Ask a Retailer: Soft Square

In the movement to support original design, retailers hold a key role: they are the bridge between manufacturers and consumers, bringing designs from the production floor to people’s homes. To find out more, we asked our member Soft Square to tell us about being a retailer that supports original design. 

Tell us a bit about how you got started in the design world.

We first started selling furniture out of a small warehouse. We gradually took steps into expanding the ever-evolving Soft Square. To be in the design business, you have to have a passion for what you do along with tenacity and grit. Modern furniture & timeless design is something we have always loved.

How do you choose which designs you want to represent in your store?

When we go to Milan, Paris or Cologne for trade shows, we must always consider our clients & what makes sense for our market. We are very meticulous with the brands we bring into our store and they have to be original designs. The quality of the product is one of the most important aspects. At the end of the day, we only choose what we love. When clients come in the store they can see the passion behind each carefully selected item.

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions consumers have about authentic design?

One of the misconceptions is that people think they can get a similar item for a lesser price. When you buy a knock-off, for instance, it is not going to be the same quality as the original and won’t last as long. It’s worth paying a bit more and having the original piece, which will wear better and longer.

Continue reading “Ask a Retailer: Soft Square” »

The Originals: Kasper Salto

Kaspar Salto



What does “original” mean to you?
If we are talking about a person [original] could be misunderstood as strange or hilarious, but in the context of an object in design, I see it as something interesting. Even if it was a person, I would still consider very positive to be original – as the world of cultures and the Internet makes people more and more alike, thinking the same thoughts everywhere – original is something very valuable I think. New York is so wonderful because of the different cultures and people.


How does drawing inspiration from nature push you towards innovation in your designs?
No matter what your starting point is, I think your design method will predict your outcome. If you start up a design project only being inspired by nature there is a good chance you will end up with a project that is detached from being a fully functional design object. Too much “shaping” without and research and analytical method means that after a few years, the product will end up in the landfill. Design is not art, and art is not design: they are two different ways of working.


How has traditional Danish furniture been influenced by advancements in industrial design?
Danish design has always been influenced by foreign culture. Poul Kjærholm’s lounge chair PK 22 is led out from the Barcelona chair – far from imitation, but refined to be simpler, lighter, more lean in production and overall very pragmatic. The SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen by Arne Jacobsen must have been started from admiration of The Lever House in New York, designed 1952 by Skidmore and Owens and Merril. It’s not a copy [of The Lever House] but it has some links to it, and I am sure there are several things that have been improved in the later SAS Royal Hotel since 1955. When I recently created my NAP chair with Fritz Hansen, I looked at the PK9 chair – that has always been one of my favorite chairs. So you can say that a lot of architecture and design through history is built on the shoulders of something prior. “Design is to take something and make it better.”


Danish furniture designer Kasper Salto credits the beginning of his storied career to his design of the Runner chair, spotted in 1997 by Be Original Americas member Fritz Hansen. This marked the beginning of a successful and continued partnership with the company, including such iconic collections as NAP, Ice, and Little Friend. In 2004, Salto founded design company Salto & Sigsgaard with architect Thomas Sigsgaard, specializing in interior, product, and lighting design. Notable projects include winning a prestigious 2011 competition, allowing them to design new furniture for the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Today, the room is considered one of the three greatest Danish architectural masterpieces outside Denmark. Learn more at

The Originals: Harry Allen



What does “original” mean to you?

As a designer I make “original” happen every day. It’s part of my DNA. I am always seeking out new design territory — all of my products must forge new ground aesthetically, conceptually, and/or functionally. Otherwise, why design? Only original design is design.


How can trusting the intelligence of your audience lead to innovation in design?

For me, it’s not about dumbing down a product to fit a current trend, or copying something that has been done. I see it as my duty to lead, not follow, and it’s the best premise for design.  A good design mind is trained to see beyond what is already out in the world. It’s the definition of creativity — to create something new, and that is ultimately what consumers want — to be challenged, to bring great new products into their lives, to have their lives bettered by design. That is where consumer intelligence comes in — they can recognize a winner. Sometimes it takes some time, but if you design a great new product it always gets recognition — because people are basically pretty smart.


How effective is the use of new materials in helping to deter copycats?

I love new materials for all they can bring to a design. Right now I am working on a project with Ecovative, a material company that grows a wood-like product out of mushrooms, Designtex, who have developed a compostable fabric, and E2E who make a soy-based glue. I brought them all together in a new acoustic tile called” Weave” that will be manufactured by Ecovative. It is beautiful, functional, and environmentally sound. In fact, they are completely compostable. So in this case, the design of the product is great, but it is the materials that make it amazing. And I am pretty sure no one will be copying them anytime soon.



