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American designer Harry Allen, he of Bank In The Form Of A Pig and brilliant C’Mere hand hooks, talks design inspiration, rollerskating, living in a former funeral home and being paid to have fun

Where are you based and what do you love about your neighbourhood? I’m based in the East Village neighborhood of New york City. I love it for a variety of reasons. To me it still feels like New York. So many neighborhoods like the Meatpacking District and Hell’s Kitchen have gentrified beyond recognition. The East Village still feels diverse and edgy. It’s not what it used to be, but it still has some flavor. It is diverse in all ways – racially, economically, sexually. It’s a residential neighbourhood, mainly, so there are lots of good small restaurants, and lots of people on the street in the evenings. For years the East Village was a creative centre of the City, and a home to many young artists and creative professionals. As rents have risen many of those young creative types have moved out to the boroughs, but some of the bohemia remains and I like that vibe.

Tell us about Areaware. Areaware is not my company. They manufacture and sell my REALITY line of products. However, I have been with them almost from the start. For about a year and a half I made the REALITY products on my own. I have manufactured a couple of times during my career. In general I am a consulting designer, but from time to time, when I have an idea I just can’t deny, and I cannot find a manufacturing partner, I go into production myself. That is what happened in 2003 when I first had the idea for the Bank In The Form Of A Pig. I started making it and selling it as best I could, but then in 2005 I showed at the ICFF, with my friend Ross Menuez and a fledgling company he was involved with. That company became Areaware, and they eventually picked up all of my products. My own company is Harry Allen Design, a multi-disciplinary design firm. I design a wide variety of products, furniture, lighting, packaging and interiors. I have a very diverse portfolio. I set up the studio in 1993. It was just the logical progression of my ambitions – to have a studio of my own.

Describe your studio/workspace. I live and work in the same building. The studio is on the ground floor and I live on the second floor. It’s a nice old building, when I bought it it was a funeral home, but it is not creepy at all. It was inhabited by a very nice Italian family. Two brothers bought it in the Forties and converted it into the Sparacio & DeMarco Funeral home. It has an amazing sign on it with a clock when I bought it. I’ve cleaned it up and added alot of windows. One of my contractors told me that it probably weighs half of what it did when I bought it. It is a nice place to be.

What are you working on right now? Two apartments, a yoga studio, a store project in Japan. Some new products for Areaware. An on-counter tester for MAC cosmetics. Two or three lighting projects, etc etc.

Before you begin a new design, you must… Not much. I like a clean studio, so sometimes I need to start by straightening up, but other times I can just ignore the mess. The creative process is very personal. You must give yourself the space and the time you need. Each design project is so different. I have yet to encounter two that are the same, so there is no way to have a routine, and honestly I like it like that. I am not a creature of habit – sometimes I drink coffee, sometimes tea, and sometimes nothing at all. I look and listen alot. I am in a constant state of research. I travel alot and look around at products, stores, design and art. I am constantly feeding my head so that when I get a project I always have new ideas to employ. I hate repeating myself. As you see, design permeates my life so it is difficult to know where one project ends and the next begins. Of course with the corporate work there is a contract and a kickoff meeting so it is pretty clear as to the start and finish. My mind usually starts designing in the first meeting. With studio work it is less structured, more artistic. I always have a few projects brewing that I can bounce between.

Who inspires your work? Everyone and everything I encounter. Really. I used to cite artists like Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt, and great designers like Kuramata and George Nelson, but they are not the great influences that they were in my youth. I’ve learned all that I will learn from them, I think. Now I am looking at the young designers to see what is going on in their minds. I loved the Salone Satelite this year in Milan. It had an energy that you do not find in the more grown up sections of the fair. In general, however, design only clutters up my mind. I use design references more as a limit on what I can do – to know what has already been done – than a true inspiration. I have my most creative thoughts when I get out of my environment – when I go see to an see art show or a dance performance.

