you into their homes for a number of months because you were a stranger. That was a very important boundary to cross, to have someone in your home. Do you think that in terms of design and the way people in this country are relating to products or furniture or objects, with more of a design sensibility, that there's been a change?

TB:
I think so, I mean, gosh it's really hard to say. I think it all depends. I mean New York City for example is very different than the rest of America. People here I don't think we live inside our homes. I think people prefer to live out in Café's, out in restaurants; Its' less about the furniture. Also space is very small, it's very expensive. So you have a different quality of life, lets say indoors, than unlike, lets say in Denmark, where it is about being inside. Its not a café culture so to speak. So I also think that perpetuates how design is understood.

MGR:
So you said to me people design things based on their environment. So if you're an indoor cultures, that flavors the things you make. If you're an outdoor culture, and I think you described NY particularly as a very outdoor culture. Very modern culture in the sense that it was about doing things, that that would give it a very distinctive taste to American design.

TB:
That's right.

MGR:
Do you think having been here four years and there ten years, Do you see your design as being a mixture?

TB:
I don't know.

MGR:
and has it become rapidly more American as you sit here on the stage?

TB:
I don't know. I think when I start thinking about the new work we have coming out in the next few months, I wouldn't say its different. It's just, I don't know. For example some things here aren't made for business. You know, they're made for, I guess they're more the Italian side of me and what I think is very indulgent; and I a nice idea. For me, now, as I also get older as a designer, my skills are changing, so I really don't want it to be about me. These are some of the first pieces, and it's not about me. It's about the client. It's about their customer. It's about their business and their solutions and that's it. So I try to really let go of my opinions which you'll see in the presentation. Its really, I think for me, it's hard to gauge how my designs are because I'm also changing. Maybe the environment is changing but so am I.

MGR:
Lets go to your presentation then. Take it away.

TB:
OK. I brought along a few pieces. So today we're here. I just want to make this quick. I guess we have like 15 minutes or so?

MGR:
Yeah. More than that if you'd like.

SLIDESHOW

• To see and hear full slideshow skip ahead to video minute 38:35.

TB:
Just to fly through. I like to talk about truth in design. For anyone that's ever worked in a studio, again thank you to Decko out there. Thank you Decko. A big part of what I do is thank you to that guy. He always hears me harping on these big things we talk about, these big concepts of truth. What's truth about? One thing we try to do is make design that is authentic. Something that's not, it doesn't come from somewhere. It just is what it is.

Some of the examples I use for example is a tree. A tree is not something you evaluate because it looks beautiful or not. It's a tree because it has to be this shape, whether you like it o not, fair enough. But its not about ugly or beautiful, or that branch is in the wrong place. It doesn't work that way. It takes it shape based on its function. Its beautiful because it's being so authentic or in this case truthful.

So just to walk through a couple of concepts: So for example, Darwin's finches, in the Galapagos. To me is the perfect example of truthful design. You know you have, what are these? This is this bird that Darwin studied in the Galapagos. Which, when they study on how it feeds, it has variation. It has evolved in various different ways; a bird that eats insects versus a bird that feeds on nectar has a different shaped beak. It's kind of fascinating when you start to understand, it's that simple. The application affects what the product is and Darwin shows it perfectly. Natural selection, to me, shows perfectly how we work. So that's what we try to do.

Pin it button big

Now we talk about this concept. It sounds fancy, but we talk about irreducible complexity. If you take for example a mouse trap. It's the perfect example of irreducible complexity. Where you can't take away the spring, or it wont work. You can't take away the wooden board, or it wont work. So always, its about, we reduce it as far down as possible. Again it sounds obvious but its taking away even emotional ideas or conceptual ideas or psychological aspects. We try to carve all these aspects and bring it down further to something that cannot be reduced. If it did, it wouldn't work. So that's how boiled down we try to take, everything we do. So this is not a great example but its bread. Bread is, the recipe for bread is perfect. You can't take away sugar, you can't take away egg, you can't take away milk, It doesn't work. So its really, the ingredients that we cook that work, it's the same process, so if that makes sense.

