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Profiling the Masters: Alvar Aalto

Recognized today as one of the great masters of architecture, Alvar Aalto’s influence on design is undeniable.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

Photo: Eino Mäkinen, Alvar Aalto Museum.

His architecture is uniquely Finnish, and distinctive for its strong relationship to nature, emphasis on function, and attention to detail.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World's Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Finnish Pavilion, 1939 World’s Fair, designed by Alvar Aalto. Gelatin silver print. Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust. Image courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, copyright Ezra Stoller/Esto, Yossi Milo Gallery.

Aalto began to think of furnishings as a natural extension to his architecture.  In fact, his first pieces of furniture were created in 1931-32 for the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Paimio, Finland.


Paimio Sanatorium in Finland

Not only was the architecture of the sanatorium optimized to provide ample sun and fresh air – the only then-known cure for tuberculosis – but its furniture was designed be an instrument of healing as well.  The Paimio chair, below, was designed at an angle to provide ease of breathing for patients.


Aalto’s Paimio Chair

Using birch wood native to Finland and a belt wood technique he himself pioneered, Aalto created iconic products from the stacking Stool 60 to the Armchair 400.  Many of his designs continue to be produced by Artek, a company he co-founded.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Armchair 400 and Stool 60, both designed by Alvar Aalto.

Aside from his furniture, Aalto designed a staple of modern designed spaces worldwide, the Aalto vase:


The Aalto Vase

Aalto’s work was well received in the U.S. and the Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition of his work in 1938.  The influence of his work can be seen throughout time in designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, who also shared a similar spirit for humanistic design.

Learn more about the masters of design here.

What Happens When You Buy a Knockoff?

Recently, Be Original Americas jetted off to Sin City for a panel at Las Vegas Market with industry experts to address the problem of knockoffs in design.

DJ Carey, Editorial Director of Cottages and Gardens, kicked off the talk by confessing herself to once buying a knockoff handbag in New York for her child.  “What happens when a consumer buys a knockoff?  What are the ramifications?” she asked.

What followed was an expert breakdown of the implications a consumer takes on when purchasing a counterfeit piece:

Jaime Derringer, Founder of Design Milk, joined in to share her experience once owning knockoff Bertoia chairs, an iconic design manufactured by Knoll.  “They were the most uncomfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in.”  Speaking generally about knockoff furniture, Derringer explained, “Even though the form from far away looks the same, once you get up close and start using it, you realize ‘this is not worth even the money I paid for it.'”

Designer Compensation
Josh Mintz, Dwell Store‘s Director of Merchandising, cited decreased designer compensation as a top result of buying knockoffs.  “[Designers and makers] are paying their bills through royalties,” Mintz explained.  “It’s a short cut taken by other people, to cash in on other people’s ideas and work.  […] The economy is rewarding people that it shouldn’t.”

The Creative Process
Knockoffs undermine the creative process, asserted Howard Thornton, SFMoma‘s museum store buyer.  Speaking about the investment of time, energy, and money that goes into a new product, Thornton said: “[Designers and manufacturers] are taking a risk to bring something to market. […] When somebody comes along and knocks that off, it undermines that process that people have invested in.”

The Economy
Citing a recent study on counterfeits, Carey explained: “The estimated global value of knockoffs is 1.77 trillion dollars, accounting for 5-7% of the world trade and 750,000 jobs that are lost each year.”

What effects of buying a knockoff would you add to this list?  Comment below or let us know via Twitter.

Profiling the Masters: Isamu Noguchi

Image Courtesy of Noguchi Museum

Image Courtesy of Noguchi Museum

“Everything is sculpture.” – Isamu Noguchi

As we take a look at design throughout history, no list would not be complete with Isamu Noguchi.

Born in Los Angeles in 1904, the midcentury master is perhaps best known for his eponymous Noguchi Table, a coffee table made of two interlocking curly cues of wood, topped with a triangular glass slab.  First created in 1947, the table continues to be produced by Herman Miller today.

Image Courtesy of Herman Miller

Image Courtesy of Herman Miller

Although hard to believe, Noguchi initially studied pre-med at Columbia.  It was during evening sculpture classes on New York’s Lower East Side that Noguchi found his true calling.

Noguchi traveled extensively, maintaining studios in Japan and New York City, and completing large scale works in Mexico.

A political mural created in Mexico, 1936.

A political mural created in Mexico, 1936. Image courtesy Noguchi Museum.

With work ranging from sculpture to set design to ceramics to furniture and lighting, Noguchi was never one to limit his work to any single discipline.  Over his lifetime, Noguchi collaborated with choreographers Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, and even muralist Diego Rivera.