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Life.Style.etc wishes it was a boy and could go hang out at Topman’s new men’s personal shopping suite, designed by Lee Broom. His One Light Only pendant shades look delicious grouped against the rich parquetry. Speaking of which, Lee’s new Parq Life  collection for Deadgood launched at Clerkenwell Design Week, and it’s a very luxurious, beautiful thing indeed.

What do you give the couple with everything? And we mean everything. This is the tapestry wallhanging, specially made by The Rug Company, that Samantha and David gave to Barack and Michelle this week to commemorate their visit to the UK. Much nicer than a stick of rock. A very nice example of beautiful British craft will now grace the White House. Lovely.

Reiko Kaneko was born in Britain but spent her childhood in Japan, and those roots are clear to see in her bold yet fragile ceramics. She established her design studio in London’s East End in 2007, having studied arts and design at Central Saint Martins. We’ve always loved these, and this. She will be showing at Pulse in June, but until then, she tells 

What’s your studio like? We’re in the middle of a move so there are currently boxes stacked high. But it’s a nice light room in a converted clothing factory in the East End of London. The building is full of studios with fashion designers, film production companies and workshops. Once we tackle the boxes, we’ll have plenty of space for a plaster works area but, already, it’s cluttered with previous models and half-finished projects.

Who or what inspired you to become a designer? Initially, I was inspired by artists – especially contemporary, and slightly off-beat people but then when I saw Jurgen Bey’s Tree-trunk bench, it all clicked into place. Like catching a ball he’d thrown out, I got it and design suddenly felt like a two-way thing.

How do you get from idea in your head to finished piece? It all starts in my sketchbook – I’m not all that good at drawing so thankfully, with the power of technology (3-d computer modelling programmes) the drawings are push, pulled and tweaked for the model maker. The plaster models are then made up in Staffordshire after consulting with experienced producers. Ceramics is, after all, earth and mud and what happens in the heat of the kiln can be very unpredictable with new shapes and forms. As a designer, I need their knowledge and recommendations as the design progresses into production. After the moulds are set up, samples are made and if we need to finish it off by splicing rope or adding wheels, we put it together in our studio ready for another home.

What are you most proud of? Just to be able to work on this every day. Quitting my part-time work after years of ‘setting up’ was a very happy day.

How far ahead does your masterplan stretch? I really believe in preserving manufacturing skills in England so I would like to continue increasing the product offering to perhaps hit upon one day, a formula for the finest English China.

What do you hope to get out of Pulse this year? Catching up with retailers and press. It’s always a great chance to see everyone again and also a great place to meet new people and talk about interesting up and coming projects.

Other than designing, what makes you happy? Apart from the usual joys of being with friends, I love cutting tofu, honey and marmite on toast, a rare chance for a nap and a good challenge.

How would you spend your perfect weekend? It would involve sunshine and friends in London – maybe Hampstead Heath ladies’ ponds, a green tea tart at Lanka in Primrose Hill, a cycle to Broadway market preferably along the canal for a few drinks. Then balance up the weekend with discipline through my usual Sunday activity – Japanese archery practices (Kyudo).

Tell us a secret. I’ve a collection of Royal memorabilia. Mugs, plates, ashtrays, the works – it was a happy day when I acquired the latest tacky Royal wedding mug…

pageCues, designed by Angela and Mark Gilbert, are little graphical card markers which slide onto the pages of your books to save your place (much more stylish than turning the corner over). They’re also very useful when you’re flicking through really good interiors magazines and want a visual reminder of a particularly good image. There are four collections (with 10 pageCUES in each) – we love Architecture, which allows you to create a city skyline along your books of iconic buildings from around the world including Frank Lloyd Wrights Falling Water, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. They’re made from sustainably sourced cardboard, can be used many times and once they have had a long and useful life they can be easily recycled with your magazines (and, they’re a bargain at £3.80 per set).