Then we talk about this idea of singularity. For me singularity is best described by Hokusai; who was an 18th-19th century illustrator. Japanese and brillant brillant. He had an obsession with Mt. Fuji. He would draw it repeatedly over and over. I had read a kind of semi-fictional interview with him and it resonated with me. He was saying something, the interviewer was saying something. You're really good at drawing Mt. Fuji now, you've been drawing it now for, he was 60 years old or so. You've been drawing it for 30 years, you're really good at it. He would say well when I was 30 it used to take me, lets say, 50 lines to draw Mt. Fuji, to say what I want to say. But when I became 40, I was down to 25 lines, and I could still say what I wanted to say about this mountain. Now that I'm 50, I'm down to 15 lines. So he's saying the same story he was saying with 50 lines but with only 15, so he's getting better. So he says, but I hope I can really live to be 115. And of course she laughs and she goes so, you can just draw it in one line? And he was very very seriously apparently, and he says no no, so I can draw it with one point. And when I think about it, it's, and again I'm sorry Decko. It's what we try to do. We try to push it to that absolute minimum. Its not about minimalism, its about essentialism. Its again back to the tree, its not growing extra bits for the fun on it. It needs it so it's there. So it's how can we be singular and that's where the truth is. Its like a mathematical formula. It's something that is undeniable.

And now to take you into some of the work; when I think of truth in one thought. I'm just going to keep on going. I took a flight to Brazil and it was sort of fascinating for me. I had landed off the flight and I looked up, and I'd wanted to do this for a long time. Meaning I went from the n=Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and I looked for the moon. It was true he moon was upside down. I remember being just amazed by this and I thought I never really realized how the moon really looked. It was different. But then I realized ok, I'm upside down not the moon. But just to move forward, I started to realize the moon had the beauty again, it was like rediscovering it. I started to envision it as what if it was just turned a little bit? It took us to this lamp, which is you know just a simple idea but taking a clear, singular idea and just making it obvious. What it is, is a simple dome lamp but its opaque. It doesn't have a transparent or translucent top. Because the moon doesn't generate light, the moon reflects light. There's something really beautiful about that. So its about reflecting light outside this sphere.

For this idea of personality; If we could capture, what is the truth in personality. I go to this image of Cindy Crawford. One time in my apartment in Milan, I was sitting there holding a photograph and I'll never forget it, it was this photo. I'm sitting there thinking why is Cindy Crawford so wonderful? Why does everyone love her? I realized its not about anything other than her beauty mark, a point on her face. That's sort of her signature. So I thought well how can I take that into furniture? How can I take that personality? This Todd table was the result of creating something that knows it'll never be the most important piece of furniture in the room. It's just a beauty mark for the room. It has this shape so that it can always sit next to something, so that its not alone. It's always going to be over the sofa or next to the bed. It has this form that belongs next to something. So that's really where it ideas for this came from.

Desire is something. You know it's always the intention part of the design. We always try to capture it. In this image for me and on to the next slide. It's this vase where we try to capture something that you want. It's just something that you want to appreciate and be close to. It's something that, for me, I'm exploring. I'm not saying that these are the answers. These are just explorations. So the Flora vase is that; we're trying to capture desire in an object.

Use is something kind of fascinating for me. What is truthful in youth? This image for me is the perfect image. Apparently they were found from Chimps. Chimps used them as digging tools, and foraging tools and so on. It's beautiful because they're not styled. They're not made from a designer. They're made for use and that's all. For me this is what we should have for tools. The next image was my interpretation in that wood can be just a tool for us. It's not trying to be beautiful. It's having the material formed only to be the material and that was the intention.

With truth in decoration, I love the idea of truthful decoration. If you go onto the next slide, I'm not a decorative person. I feel uncomfortable with it because it doesn't have meaning for me. But then I look at this image and I think of course this is decorative but it has absolute meaning. It's intentional its not for fun. This lead me into the collection for Swarovski. We did this chandelier and I was terrified to make a decorative chandelier for Swarovski like this. This isn't what I do but going through the process, we discovered we can make something decorative but still have purpose and meaning.

Evolution, again, evolution weeds out untruths. If you go onto the next slide, when making a project, a table project for example, we referred to this image. A million year old evolved fish skeleton. It's been through the test of time to define structure and strength. This image shows the results of creating this structure based on forms and geometry. Based on what we have already defined what works in nature; rather than me trying to style something. It doesn't matter what I think, it matters how it functions. Nature of course takes us there.