Noguchi’s set design for Martha Graham’s Herodiade

Today, people flock to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.  Established by the artist himself, the space includes a serene outdoor sculpture garden and galleries full of his work.

Noguchi Museum

What is your favorite work of Noguchi’s?


Original Design: Where to Start?


Recently Be Original Americas joined the IIDA New York Chapter to discuss the importance of protecting designers’ original work.

Hosted in the NYC Herman Miller showroom, the panel was moderated by John Czarnecki, Editor in Chief, Contract, and included Dror Benshetrit, Studio Dror, Sam Grawe, Global Brand Director, Herman Miller, and Rebecca Dorris Steiger, designer, Gensler.

Kicking off the conversation, Benshetrit defined what makes something a knockoff, an inspired piece, or a completely innovative design with his “scale of originality”:

“At the very bottom of the scale, there are the direct knockoffs.  I want to make this chair exactly like that and I’m just going to make it because I can make it for cheaper, or whatever motivations I have.

Then of course the next level:  I’m going to be inspired by this chair to make something similar to it, and it has the flavor of this chair.

Up to, at the very top, past the roof of originality.  Let’s call it innovative, avant garde, cutting edge, ahead of the curve.”


Grawe took it one step further to explain the importance of design history:

“Nothing is completely original.  We are all influenced all of the time.  I think sometimes in design, designers want to create a picture, this divine inspiration.  Of course there are wonderfully innovative things that happen and designers have original designs and I think there’s companies that do things to foster producing those designs, but […] I also think that without Aalto you wouldn’t have Eames.”


For more, read Office Insight’s recap of this event.

Interesting in learning more about how originality can impact everyone?  Join Be Original Americas and learn more.  Our next talk will be with retailers at Las Vegas Market – we hope to see you there.

The Real Price of Knockoffs

What is the real price of knockoffs?  We’ve all heard how the culture of counterfeits has affected fashion and music, but how does this culture really affect the design industry?  How does it affect us on a human level, both as consumers and as makers?



Dwell on Design recently invited Be Original Americas to discuss this topic in Los Angeles.  Cory Grosser, Brand Strategist & Educator, moderated the talk with panelists Jaime Derringer, Founder & Editor, Design Milk, Jon Sherman, Founder & Creative Director, Flavor Paper, Josh Mintz, Director of Merchandising, Dwell Store, and Stanley Felderman, Designer, Felderman Keatinge + Associates.

To kick off the talk, Grosser asked Jon Sherman how knockoffs have impacted Flavor Paper’s business.

“As a manufacturer, you’re always trying to build trust with your consumers.  One of the things that comes along with building this trust is taking the time and spending the money to build a product that is trustworthy. People come to expect from your brand a certain type of quality, safety, durability, longevity.  And these things take time and money to ensure that it’s going to built into the products.  When people take something that has been tested and reproduce them with lesser quality materials, toxic based inks, things of that nature, they are not only watering down your design, but they’re also producing a product that’s inferior and risky.”


Switching focus to the internet, Grosser called the online marketplace a “breeding ground for copies.” Josh Mintz spoke about selling authentic design, from a merchandising perspective: “When we launched the Dwell Store business obviously there was a responsibility to lead the way in the same way that our editorial team has.  There was never a question as to whether we were going to sell authentic product.”

Explaining the royalty model, Stanley Felderman outlined how purchasing an inauthentic product directly hurts both individual designer and manufacturer:

“The economic model of being a furniture designer or someone that designs accessories is usually based on a royalty system.  So you may get some money up front, or you may not.  Everyone that sells – just like if you’re an author of a book – you get a percentage of that particular sale.  So if someone is moving their purchase from an original design to an inauthentic design, not only is the manufacturer not getting their sale, but the designer isn’t getting their royalty either.”


Jaime Derringer, speaking about the decline of innovation, argued that knockoffs are partly to blame:

“Purchasing inauthentic design stifles innovation in a sense, because you’re basically taking food off the plates of these designers and they go out of business and they’re no longer able to design or produce innovative product.  It’s really unfortunate because what you’re left with is lesser quality products.”

As a final word, Jon Sherman called on architects and interior designers in particular to step up their standards: “As a designer, what you’re selling is your thought and your originality, and so if you’re using a knockoff product you’re really belittling yourself and taking away from your own vision by not paying homage to those before you who have done the same.”

What is the most important argument for supporting authentic design to you?  How do you help spread the word about Be Original Americas?




WantedDesign: Discussing Authentic Design Online

Do you now shop more online than at brick-and-mortar stores?  In this new, ever-shifting marketplace, ensuring a purchase is authentic has become tougher than ever.  At the same time, “good design” has made online shopping thrive, as friendly user experiences make checking out from a desktop or smartphone easy and effective.