Harry Allen is the founder and president of Harry Allen Design. He has designed furniture, lighting, products, and interiors for a wide variety of international clients. His long-standing interests in art, new materials, and systematic design approach have led to some of the most intelligent products and interiors in the world today. Allen’s work is in the permanent collection of Museum of Modern art (NYC), the Brooklyn Museum of art, the Denver Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His awards include the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s Modernism/Young Designer Award and two Industrial Design Society of America IDEA Awards. 

Focus On: Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is what makes innovative ideas for authentic designs a reality. The skill of an artisan or a meticulously refined mechanical process incorporate the attention to detail and standard of excellence necessary to create objects that become a part of our lives and deepen our relationship with our environments. Fraudulent products, with their shoddy make and low-grade materials, fail to capture our imaginations with their rough approximation of the aesthetics and functions that make authentic products a success. Craftsmanship is the difference between objects that inspire, and ones that just take up space.

Designers of integrity know that their intended concepts for a new product or solution can only be articulated through the highest standards of materials and manufacture.  This month, we’re featuring some of our members who shared with us their stories of unique manufacturing techniques, material uses, and design practices that showcase the lasting value of authentic design.



SKRAM Collage

Skram Furniture Company emphasizes sustainable practices, authentic materials, and extraordinary workmanship. Their craftsmen utilize a mix of traditional techniques and cutting-edge fabrication processes to meet the highest standards of precision and durability.


Flavor Paper


Brooklyn-based wallpaper company Flavor Paper has mastered the art of large-format hand silk screening. Their diverse portfolio of expertly silk screened and digitally printed designs offer unparalleled customization and creativity to designers.



CERNO collage

Vertically-integrated Cerno makes all of their lighting designs at their own facility in Southern California.Founders Nick Sheridan and Daniel Wacholder are involded in each step of production, which includes both handiwork and modern technology.



NANI Colalge

nanimarquina brings manual production and contemporary design together by researching tools, looms, and craft heritage to achieve harmony between the design concept and finished product. In addition, nanimarquina produces their designs in developing countries to boost local economies and help build a brighter future for those involved in the rug-making process.



EMECO Collage


The iconic Emeco Navy Chair is crafted through a detailed, 77-step process. Recently, the Be Original Americas Summer Fellows visited their facilities in Pennsylvania to get a hands-on look at the famous production – read more at Interior Design.


As our members show, when objects are created with the intention of improving the lives of the end user – and not just cashing in on stolen profit – the manufacturing process features a commitment to sustainable, responsible practices and a high standard for quality control and materials that create true value. Follow us @beoriginalusa for more stories of craftsmanship and inspiration.

Summer Fellowship: Mid-Point Update


Left to Right: Sandy Chilewich, Fellow Karina Campos and Fellow Sarah Ahart at Chilewich in NYC.

We caught up with the Be Original Americas Fellows to hear about their experiences and discoveries halfway through the inaugural Summer Fellowship Program.  Below, they share what it’s like to go behind the scenes at our member companies and dive into hands-on learning that can’t be reproduced in the classroom.

What has been the most surprising thing about your experience so far?

Sarah: The most surprising thing to me so far is how much human touch goes into the manufacturing and assembly of furniture.  I had always assumed that machines are doing a majority of the work, but after viewing some manufacturing facilities, I have learned that is not the case.

Karina: The most surprising thing so far has been the number of times my career path has changed. I’ve started keeping count and I think I am up to 32. Touring these incredible companies has fluctuated my design thinking and opened up design career possibilities I never knew existed!

What have you learned by being on site that you couldn’t have in the classroom?

Sarah: Being on site has showed me how many different people actually work on one product in order to bring it to market. In school there is not usually more than three people working on a team, where in the office each product goes through a bunch of different teams before it is ready to go to production.

Karina:  At school, our projects have an end date, once we turn in that PDF or a final mock of a product – that’s it, you’re done! And seeing real world design professionals working on projects and the communicating between departments shows that it goes beyond just designing, you have to work and collaborate with people who don’t necessarily speak the same “design” language. Projects are ongoing and there is a lot of push and pull among different people.

Has your perception of the day-to-day at a design company changed? If so, how?

Sarah: My perception of design companies has been solidified rather than changed.  I had always assumed that design companies were collaborative, but it was awesome to see first-hand how collaborative they really are. Throughout the entire design process, multiple teams are working hand-in-hand to make sure that the product is successful.

