The Genius of John Kostick

Kostick: This started in 1965, the first year or two that I was working was very much just sort of studying what Buckminster Fuller had put together and you know, duplicating some of the models and then drawing analogies and saying, hmm, if you can do, well then, what about that?

And sort of taking the next step. The design is very, is very, well, independent of what the material is. There's a configuration of straight lines bypassing through each other.

It's a very kind of clean, geometric concept. This is an intersection of simple parts. They're wires. They're rods.

The attachment or the thing holding them together is all happening out here at the tips, where the welding, the wires are drawn together and then formed into a, melted together into a drop.

One thing that I learned somewhere along the line early on in science is that a good theory or a good idea is one where you don't assume any more than you have to, so when you can assume just the simplest of forces, like push and pull.

And there's no, you know, twisting or bending or complex forces, that's a good thing.

The foldability. Now that was unanticipated thing. The first time when I was making these, I wasn't even thinking that they were, that there was sufficient structure there without actually soldering all the points of contact together the way this is glued together.

And then I think somebody actually sat on one and it did that and we were all, whoa! That's good.

This aspect of assembling is just this, is easy to do here as anywhere.

It's why it's sort of a comfort zone.

Kostick: I listen to pretty eclectic bunch of music. I like some Irish and Scottish Celtic music. I listen to what the kids listen to, too, you know. The hip-hop kind... But you can only so fast.

You can sort of get a little more efficient, but it takes how long it takes.

Be enchanted by Matthew Hilton

Hilton: I grew up in the '70s, early '60s, '70s, '60s.

Design was around a lot in the '60s, but it was, people didn't talk about industrial design much or I didn't know that people designed cars, for instance.

I didn't... I left college in about 1980. So that first ten, probably fifteen years is pretty tricky, quite difficult.

I didn't really discover I was good at it for a long time. It could be that I wasn't very good at it at the beginning.

It also took me a long time to have the confidence to do things my own way and understand that your background, your personality, your upbringing, all that stuff, the things you're interested in day-to-day are all really important and that's, that's where it all comes from.

Designers and going at jobs with companies, but if you want to do something that, if you want to work for yourself, if you want to do your own work, there isn't really a system.

It's, you just have to go out and find a way to do it.

So I worked eventually with some of the Italian companies. And then I felt I was in a bit of a rut and things weren't really going places and I wasn't really wanting to chase work for the Italian companies.

And I wanted to do something else and I didn't know what it was. And then Tom Dickson joined Habitat. And I talked to him, he talked to me about going there for a while or going there as head of furniture. So I went there and I spent four years there.

And that taught me a real, really a lot about the industry. So I visited hundreds of factories and we had to work very, very quickly on very commercial-focused product.

One of the things I learnt was that I didn't really want to continue working for a big company. I wanted to do my own thing.

This is the cross table, which is the first product we designed for Case. The name "cross", I mean, it is evident in the way it looks, but it came from those quite traditional tables of the table, and then a bar joining them. And the cross originally, in the original sketches, was flat. There are two bolts in each leg that go up to the top and then there's a fixing that's under here that this beam ties everything together.

So this base is five elements. There are four legs at diagonals and there's a beam that ties those things together. So it's a little bit like, a little bit like a suspension bridge.

This top has a reciprocal cable mechanism for opening and closing it, so that you just pull one side and it opens. And it glides very nicely. And then the leaves are stored inside that space.

This is the profile chair, which was intended to sit with the cross table. It's almost standard chair production, but this one has this, the back leg is protruding from the side rail, so it's fixed to one place, which is that back rail there.

But we did that to allow us this profile, this angled leg with the kick at the front. And that's partly aesthetic reasons and it's partly functional. It allows you to stack the chair.

It has a kind of similar feel to the cross table, although it isn't exactly the same. And it means that the back rest is at a very good angle for your, for your back.

People talk about compromise a lot, actually, particularly younger people. As if compromise is something that's negative. And for me it isn't. For me, working with a factory and working with the restrictions of a factory is a positive thing.

And it changes what I've designed into something that's real and makeable and can go out into stores and out to people's homes.

That's what's interesting about it. That's the interesting thing is, it's a kind of puzzle of aesthetics, manufacturing, transportation, assembly and cost.