From tomorrow until 29 May, Rise Art will be taking over the exhibition space at Luna & Curious, where Rise Art Select Artist Dai Roberts (top, buy it here) will create a room installation that will transform his modernist-inspired screen prints into a spatial experience, allowing the viewer to ‘wander’ inside his artistic universe. Well, that sounds rather wonderful to us. In addition, Rise Art will also showcase limited-edition prints by artists Pedro Guimaraes (middle) and Ting-Ting Cheng (bottom), two photographers chosen by Rise Art’s board of curators as Select Artists with a fascinating take on travel and still-life photography.

And if it’s true that everyone’s a critic, this is the time to prove it – Rise Art will be giving away a £100 gift voucher to the visitor that can write the best micro-review on Dai’s UNIT installation which, along other contributions, will be published and shared on the site.

Product designer Jonathan Krawczuk launched DesignedMade in 2009 to produce a simple collection of striking products, with the ethos ‘Designed with Manufacture in mind, Manufactured with Design in mind’. He is a committed supporter of the UK craft and manufacturing industries, and his designs do that wonderful thing of being perfectly functional but also fun. In 2010, he won the Launchpad award at Pulse (this year judged by Livingetc), and now finds his brilliant designs being exported all over the world. Let’s meet him (and his wonderful pooch, Gertie)…

Tell us about your studio. I work from home and have a lovely studio that looks out onto the countryside. I have one desk for my computer and day-to-day stuff – and then another one for model making. It’s a bit all over the place and slightly chaotic, with models and boxes vying for space, if it were my father’s office – he would describe it as an ‘organised mess’.

And, is there such a thing as your average working day? My days are extremely varied, it depends on what’s happening (and what’s most urgent!). I can be working in the studio, in the workshop or out on the road visiting potential stockists. One constant though is that my days tend to be long and I find myself working most weekends – at least for part of them. I love it, though, and wouldn’t change it.

Who or what inspired you to become a designer? I grew up around my father’s steel workshop in Yorkshire and developed an understanding and appreciation for the materials, processes and skill involved in creating products. I love workshops and making things, I get a huge sense of satisfaction and reward from taking an idea and eventually turning it into a finished product. I hope that the products that DesignedMade manufactures can not only benefit the people that use them but those who make them, too.

How do you get from idea in your head to finished piece? I’m very hands-on with my work, I love making things. As soon as I can translate an idea into something tangible I will create a model or prototype. I don’t like to spend too much time drawing or on the computer while I’m thinking about an idea for a product. The only way to understand an object properly is in 3-D, in physical form. As the models, drawings and prototypes are developed they become more sophisticated until they are production-ready. Often things get scrapped or put on the backburner midway through but they always seem to come back in some sort of form, further down the line.

What are you most proud of? I’m really proud of the fact that my brand, DesignedMade manufactures products in the UK. I’m not against manufacturing elsewhere, but I want to give something back to the industry, people and places that have shaped my ideas and beliefs. I’m also very proud of a project that I worked on with one of my closest friends and fellow designers, Caroline Sipos. In 2009 we collaborated to design a sculptural olive tree – used for serving and presenting olives. The design was in response to an aperitivo-themed competition brief set by Peroni and Alessi. Our design beat over 2,000 entries worldwide to win the Peroni Blue Ribbon Design Award.

How far ahead does your masterplan stretch? I plan (or at least think) a long away ahead. I believe that it is important to keep focused on the current, though, and have plenty of mini goals along the away. I think that if you don’t have these you can become disappointed and self-critical. It is important for me to think about longevity with things, so many brands and products today are just a flash in the pan. I’m always thinking further down the line but will usually have a year/18 months planned in advance. This planning includes new products, trade shows, any website development or maintenance, external communications, et cetera.

What do you hope to get out of Pulse this year? I hope that this year’s Pulse is as successful as last year’s for DesignedMade. We were awarded the Best Newcomer Launchpad 2010 – Thorsten van Elten award, which was a great honour and accolade. As well as taking orders from new stockists in the UK, we also took our first export order to Japan – which has subsequently led to a company distributing our products in Japan. Pulse is good fun, too, it’s great to see lots of old friends, especially for somebody who isn’t London-based…(anymore).