Karina:  Yes! Definitely! After seeing the environments of differently sized companies, there is an overarching theme that there is no theme, not every workspace is the same. Each company outlines its work in a different way that caters to their specific needs and tasks. Some are more rigid and some are loose but what I have observed is that everyone loves their job regardless of the structure because it’s what works best for them.


Fellow Sarah Ahart looks through textile samples at Carnegie.

Fellow Sarah Ahart looks through textile samples at Carnegie.


Based on your experiences so far, how do you think original products stand out from the rest?

Sarah: Original products stand out from replicas in the way that they are manufactured.  There is such a high level of craft and care that goes in to creating every aspect of the original product that is definitely not seen in a fake.  This ensures outstanding quality as well as a product that will last longer and serve its purpose better.

Karina:  As one of my design idols, Charles Eames, stated, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” Original designs stand out with their details. An overall silhouette may present itself with the same visual language, but the details are what set original designs apart. These companies design with integrity, passion and have the goal of the user in mind to deliver satisfying experiences. All things are considered, from joinery techniques to material choices, all to produce a product that is long lasting, beautiful and comfortable.

What are you most excited for next?

Sarah: I am looking forward to continuing to broaden my knowledge of the design world. Every new place I visit, I am exposed to new areas of design that I didn’t even know existed. I am excited to have a larger understanding of all of the directions that this career path can take me.

Karina: A few more weeks of traveling! I’m excited to see new places and design companies that will continue to change my design philosophy. I thought I had a pretty good definition of what it means to be a designer, but every moment on this trip has challenged that pre-established definition–and I like it. There is more room for a re-definition and reconstruction of my design process and goals.


Keep up with the Be Original Americas Fellows week by week on Interior Design to learn more about their experiences at some of the design industry’s most innovative, esteemed, and original companies. You can also follow along @beoriginalusa for updates behind the scenes!

The Originals: Nani Marquina



What does “original” mean to you?

For me, original is something unique. It can be a piece, a product, or a work of art that offers an idea, a new concept that changes what we are accustomed to experiencing.


Has being an entrepreneur encouraged you to take risks in your designs?

In a way, I think that designers have an entrepreneurial essence, as their contributions are novel and contain large doses of imagination, vision and daring. These are just some of the necessary elements it takes to build a business. I was always clear that my goal was to surprise people with my products and to achieve this it has been necessary to take risks and break the mold.


How does authentic design support ethical business and social responsibility?

Design is unquestionably a factor in social transformation. One of the primary goals is to improve the lives of people; I believe that design is increasingly sensitized to ethical and social responsibility. In our case, our products are 100% emotional design that presents an additional intangible value. We are committed to surprising and captivating our clients, passionate about improving the living conditions of the workers involved in the manufacturing process of each rug, paying the utmost attention to the care and maintenance of the environment around us.


True to her design roots, Nani Marquina launched her namesake brand in 1987, a time in which contemporary rugs were non-existent in Spain. After studying industrial design at the Escuela Massana of Barcelona, Nani launched nanimarquina, a brand dedicated to the design, creation, and distribution of rugs and textile products for the home, based on values such as observation, innovation, and enthusiasm, with the goal to use traditional craftsmanship and techniques to create contemporary pieces. In 1993, Nani Marquina  moved manufacturing facilities to the north of India. to further incorporate o craftsmanship and tradition as a new design concept and consolidate the brand. Throughout the years, the brand has garnered numerous awards such as the National Design Award and the Premi Cambra a la Gestió Empresarial (Chamber Award for Design Management) in 2005, as well as several nominations for the Príncipe Felipe Award for Company Excellence. Nani Marquina has also recently received the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Award from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, a personal achievement that led to the 2007 FIDEM Award for Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year. She has enjoyed tenure as the Chairwoman of ADP (Professional Design Association), and of Red (Reunión Empresas de Diseño). Starting in 2014, Nani Marquina is the President of the FAD, (Foment de les Arts i Disseny), in Barcelona.

Breaking News: U.S. Customs & Border Protection

BEOA_Customs_picture_June 2016_crop1
Be Original Americas Meets with U.S. Customs & Border Protection and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Protecting Original Design

On June 15, 2016, two representatives from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office and a special agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave a 60 minute in-depth presentation to Be Original Americas board members in Chicago, during NeoCon, one of the most recognized trade shows for commercial design and business trends.