All that, all those things in together. And without those puzzles, really, it's, well, it's a little less interesting.

That's the stuff that we work on. Those are the challenges that are the exciting part.

Introducing the new Aeron from Herman Miller

First of all I don't think you know when you start designing a chair that it's gonna be any kind of an icon. But in looking at Herman Miller's history, you get a few clues. I feel if a design has certain validities, it deserves to take a certain look because when you start working with Herman Miller you're looking at some of the past and yet you want to look to the future. It started with the Equa chair. The whole idea was to disassociate ourselves from the stereotypes, and we said if we design a chair that fits all people and provides the comfort, it was a more democratic solution. And when it came time to work on the Aeron chair, we have to look at it in the same way.

And it became a chair for everybody, and that was our intent. But we never expected it to be so many everybodies. We knew we had a design that was breaking new ground. It has a certain character. It has a certain soul. So, I can understand why the desire to continue the Aeron legend if you will.

We really started from the ground up. We didn't want to do any compromising. If anything, we wanted to have less compromises. We have a new tilt mechanism. We have a whole new suspension system. The chair is more lively. It's more responsive. It's more sensitive to the body weight than body size. It's a lighter chair in scale. It has better spine support. We have all new adjustments for the back.

You can get in the chair and try it out. It's going to be a whole new experience for you. The Aeron is going to rediscover a whole new generation of users. It's really a chair of today and of tomorrow as well.

Jens Risom meets with Design Within Reach

Risom: Jens Risom. R-i-s-o-m.

How old am I? Two hundred. Yeah, well, that's almost right.

Risom: My family was in Denmark where I grew up. And my father was architect.

My family now? There is not a whole lot left.

I'm the, oh, my youngest son is here and anyway, they are here in this country.

I went here in '39 and during the war I was in the Army like everybody else, unfortunately, because it was a lousy choice. And after the war I started my office in New York and was freelance designing, freelance detailing.

And slowly developed a business with two or three guys. Noel was a family, a German family of furniture makers. We met a couple times and so on.

And I said if you are the family, you know, from Germany, then we know something about the same thing.

I had the designs and I have the know-how, so we could work it out together.

This was the group picture, which you have, which is the center thing. I was on that. And we all knew each other a little bit.

We were all looking forward to this meet here. We would have a chance to talk and compare notes and all that.

It never was, because we worked through an entire day and got so tired, that we said let's go home.

We were all contemporary designers. We were all designers who were being used by the manufacturers for one thing or another.

This is a cotton webbing upholstery, which is practical to sit in. It gives and it's natural. And it dresses up the wood very nicely.

The basic of webbing is parachute webbing. We got permission to get Army webbing, bleach it down and dye it again. It was a different looking chair. Nobody had done a chair like this in once piece. Nobody had a chair like it.

Later on, of course, all kinds of copies of it came along and were done by other manufacturers. But by and large, it was a new way of creating a piece of furniture.

Oh, this chair is a recent one. This is only a couple of years old. See, we talk and measure a few times. And they say, have you ever done a rocking chair? I said no, I don't know that I've ever done one. He said would you do one? We said yes.

And I think the idea was to read with a child or with a person next to you and you talk and so on.

Of course, anything you can adjust your own comfort in tends to be practical.

A design philosophy? A design philosophy, yes and no. I don't know, you develop it as you go along.

A design philosophy has to do with the purpose of the design, where does it go, what room does it live in and what can you use with it.

My secret? I have no secrets. You know my secret, want to tell my secret, why do I go on doing it?

Maybe that isn't such a good idea.

Learn about Brooklyn-based design group Egg Collective

Petrie: We think things, the way they used to be made and put together were really substantial and significant and that's why we have antiques that are still around today that people want to pass on from generation to generation.

So we're looking to do that, but with design that feels of this day, contemporary.

Ellis: We realized that we could depend on each other, not only for emotional support that you get out of a friendship, but also for critiques and design and to help push our work forward.

Beamer: Sometimes people think that it's a collective of individual ideas. And for us it means it's a product of our collective design consciousness. I feel like everybody could remember a piece of furniture from their childhood; that's what we're going for.