Other than designing, what makes you happy? I really enjoy walking in the countryside, with Gertie – our family dog [see below, Life.Style.etc is in love]. I also love watching football and cricket, I’m a passionate supporter of my local club, Huddersfield Town – and have been since the age of eight.

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Sally and Dave began their artistic reinvention of life’s great chore – doing the washing up – in 2008, when they launched tea towel company ToDryFor. They commission both prominent and up-and-coming designers to create their designs, which look equally fabulous hung on the cooker or framed on the wall (see page 27 of Livingetc, August 2010, back-issue fans). They’re launching a new design by Rob Ryan at this year’s Pulse, but what else is going on in the world of tea towels? This husband and wife team talk great design, their creative process and why little birds might just fly through your kitchen window and offer to darn your socks. 

What’s your studio like? Our Oxford office also doubles as a design-led gift shop called Comma. We wanted our place of work to be bright, colourful, fun, and sociable, enjoying the banter that comes from operating in a public space. The kettle is on pretty much constantly, and there’s always a good supply of biscuits to keep us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We’ve worked with some incredibly talented illustrators, so when we first got the space they agreed to help us decorate – the sign was painted by Ben Javens, and we have a wall mural in the shop by Gemma Correll. It’s so nice to work from somewhere that we find so inspiring.

And, is there such a thing as your average working day? Definitely not! You wouldn’t think that working with tea towels would create such a wide variety of tasks, but there really isn’t a day that goes by without something new cropping up. We spend our time searching for up-and-coming designers, working on new products, making sure we always have plenty of stock available (liaising closely with our UK printer on a regular basis), and generally making sure that our customer service is top-notch. All that interspersed with tweeting, tea, and cake!

Who or what inspired ToDryFor? We love great design, and seeing what talented individuals can do from a simple idea. Good design is a powerful thing. When you create something, or in our case commission a talented person to do an incredible design, which you then print/package/promote, there is a real sense of purpose about what you do.

How do you get from idea in your head to finished piece? We commission an increasingly varied collection of illustrators and designers and each design has something new to offer, whether it’s the style of artwork or the subject matter, we aim to cater for lots of different tastes (ranging from cat-lovers to allotment owners and paper-cut artwork to simple line-drawings). We both share a passion for all things bold and bright, kitsch and cute, and often designs that are a little bit off the wall. We love it when we hear back from happy customers. It’s great to be able to choose designs that bring other people joy (even if it is whilst they’re having to do household chores).

What are you most proud of? When we first told our friends and family that we were starting a business only selling tea towels, they thought we were crazy. We nervously ploughed on regardless, believing that people would really get it. Luckily for us they did, and we are never prouder than when we get feedback from customers telling us how much they love the towels, and how they have used them – which ranges from drying the dishes, framing them for their walls, and even making cushions/curtains/bags from them.

How far ahead does your masterplan stretch? Beyond a couple of years, and I’m sure we have enough work to keep us out of mischief for that long, but in fact our long-term business plan winds its way as new opportunities are presented to us. In one sense it seems bad to change your plans, but I think this flexibility is what gives small businesses the chance to do something truly unique.

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We featured the very clever Cubit storage system in our February issue, in white. And now – joy of joys – the modular sections also come in black. Because, as we all know, there is nothing that Life.Style.etc loves more than black and white.

This is the first monograph celebrating the work of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. A truly beautiful book, there are images of the pair’s iconic designs as well as the inspiration behind them and sketches which reveal both their brilliant imaginations and enviable craftsmanship.

As the team behind Livingetc, the UK’s leading magazine for modern interiors, we’re always out and about, scouting for inspiration. And when we see something that makes our design minds flutter with joy, we’ll share it with you here. To purchase the digital version of the magazine, click here.

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