How do we live? Its something that when I travel, it's a wonderful thing. You see things for new each time. So how do we live is a wonderful thing. I think of people don't always sit in chairs. They don't always use furniture the way we expect them to or how we design them too. In this image we try to create a sort of station. What do you do when you relax? What do you do when you read? It's sort of taking the lounge and giving it more purpose, I guess you can say.

But sometimes, sometimes for sure its ok to lie. That's something we also take very very seriously. This stool for Capalleni is very very important for us. It's not trying to be obvious. It's saying you cant sit on this thing, it doesn't work. It's not going to hold you up. It's not going to be useful or safe. It's not going to be comfortable. Somehow, you just ignore the rules and we find something else that opens up our mind too. Its an exploration for us. So in some ways its also sort of fun to experiment with even sort of the taboos for design. That's what I wanted to share. That's all.

AUDIENCE Q & A

MGR:
We're open to questions from the audience. I want you to explain, the very last slide was the Capellini stool. Even though you said, its ok to lie. It works and its been reduced to a singular form. It works because of the joints. You explained the joint to me. Explain the joint to the audience how this works. How the thing we're sitting on looks like it should break but it doesnt.

TB:
I mean as a designer I tend to make things which are obvious how they work, that's what I like to do, and this was my way of lying; and making something that isn't obvious. The idea behind it was just, thinking commercially to, architects don't want to have really shapey objects at the bar. I wanted to make something that disappears. Something that you could just line up 30 of these at the bar and they're not there; that was the intention. But I wanted again to reduce it, why do we need four legs if we only have to have this. So the idea behind it was sort of the magic or the lie, is the joint. What it is, is a solid filler inside. What we've also done is where the leg goes down to the floor, its also cut away. So that you're really getting a lot of surface to connect. This may be boring for a lot of people but, in the end your getting kind of a magic trick with the material. It just doesn't look like it wants to do that. But Capellini is also, they have really good guys inside. They were able to make it look effortless, look like it actually doesn't do what it does.

MGR:
and it's heavy. Its much heavier than you'd expect. Do you have any questions for the audience Todd?

TB:
What? No. I mean I'm curious. What sort of people do we have here today? Do we have designers? Do we have fans of design? What sort of students? Just a mix?

MGR:
How many out there are actually designers? Raise your hand. A number. How many people are fans of design, not designers, just fans? A more number. How many are doctors? Just kidding. It sounds like an even mix, about equal.

Question 1:
Maxwell, Hello? I have a question for Todd. Was there a designer or artist that had a great deal of influence on the direction that you decided to take?

TB:
I mean there's always, boy, that's a tough one because it changes all the time. I'm less inspired by designers and design, I can appreciate them for sure. For me its more music or more about, even theater or even fashion. Things like this inspire me. I guess, for example, going to the opera and seeing something I couldn't or would ever make. That inspires me and that gets me excited. Going to see other peoples furniture, its interesting but it doesn't inspire me, so to speak.

MGR:
Even when you were at Pratt, and you were wanting to be a designer?

TB:
There's names like Enzo Mari, for example, who is I guess you could say one of my heroes in design, and Castiglione, if you know their work. They're really about, they're the classic Italian designer. They take away everything and you see the skeleton of what it is and the truth of it. Those are the guys you could say that really influence me.

Question 2:
So you were just commenting on the weight of that chair, and its true, that stool is actually really really heavy. Those tables are really light, and I've actually noticed that about your pieces. Do you ever think about the weight of the things that you create? Is that part of the process and the design? Like think about what it feels like to physically lift or work with that thing in the space?

TB:
Absolutely. It's important depending on the product or what the context is. Its very much about, heavy products maybe consume a lot of material but its also part of the experience, you know. These are a little heavier than we'd like them to be but they don't move around. You don't need them to move around. Where as certain tables, like the small table there, you tend to float it around the space, so they need to be a little bit lighter. Yeah we do take into consideration.

Question 3:
Ciao, Come estai? I'm an interior designer but was living in Milano. I lived there just over a year until last summer, but I was just wondering I guess, if you were more inspired by the craftsmanship in Northern Italy and/or the design aspects. Theres the whole gamut there from the really streamline, sleek modern to the uber traditional. I guess for me I tend to go toward the modern, contemporary design, but I was fascinated by the really elaborate designs that I could see being stripped down to more simple forms and translated into modern design.