Designer: Design and craft are a marriage. I wouldn't say everyone shares that perspective, but I would venture to say that it is part of what we did when we finished with design school, was figure out how things were made. And craft is now integral to anything that we design.

Petrie: The natural quality of these materials is that they gain a patina and an age over time. It's shiny, where it hasn't been touched and it's patina'd where it has been touched. That tells a story about the life of that object and how it's handled over time.

Designer: It might not make sometime contain as much as it can, not just functional, not just a reflection of your aesthetic, but also a reflection of your time with it. That's exciting when it starts to have all those facets.

Designer: They've got slightly heavy-handed. Something's missing. And every time I see the prototype, which lives in Crystal's home, I'm like that's a leg.

It's possible with a pen and paper to create something that looks amazing, but cannot be built. That's part of our design process. We sit down together and we look at a form, but we're also talking about, well, how is that form put together? What are the materials? What do the joints look like? What's the construction technique? How long does that take?

Beamer: To craft is a thorough understanding of how materials go together and how you manipulate materials in order to create something.

Ellis: I agree. And that understanding, if it's intimate enough, allows you to be able to execute an idea exactly the way that you visualized it in your brain.

Designer: I don't think that any of us believe that everything has to be made in America, but I think at the same time there's an efficiency and intimacy in making things with people who are close by.

Designer: This is the first opportunity that we've had to hand over production to somebody and I don't think that we would have done that if we didn't trust their intentions and their ability to carry out our vision.

Designer: I think it's scary and liberating. Every piece that had Egg Collective's name on it went through our hands, literally.

And it's exciting, though, because it's going to be produced at a scale that we don't have at this moment and reach a larger audience.

Beamer: The work is an extension of us and of our perspective and of our shared vision and collaboration.

I think people are often surprised that we're as young as we are as a company, because of the breadth of work that we have been able to put out. And that is a shared testament to the efficiency of communication and dialogues that we share.

Learn how Chris Hardy teamed up with Design Within Reach

Hardy: The brief that I received was for a series of occasional tables, a coffee table and a side table.

And one of the main aspects of that brief was that Design Within Reach was looking for something that used walnut, brass and a warm stone top.

I started out immediately figuring out how I can compose these materials. And I did this sketch of just the base without the top. And everyone really fell in love with that base.

But the problem was that you couldn't see it if you used a stone top. So we decided to use a glass top, so it could really emphasize that base.

So the glass is actually made from the same manufacturer that makes all the glass for the new Gucci tables. The coffee table is the signature piece.

It's what I put most of the emphasis on during the design process. And when the design was chosen, it was pretty easy to take that same design language and apply it to a side table, to really create a family.

When I was designing it, I thought a lot about planes, you know. There's a lot of focus on that in this table.

You have the vertical planes of the legs and then you have the horizontal planes of the brass. And there's a lot of kind of material blocking with this piece.

You know, it's all very segmented, all very pieced out, but it's assembled in an elegant way.

Overall, it's complex, but when you break it down, it's really simple parts. There's one brass shape that's repeated twice. And there's only two different sizes for the legs. So it's really only three parts that's assembled to create something that's really beautiful.

My signature on the bottom is probably my favorite thing, just because Design Within Reach to me is, meant a lot.

You know, growing up in a city that wasn't New York, you don't have access to design museums, but you do have access to Design Within Reach.

So even when I was designing this, I would sit inside of Design Within Reach showroom in Atlanta and just sit and work and draw and sketch for hours, because that was my only access to these wonderful works of design by all these famous masters of design.

So just to have my piece in there amongst those with my name on the bottom of it, is really meaningful.

You know, this will probably be one of my favorite pieces I've ever worked on, you know, for the rest of my career.

Meet Norm Architects

jerre-Poulsen: This is a new collection of outdoor furniture that we have designed for Design Within Reach.

Ronn: So we tried to make something that is more sophisticated and has a lightness that you don't find in garden furniture normally.

Bjerre-Poulsen: It has this more indoor feel to it. You can actually decorate your outdoor space in an atmosphere that more resembles what you have indoors as well.

We always try to find that exact point where there's nothing we can add and nothing we can take away that will make the product better. And I think that it's, you know, what makes it modern in many ways.

There are so many things I like about it, but I really like the, you know, the sculptural value of the expression. When you see it, it becomes almost like a sculpture in the space. I think that's extremely beautiful.