Highlights from the presentation include:

  • Designs may be legally protected through U.S. federally registered trademarks, copyrights, and/or patents.
  • Trademarks and copyrights registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or U.S. Copyright Office can be recorded with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to maximize their protection at the border.
  • CBP is authorized to detain and/or seize imported merchandise that infringes recorded rights.
  • Recordation is effective for the term of registration or remaining period up to ten years. Right holders may electronically file IPR recordation applications at

Since the meeting, U.S. Customs has been in contact with many Be Original Americas members.  This August, U.S. Customs officers in the New York metro area will meet with 7 member companies to learn more about their original designs and help stem the stream of counterfeit furnishings into the United States.

“This marks an important step in Be Original Americas’ short history. Meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection recognizes the strength of our organization and gives our members the tools for legally protecting their authentic designs and brand integrity,” said Sam Grawe, President of Be Original Americas and Global Brand Director for Herman Miller. “We encourage our members to register their trademarks and copyrights so that their designs can be protected.”

Stay tuned for more news on this in the future.


Pictured: Be Original Americas board members Federico Materazzi (Poltrona Frau Group), Antoine Roset (Ligne Roset), Cliff Goldman (Carnegie Fabrics), and John Edelman (Design Within Reach)

The Originals: Jon Sherman

Jon Sherman Headshot 2016


What does “original” mean to you?

Something new and fresh.

Where do you see the line drawn between inspiration and imitation?

It’s a fine line sometimes, but as long as there is an individual’s obvious twist to an inspirational piece that renders it into a different realm than the original it is not an imitation. An imitation only rearranges aspects to make something differ enough to be classified as new, but the object or idea does not have its own life and inspire a different reaction than that of the original.

What makes a designer or artist a good collaborator for Flavor Paper?

Someone who thinks about engagement via walls from a different perspective than others and creates an atmosphere of beauty, humor, fun, transcendence or awe.


Check out Be Original America’s member Jon Sherman and Flavor Paper’s latest award-winning designs ShweShwe and Waynetopia from NYCxDesign and ICFF.


With an entrepreneurial MBA from Tulane University, Jon Sherman began his business journey in real estate development when he heard of a unique wallpaper company in Oregon going out of business. The West Coast producer offered Sherman the large silk screens and equipment–if he promised to remove them within 24 hours. Sherman’s initial overnight investment has grown into a profitable, print-to-order business that produces as many as 1000 rolls of custom paper a month, mitigating waste and optimizing resources, including time. Always looking to “push the envelope” in design, Flavor Paper goes beyond the traditional way architects, designers and end users think and use wallpaper. Flavor Paper can be seen in a wide variety of projects by the who’s who of the creative community, including Tibi fashion house, Kravitz Design, Milton Glaser, and Mike D from the Beastie Boys, and clients such as the IAC Building by Gehry in New York, Nike, Steve Madden, the international W Hotels and more. Recently, Flavor Paper entered into an exclusive, worldwide agreement with the Andy Warhol Foundation. Sherman’s Fishnet wallpaper is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum, where he has recently been named to the Board of Advisors, and Flavor Paper is also part of the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and The Louvre Museum in Paris.

5 Tips For Protecting Your Brand, from Niche Modern


Be Original Americas member Niche Modern is a pro when it comes to defending their original designs from would-be copycats and knockoff retailers. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, CEO Jeremy Pyles described how “merchants on AliExpress and other sites have used his copyrighted photographs to sell knockoffs of his lights” and “he now has an employee dedicated to filing complaints to such websites.”

Experiencing similar problems? There’s good news: with dedicated efforts, Niche has had great success in removing their products from hundreds of fraudulent websites.  The luxury glass lighting company offered to do a guest blog for Be Original and share their 5 most important tips for protecting your authentic brand name and products from imitators, here’s what they had to say:

 1. Register Your Copyright

Copyright covers published and unpublished works in the U.S. as well as in other countries, and your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created. While registering your copyright is optional, it will only help if you have a lawsuit or need to fight infringements. It’s the first step in protecting your original work.

2. Set Up Google Alerts

The world wide web consists of at least 4.65 billion pages and is growing every day, so how is it possible to know when someone is using your brand name to sell their impostors? Google Alerts is an easy way to get email notifications when new results are found on web pages that match your search terms –  for instance, your brand or best-selling product name along with words like “replica” or “knockoff”. Setting up alerts is easy and will help you catch copycats at the earliest opportunity – get started here.


Niche Modern CEO Jeremy Pyles sketches a pendant light.


3. Enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) allows owners of copyrighted materials residing on the internet to request that their material be removed from any infringing website. Notices that are created using DMCA guidelines are sent to the Internet Service Provider of the website at fault. After an ISP has received the notice, they must inform their client of the infringement and request its removal or remove it themselves. We recommend streamlining the process for sending take-downs by creating an editable sample notice, so it’s easy and time-efficient to take action. There are many sites that allow you to look up a domain name or IP address such as Try this sample DMCA takedown to get you started.