TB:
Am I more attracted to, or what specifically about Italian design am I attracted to?

Question 3:
Yeah, is it more craftsmanship? Or what elements were you finding inspiring?

TB:
I think it's the challenges. What do I find inspiring or engaging about Italian design, so to speak? It's the challenges. You can draw certain things, but when, you know this chair; I've been told it can't be built. You know, but you to the Italians and they say, don't worry about it we'll figure it out. That's the thing that super super special about the Italians. They have this desire to want to challenge and to show you that they have these amazing skills and they're not lazy about it. They're able to take things to a level that you cant. It's a collaboration. I don't go make it. they're the guys making it. So at the end of the day its as good as they can build it. That's how good it'll be. Only, mostly with the Italians, when I walk in to see the final finished product, it's better than I thought it could be. They bring their part which is at a higher level than a lot of people. So that's the part that's exciting.

MGR:
Have you ever designed something that couldn't be built?

TB:
Yeah, all the time.

TB:
Yes, Hi. I don't really have a question I'm just actually a manufacturer.

MGR:
Oh good a manufacturer, we need one.

Question 4:
We are B&B Italia. What I want to comment is that, we actually sell things that we make, that people design. We don't sell paper. Knowing the history behind it, how the designer gets inspiration and knowing what it means to them, its very important to communicate with the people. Because sometimes they think we're just selling very expensive, unnecessary stuff and I don't think that's really the case. These are objects that help us and we love, and we live with. We have real people making them. These people make good salaries and they live very beautiful lives,. I think that's a nice thing to communicate as well.

TB:
Absolutely.

MGR:
I hope people heard that. Todd you said you've been to Milan how many times, the furniture fair?

TB:
16, 16 years

MGR:
16 years.. I went for the very first time, last month, having never been. It is remarkable to see the different approach to furniture that lives in Europe compared to here. I think it's very much informed by the fact that our culture has become used to very cheap products. We tend to see something and gauge it immediately by price, or look. When you look at furniture in Milan at the furniture fair, its almost like going to High Point; which is actually a very cool furniture market in North Carolina. But its very different in Milan, its like an art show. I think I asked you about that. what is it about that, even a design, that I wouldn't consider my style that is very idea driven, that makes a European love it so much. I think you said there's two things. One they intend to live with something for a long time, and it has to be incredibly well made. They don't just look at the shape and the form; they look at the stitching. They look at the whole thing, they turn it upside down. Its that value, and the story, I think you were explaining, which is part of what people are wanting to bring home.

Question 4:
Yes, Italians as a whole, but especially people of Milan, they are very proud of what they do. Whether it is stitching, ironing, they're just really proud. When you go to Milan, if you go to a bar and someone makes you a coffee, they want to do the best espresso for you. They're proud about that. Whether it's a shoe salesman, a coffee maker, a sew-er, making clothes in a factory or a factory that is making furniture. They call it the brianca bubble. All of it is just manufacturers, some bigger, but they're all in the same area. They just talk between them, and they just want to be better every time. They work during the week and at the end of the week they go out for lunch or to play golf, all to the same place; and they talk about what they did. On Monday everyone goes back to the factory, and they try to make it better. They're really really proud of what they do.

MGR:
Todd, you told me a story, you were teaching Italian students, about, you were teaching design, you said "I was looking for the fact that Italian student were going to be geniuses and American students didn't compare" and you said "no no no, the Italian students can be lazy too."
Students are students around the world. But you said at a moment they were saying that they didn't understand how to do something. You said go down the street and into the factory and ask the man how he's making the furniture and he will teach you. Tell that story.

TB:
That's right. I mean that's a luxury, specifically, this was in Treviso, and that's a luxury they had there. American students, meaning when I was an American student, you learn about design through books or maybe at the museum or some exhibits. But to go to the factory and to learn directly and watching the guy make it wasn't an option. I found it fascinating in Treviso, in the school, speaking with the students about the particular process, which comes from that region, they didn't know anything about it. They would go and Google and they'd start to read and it also blew my mind so the point was you're coming with me and we got everyone in the car and we drove to the factory and we all went in. Spoke to them and it sort of set a light on in their eyes. You could see it. now they sort of understand it and learn it and its fun. To me there's sort of a luxury there. Even the student there and speaking to the other professors, they say they don't take advantage of it. People get lazy. As a young designer its important to go knock on doors and educate yourself first hand, not just look in the books or the magazines.