Ronn: I really like that the pieces are beautiful from the back as well. I mean, seeing the three-seater from the back, the rhythm and the construction is, perhaps because I'm an architect, but that's really appealing to me.

Bjerre-Poulsen: Often when you speak to, you know, Japanese people that are into design, the first thing they do is that they try to touch underneath the chair, on the back of the chair. And if they can feel that the details are OK, then they bother looking at the front. That's, I think, an important lesson to learn.

Ronn: The frame underneath and cheek is, has these joints here. And we try to make it with classic joinery and make it as smooth as possible with this very soft look. And we wanted that feeling of smoothness from mid-century handcrafted design furniture.

The cushions are optional and we made it so that they ae quite easy to take off. We wanted it to be as easy as possible when you need them to come off. Like this. And it's two different looks, but it's very comfortable with the cushion and you can just have the seat and have the back without; it's kind of up to you.

Apart from the lounge chair and the ottoman, we have a side table and coffee table. And we have the dining chair and dining table. And there's a chaise. It's quite wide. It has a more comfy look than normally with chaises, so it's really cool.

When you put the side tables and the lounge chair next to each other, they fit really well and you can keep going with another lounge chair and another side table. And you can actually make this line of the lounge chairs and it'll look really cool.

Bjerre-Poulsen: To justify putting a new design on the market, there should always be a new idea, a new production method, a new material, a new material combination. In this way, it's something that is new.

Nelson Thin Edge Collection

Edelman: I don't believe in life you can make yourself an icon, right? You have to be kind of anointed an icon. I think because he was a combination designer and design director, he became a brand name in his own. The Nelson bench, the Nelson bed, Nelson lights.

Watson: He thought of himself just as much as a teacher or as a writer as he thought of himself as a designer. I think in this way Nelson was well ahead of his time, that he was not only active in so many disciplines but he was successful across so many disciplines.

Grawe: Nelson studied architecture at Yale University, and architectural training provided him with the ability to figure out a mean for looking at problems and providing solutions. Architecture is a very solution-oriented profession. Architects are taught to look for the real problem that's being solved. And I think what Nelson brought to Herman Miller was to look at the architectural problem in furniture.

What are the things that people are looking for in their homes at the time?

Edelman: Up until the 1930's Herman Miller was creating reproduction Victorian antiques.

Grawe: Gilbert Rodhe who preceded Nelson as the first design director got Herman Miller on the path of producing modern furniture, and Nelson largely picked up from where Rodhe left off.

Watson: At a time when American modernism was exploding and being born, Herman Miller and George Nelson changed the tastes of Americans towards furniture. We all think of Milan, of New York City, of L.A. as being these design centers, these capitals of architecture in the future. This is a Zeeland, Michigan based company that changed the world.

Watson: The terminology is always difficult. Is it a reissue? Is it bringing it back? Is it an authentic licensed product? I don't like any of those terms. It's the George Nelson bed by Herman Miller as it always was.

I think we're all in this disposable world looking for things that aren't. He never would've believed that the furniture they were launching then would be just as viable if not more viable 60 years away.

Edelman: I think what the thin-edged bed collection does is something that Nelson did often which was to create a solution that is only what's necessary, in some ways not a molecule more than what you need to solve the problem. Its language is so quiet that it doesn't need to be the protagonist in any room that it's living in. And I think this notion of timeless design is often connected to those objects that don't insist on being a protagonist but are quiet supporters of our every day.

Grawe: Creating a useful design is a rarity, especially one that persists for decades. But even rarer than that are useful thoughts that persist for even longer, and I think that was what George Nelson was able to give us.

Edelman: Our time is so very much influenced by the birth of modernism. Nelson as one of the key figures in shaping it is so important to us today. I don't imagine that the principles of modernism will disappear in our lifetime.

Grawe: I'd be careful around saying George was a modernist because I think his thinking was he was always reevaluating where he stood and what he stood for. And I think he was always wary of dogma and of constraints of labeling.

Watson: Now those new product launches might be excellent day one, might be horrible day one. They might last for two or three years. This is what we know as timeless. There aren't that many designs of anything that are timeless. You can't plan that. You'd have to be really good because no one can see the future.