Left to Right: Gregg Buchbinder, Bradford Shellhammer, Max Fraser, and Amanda Dameron

Left to Right: Gregg Buchbinder, Bradford Shellhammer, Max Fraser, and Amanda Dameron

Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief of Dwell recently joined us at WantedDesign for an in-depth discussion on the topic, “Authentic Design Online.”  With the Conversation Room packed, Dameron was joined by Bradford Shellhammer, Founder and CEO, Bezar, Gregg Buchbinder, President and CEO, Emeco, and Max Fraser, design writer, curator and editor of London Design Guide.

The Conversation Room at WantedDesign

The Conversation Room at WantedDesign

How can the design community assert and promote quality through these intangible online channels?

Max Fraser spoke about the market’s priorities, citing price and comfortability as key, while Amanda Dameron brought up consumer confusion.  For example, one might confuse an authentic design, one known to be comfortable and well made, with an inferior knockoff:

“Of course, quality costs.  Sound manufacturing costs.”  Dameron discussed the disconnect in information at consumers’ fingertips:

Gregg Buchbinder further discusses consumer confusion, and shares an example of misinformation spread by a “design blog” online:

But what’s missing from the conversation?  The availability of affordable authentic alternatives for those who can’t afford a luxury item, says Bradford Shellhammer. Smart merchandising, he argues, can make an impact:

What do you see as the design industry’s biggest challenge in promoting authenticity online?  How do you ensure your online purchases are authentic?  Comment below or tweet us your thoughts @BeOriginalUSA.


Why Do You Support Be Original Americas?

Be Original Americas recently hosted their first annual members meeting at the Cooper Hewitt.  Bringing together supporters and members, the meeting outlined successes since founding and goals for the coming year.  (Check out more from our speakers, including Caroline Baumann, in our previous blog post!)

Aside from hearing from the charter members, we got the chance to speak to supporters about why this cause is so important.  Take a look:

Cliff Goldman, President of Carnegie, spoke about why original design is critical to the future of the industry:

Rebecca Doris Steiger, President of IIDA NY Chapter/Gensler spoke about the need to educate younger up-and-coming designers:

Derek Chen, founder of Council Design spoke about why being a member is valuable to his company:

Why is supporting Be Original Americas important to you?  Tweet us @beoriginalUSA!

Behind the Scenes: At the Annual Meeting

Recently, members of Be Original Americas all gathered at the newly opened Cooper Hewitt for the first annual members meeting.


Kicking off the evening, Caroline Baumann, Director of the Cooper Hewitt, spoke to a packed in crowd about the importance of design and more specifically original design.

Following Ms. Baumann’s inspired introduction, Jerry Helling, President of Bernhardt Design, a charter member of BeOA spoke to members about their responsibility in recruiting new members.

Beth Dickstein, President of bde and a co-initiator of BeOA, next spoke about the progress in the past year, including the launch of a new website and a sneak preview of an upcoming ad campaign.  She even hinted at a bit of exciting news that would soon be announced the next day – Be Original Americas’ choice as one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Design.


Next up, bde’s Director of Digital Media Kate Gagnon spoke about social media, the growth of BeOA’s channels, and how supporters can help spread the message. (Hint: Share it from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!)


Antoine Roset, Executive Vice President of Ligne Roset, next joined Beth to talk about upcoming events in 2015.  Get ready – they’re exciting!  Stay tuned for more info.


Last, but certainly not least, Coleman Gutshall, Director of Strategic Projects at Bernhardt Design spoke about exciting new projects coming down the road in 2015.  Again, stay tuned!


Overall, it was an inspiring meeting and wonderful kick off to 2015, a year sure to be transformative for BeOA.  We thank you for your support!

Now, it’s your turn.  Share the message of BeOA or become an official member today.

Profiling the Masters: Charles and Ray Eames


“The details are not the details.  They make the design.” – Charles Eames

As we take a look at some of the masters of design, no list would be complete without Charles and Ray Eames.  This husband and wife team created more than just a style or look, but infused their work with the type of “serious fun” they came to be known for.


From their bent plywood chairs,



To the iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman,


To the colorful shell chairs.

shell chairs

In 1946, the Eameses first exhibited their experimental new plywood furniture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and in 1948 the two participated in a low cost furniture competition hosted by the museum.

Beyond furniture, the duo built the Eames house in 1949 as their own private residence, made films, and designed showrooms and toys.  The Eames Office even designed the IBM Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

In the constant pursuit of new ideas, Charles and Ray Eames managed to create some of the most influential designs of the 20th century.  To this day, their work remains relevant, fresh, and innovative.  It’s been often said that the couple “just wanted to make the world a better place” and we couldn’t agree more.

What is your favorite design or quote by Charles and Ray Eames?