Originality, Authenticity, and the Maker Community

Guest blog by Greg Benson, Founder, Loll Designs

As a Maker, I have always had a strong urge to be original. And I know I’m not alone.

It’s really fantastic to be part of the Makers Movement happening right now, and heading up a small design and manufacturing company in Minnesota has been very rewarding. I started making furniture in 2003 as a way to repurpose unused material from our TrueRide skate park ramps, featured in more than 450 municipal parks all over the country. I wasn’t really a skate park designer, but the drive to innovate helped me achieve that success, and gave me the confidence to figure out how to make outdoor furniture, too. My goal was to create a piece unique enough to become known as the “Duluth Chair.” Why do the Adirondack Mountains get to have all the geographical glory? It was, and is, a bold venture – and I meant it to be.

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Valuing Original Design: From Inception to Installation

Guest blog by Original BTC

Investment in original design means investing in the designers and the process that creates it, acknowledging that creative and cultural innovation is not always straightforward, and that developing a coherent concept can sometimes take months or even years. This may be particularly draining on time and resources, requiring complex problem-solving and acute attention to detail.

Commitment to original design is needed from those outside the generative and manufacturing processes, too. When consumers choose to buy original pieces, they give designers credit where it is due. Their investment provides financial remuneration not just to the company producing the designs, but enables that company to support artists and sustain time-honored traditions. Of course, a buyer should also enjoy and cherish the products that they purchase, and by investing in authentic designs they get a sense of pride and satisfaction every time the piece is seen or used. This meaningful relationship helps to build a positive environment, whether in the home or in a public space where a designer crafts an experience of place for other inhabitants. For trade professionals, this uncompromising approach can set your work apart.

Handblown glass at Original BTC

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Design in the Time of Tariffs

Guest blog written by Ted Boerner, Founder of Ted Boerner Furniture.

A large part of what makes an original design successful is the alchemy of makers, materials and process. I trust our makers to craft our pieces with care, using the best materials and finishes available.  When the materials become scarce or the quality changes, the design is affected and we have to adjust.  From the perspective of a designer and business owner it feels like I am constantly attending to these fluctuations like a circus plate spinner.

We are all affected differently by the current administration’s imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Usually the effects are felt later, but we felt them in advance when the uncertainty and chaos started even before the tariffs were imposed.  As the steel industry tried to figure out what it would mean in the future, their customers began buying up material to avoid the impeding tariffs.  This meant that the supply of steel was reduced drastically, leaving only lesser quality stock at higher prices.  We weren’t even sourcing our metal from the countries that would have had tariffs, yet everyone reacted.

Handcrafted production at Ted Boerner Furniture

Our company is small and the artisans we engage with have small spaces so they buy stock material as needed. We cannot compete with the huge companies that fueled this panic, so we are left paying higher costs for lesser materials.

But the effects go well beyond cost.

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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

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

FLAVOR PAPER Collage

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

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.

 

nanimarquina

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

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

IMG_5251

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!