Bonus tip: You can also block IP addresses from computers that are located in China and Hong Kong from accessing your website. According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 70% of the world’s seized counterfeit goods come from China, so why not keep them from seeing your products to begin with?



Every piece of Niche Modern glass is hand-blown in their upstate New York factory

4. Trademark Your Brand

A trademark is in essence a brand name used to distinguish the source of goods of one party from those of another. A Federal trademark, when registered, is governed by national laws. Whereas a copyright protect your products and ideas, a trademark protects your brand. Register trademarks not only in the US but in other countries as well, depending on where your products are being counterfeited. Putting the trademark sign or ® after your brand name, regardless of whether you officially file, will give you rights to your brand name if someone else tries to use it. US trademark rights are based on actual use, so use it and you’ll be protected.

 5. Educate your Clients

Niche Modern has received inquiries about our lights being sold online for drastically less than list price and many customers ask why. We explain that there are several counterfeit sites that sell cheap, inferior products from overseas, and that purchasing from us means they are supporting authentic, original design made in New York. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they understand the price tag and feel great about supporting our brand and purchase with us. We invite our customers behind-the-scenes with video features showing our process to learn about craftsmanship, and every order is sent with a Certificate of Authenticity, reassuring our client that they have an original piece, made with love.


A certificate of authenticity validates every purchase of legitimate Niche Modern designs.


Learn more about Be Original Americas member Niche Modern by visiting their website. Got another tip to add?  Comment below or tweet at us @BeOriginalUSA.

Authenticity as Intent at Pratt Institute


How do we define what is legitimate – what is real – in design?

That’s the question Be Original Americas aimed to answer at Pratt Institute last month in a live discussion between industrial designer Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson, Executive Creative Director of charter member Herman Miller. After an introduction by Karin Tehve, Chair of Interior Design at Pratt Institute, moderator Felix Burrichter, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PIN-UP Magazine guided Ransmeier and Watson in their investigation of authenticity.

Ransmeier and Watson know each other well, having met when the designer was approached to create what would become the AGL Table Group for Herman Miller in 2011. Using this collaboration as a model, they began to point to the specific elements that contribute to the integrity of a design.

photo_gallery_AGL_2 - need approval

AGL Table by Leon Ransmeier | Photo by Francois Dischinger used courtesy of Herman Miller

Authenticity begins with intent. Herman Miller undertakes every project with an interest in people, and solving a problem for the end user. In the case of AGL, this was updating the task table for a contemporary relationship with technology.  In every Herman Miller process, the objective for a design is honored, even under constraints, and guided by the core values of transparency, equality, voice, and design philosophy. Or, in the words of Ransmeier, “Authenticity is combined passion and work.” This is one of the core differences between knockoff designs and originals. Copycats want to imitate profits, but not the good intentions or disciplined production that lead to unique and effective design.

Burrichter noted that this extends beyond aesthetics or ergonomics to environmental factors, and Ransmeier agreed that ecological consideration is part of the designer’s responsibility to make things that support and enhance people’s lives. As sustainability and the product life-cycle climb to top of mind in the global marketplace, knockoffs produced cheaply through environmentally devastating methods are more dangerous than ever, serving to exacerbate pollution and “throw-away” culture. Legitimate design – real design – responds to the circumstances of the world that created a need for it in the first place.

Solving a problem is never easy – and Watson noted that most consumers don’t know the true cost of designing an effective product.  For example, a high performance task chair, perhaps created with the intent of supporting modern working postures to improve workplace wellbeing, can cost as much as $25 million to develop and take 3-4 years to come to market. Ransmeier’s AGL Table group took 2.5 years to be ready for launch at NeoCon 2013. Premium manufacturers aren’t interested in quick fixes – they seek to create solutions that last. This requires human resources (designers, researchers, support), tools of labor, capital expenses, 3D molds, prototypes, and more in order to truly test and refine the products that improve quality of life for their users. Without this significant investment – and without clear, honorable intentions – there would be no great design to be copied.


Felix Burrichter, Leon Ransmeier and Ben Watson at the packed Juliana Curran Terian Design Center

There may, of course, be other ways to define what “real” design is – and to be sure, this discussion is one Be Original Americas continues to explore. However, it seems likely that a process that doesn’t begin with authentic intentions – to create something useful, beautiful, unique – cannot become an authentic process halfway through the making.

Be Original Americas invests in the future of design with a series of talks, round tables, and panel discussions at universities, industry programs, and more. You can learn about upcoming events here, or become a supporter to stay in-the-know.