MGR:
Because the design is happening on the factory floor, not just the designers studio.

Question 5:
Hi Todd, I just had a question about any new projects you're working on right now, and some that are in the US. Do you want to talk about those and maybe how manufacturing in the US is different than overseas.

TB:
Yeah sure. There are 3 new products we're going to introduce in June at Neocon in Chicago. One is an ergonomic side chair for a company called Human Scale. Another is what they call a "collaborative seating collection", which is kind of lounge office furniture. So people can work within a more comfortable environment, lets say. The last collection is a carpet collection; a carpet tile collection for major contract applications. So not for the home. If I could fill you in on that one.

To me, that one is more interesting to talk in this context. If its interesting to talk about. You know what we're doing, going back to the process and how we work, how do we do carpet tiles now? How do we do two-dimensional, flat, flooring? How do we bring this sort of process and function into the room? We've done a kind of experimentation with a new process; which was taking...I wanted to create a collection that was identifiable for people but also relatable for people. I remember also as a kid, going to a museum, going to MOMA with my mother and she would show me, for example a Cy Twombly painting or drawing and then not liking it. So then someone would explain what's wonderful about it and I would realize it's wonderful and now its my favorite piece. Same with Branchusio or whoever it was. The moment you understood what it was about, I fell in love with it. So I thought well how can I make patterns in rooms so that when they see it, they will understand it and appreciate it? So we've taken music, four genres of music which of course is audio and had software written, so to collect the data. So if you put a classical song in, out comes a graphic image. Its really fascinating, kind of an interacting process. This graphic image w'eve had sort of altered to be put in carpet. So we're introducing these several collections based on music. Now when someone walks in and sees these stripes and they know its music they can almost see the flow of music. And the Philip glass quality to the music and you can see it come together in that sort of quality. So its things like that we're experimenting with.

For Human scale its an office chair. Its about ergonomics. Its about making a low cost, lower cost, lower impact chair. One that can sell well and really be a comfortable piece. And really exist in the office environment. And also be something new that can take them into the international market. Its not just a technical piece, it can take them anywhere, it not just a chair.

MGR:
He didn't have pictures tonight, but that chair is interesting. As you explained, the Aeron chair, which you said is classic. It has like 12 things on it that make it move in many directions, most of which you never touch. So the chair you're designing gets the same or close the same range of motion...

TB:
No its not that extreme.

MGR:
It has a lot of range of motion, but it doesn't have all the bells and whistles. So it can deliver a great deal, at a lower price point with less material.

TB:
Yeah, our point was we've taken how a lobster functions and how the exoskeleton of the lobster can articulate, the tail but the meat is the body and how they relate to each other. That's what we've done with the chair. We wanted to have a back, a seat, a leg and just one piece and that's it, to control the articulation. We managed to do that, of course with the help of the Human Scales team. To achieve this sort of incredibly technical solution with just one piece of material, sort of a very simplified chair, which we're happy about.

MGR:
and it does exactly what the Aeron does. No not quite.

Question 6:
Hi Todd, I have a question for you regarding American manufacturing. Now that you've been back in the United States, have you been trying to find any local vendors or American vendors to produce your furniture or do you think there's more appreciation for design with all the exposure we've been getting with the collaborations. Do you think they're more hope for manufacturing to be based back here in the United States, and for to be able to pay attention to some of the fine details that some of the European manufacturers pay attention to?

TB:
I mean yes, I don't know how to answer that actually because yes, and again, my opinion changes all the time. I feel like a lot of the responsibility for the American manufacturing is on the designer. I feel like the designers have to be, and I'm not saying I'm there yet either I need to still figure it out, but the designers need to be clever enough to see what company can use what, and how to grow. I think waiting for a manufacturer to call us up and help them grow is not that realistic. I think in this environment all the time. So I feel like its more on the back of the designers, to take the responsibility to take somehow getting a business s model together for a company to show, this is how we can grow. Doing design is such a small part of actually being a designer. I think that's something as a young designer, we need to understand more.

Question 7:
Hi I feel like in a relatively short period of time, you've been exposed to a lot of cultures and lived in a lot of different places. I was just wondering if you feel like now, here in America, is this your home or do you feel like there are still other places you want to explore? Other cultures you want to be apart of? Or other ideas?

MGR:
Is he moving soon, is what your asking.

Question 7:
Yes.

TB:
I'm running out of places to go. No I have no plans of moving, I think each place you go feels like a new mountain to climb. Each time you feel like you've climbed that mountain for whatever respect that is. You realize there's just a plateau and then there's another huge mountain to climb. It's just a good sign of growing. I feel like, I guess I'm 36 and I feel like I'm just getting started. I feel like now I'm started to understand better what we're doing with design. I'm more comfortable with the process of it. I felt moving around was more collecting information and data and now I feel like I've got enough to start putting something together with it so I don't have any plans on escaping, no.

Question 8:
Some of the major fashion designers have started to work with Target and Top Shop and have a lot of exposure to the broader public, is that something you see as a possibility to bring truth and design to a larger audience as a different price point.

TB:
I have no problem with that. I would love that. We're trying to. It's not, I know for myself I'm trying to figure out how to change, I know how to describe it but you're also searching for a way to make design more accessible for us. Meaning what we do not just exclusive in each things and I don't know yet how to do it. I'm sure its there. I just don't know yet. But there is definite room for it and it needs to be there. I think, I mean you could even say Apple computers. Its still an expensive product but they've become such a cliché to bring up. But they're so good and they are making mass products at an incredibly high level of design. I think in America, its understood technology. So that's something that is so easy to understand. But to convince someone this chair is beautiful and to get them to understand, that's not so easy from my perspective.

MGR:
It's true about computers. We've become very familiar with design living in our technology more than our furnishings.

Question 9:
Hi, have you ever considered acting as the manufacturer? I'm sure you have some ideas floating around that your in love with but maybe a manufacturer hasn't taken to et. Have you ever considered using kick starter or does that not interest you since you do have a lot of companies that you seem to be collaborating with kind of on the same wavelength. There's a lot of buzz among product designers right now as far as taking an idea and acting as the manufacturer. Finding and sourcing, making it exactly the way you want to make it, and then selling it. Kick starter is a website where you actually sell something and you get funding. There was a project recently, by an American designer, Scott Wilson, that I think he raised half a million dollars or something.

MGR:So you become a producer as well as a designer. You basically own it.

TB:
Yeah, I mean, it's something that I think about a lot but I don't really see myself in the near future doing something like that. But that's for right now. But like I said I change my mind all the time. So I don't know but I know what you mean on kick starter specifically but I'm no so interested in making a product. I'm more interested in what is sort of the global approach. To do that, that's a much bigger effort in my mind, and bigger investment of time and resources. So I feel like if I'm interested in making a vase, then that's one thing. But I don't think that way. I don't think of one thing. I tend to think of how can something be a family or a collection or influence companies. I try to and I try to have a relationship with companies where I really can help grown their business. My brain is always there. My mind set is always there. So to think outside of that, as a single product to get source and tooled up, and promoted, tt's a whole other world. Maybe in time, but no, no plans in the moment or anything like that.

MGR:
It's interesting in that your approach is very light in a way, more artistic. But it also feels like its very collaborative. So your love of design is being able to work with the craftsman in Italy or the folks at Humanscale. I don't hear from you the sense that you're an island you do it yourself, because that's not quite what gives you the pleasure.

TB:
Its not about me, that's for sure. It's really about the company and the relationships. That's the part that I love. To do it on my own for myself is just no fun.

MGR:
Otherwise you'd be a painter alone in a studio.

TB:
Potentially.

MGR:
I want to thank you first. We're not done. Because Todd you get to pull out, one name from the hat. Whoever that is, please come up. This is the vase I believe. Would you like to say anything about this before we give it away?

TB:
Is there a Glenn Walco?

MGR:
I want to thank Todd for being with us tonight. I want to thank, we had a great volunteer tonight who helped us at the door, Megan Richie. I want to thank Herma

You might also like

Recommended by The Kitchn

Categories

Maker Talks, Video

Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.

0 Comments