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product design

Master Class: Seven Questions for Melanie Courbet, Founder of Atelier Courbet

Courbet Interior Shop
(Photos courtesy Atelier Courbet)

Melanie Courbet PortraitNew York’s latest design destination is Atelier Courbet, a new gallery and shop that brings together exquisite objects, furniture, textiles, and home accessories handpicked for their sublime old-school craftsmanship. In an age of touchscreens and disposable everything, many of these one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces combine traditional techniques with contemporary design. “Our intention is to highlight the revered talent behind every object,” says founder Melanie Courbet, who convinced renowned craftsmen Domeau & Pérès to make their stateside debut at Atelier Courbet. “We would like to inspire our clients to curate their home and their lifestyle based on the appreciation of the material and the details of their environment.” We asked Courbet to tell us more about the new venture, including its home in the historical Brewster Carriage House (located at the corner of Broome and Mott Streets) and some of her favorite straight-from-the-workshop pieces.

Why did you think that it was the right time to open this gallery and shop?
It was the right time in my life as I matured for seven years my relationships with most of the manufactures or craftsmen I represent today. On another note, I believe my desire to shift the focus to the master-craftsmanship over the design or creative aspects is a response to a context. Our market—like our global culture—shows a shift in the consumer’s behavior. There is a general trend at different levels of consumption that reflects a global desire to nurture a sense of community and connect with the makers behind our belongings or the goods we consume. Brand equity is now often built upon emotional connections with the provenance, a sense of cultural heritage and traditions. I hope for Atelier Courbet to convey that story and to allow for our clients to find that connect with each handmade piece presented.

What qualities unite the designers and companies represented at Atelier Courbet?
Atelier Courbet selects and represents master-craftsmen based on their abilities to fabricate for the contemporary art or design scene while carrying on a heritage, discipline and centuries-old techniques.

Atelier Courbet 1How did you come upon the Brewster Carriage House? Why did the building appeal to you?
It’s my friend’s building. He and I have similar visions and passions. It sounded natural and such a great fit for a gallery and shop focusing on master-craftsmanship and heritage to set the stage in a building that has that incarnation.

The Brewster Carriage Building goes back to the mid-nineteenth century when it used to house the famous carriage makers’ workshop. We kept the boilers doors as well as a carriage that was made here by the Brewster Company’s workers. Ross Morgan and I would like to make this corner a destination that stages both the heritage of the building, the neighborhood and selected centuries-old manufacturers from around the world. The Atelier Courbet and the Brewster Carriage Corner will become both a design gallery and a lifestyle shop.
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PackH2O Wins People’s Design Award

PackH2O

PackH2O packThe people have spoken, and selected PackH2O as the winner of the 2013 People’s Design Award, announced by presenter Todd Oldham at the Cooper-Hewitt‘s National Design Awards ceremony and gala held last night in New York. Designed and manufactured by Greif, the water backpack—a life-changing alternative to buckets and jerry cans designed to carry water home—takes its place alongside past winners including Design Matters, Trek’s Lime Bike, and Toms Shoes.

“Our goal is to ease the daily burden of water transport for women and children, enable fast, high-volume emergency relief and provide simple, affordable micro-business opportunities,” say the team behind Columbus, Ohio-based PackH2O, which bested a slate of 20 nominated works, ranging from popular apps to medical devices, that emphasize how innovative design can make a difference in daily life.

Documentary on Lela and Massimo Vignelli Screening at IFC Center, MFA Boston

“If you can’t find it, design it.” Following that motto has led Lella and Massimo Vignelli through a design career that spans products, graphics, publications, furniture, and more. Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra‘s documentary, Design Is One, traces the Vignellis’ legendary achievements–from New York’s subway signage and identity programs for Bloomingdale’s to Heller dinnerware and Venini lamps–alongside personal anecdotes from the likes of Richard Meier, Milton Glaser, Michael Bierut, and Jessica Helfand. Catch the film this month in New York City at IFC Center and later Symphony Space. It opens October 31 at the MFA Boston.

Talkin’ Toys with Kidrobot Founder Paul Budnitz

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ARTGIANTS4FootDunnyArtist, designer, author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, creator of stunning titanium bikesPaul Budnitz is a man of many talents, but he is best known as the founder of Kidrobot. More than a decade after its founding, the company’s ever-changing family of limited-edition art toys ranges from blind-boxed, collect-them-all figures to a high-gloss uberDunny that stands four feet tall–and will set you back $5,000.

Budnitz returns to his toy design roots with a new twist on the DIY Munnys that remain among Kidrobot’s top sellers: on October 16, Skillshare will launch his “Beautiful Plastic” online class in toy design. We seized the moment to ask Budnitz how he got his start, the first toy he designed, and what toys have caught his eye lately.

How did you get started designing toys?
In 2001 I fell in love with some very early Michael Lau toys that I saw in Hong Kong. And almost simultaneously, discovered that Bounty Hunter was making toys in Tokyo. I thought they were beautiful–a perfect combination of pop-art, design, pop culture–just these amazing little sculptures. Because they were all limited edition, when they sold out they were gone forever. That made them precious. I founded Kidrobot in 2002 to make toys with my friends, mostly street artists and designers and graphic artists.

Do you remember the first toy you ever designed?
I think the first toy was actually Dunny, with Tristan Eaton. I have to credit him with the brilliance of that toy, he is one of the greatest illustrators alive in my opinion. We spent about a year on it (I think) trying to get the design right. The idea was to make it the best canvas possible for other people to draw on. That is why the face is so big and flat and round. It’s also got attitude. We put one foot in front of the other, and cut the shoulders at an angle, so when the head turns in looks a little menacing. It’s still Kidrobot’s most popular toy.

What is your toy design pet peeve?
I left Kidrobot several years ago to work on my bicycle company and do some other things, since I just felt like it was time for me to move on. I love the company, but it is difficult for me to see the direction it has taken. I know that the people over there are working to renew some of the original spark and originality. I encourage them to do so.

To me it’s sad when great things get watered down and become obvious and corporate. Creating magic through design is difficult to maintain!
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Beautiful Plastic: Creating a Great Designer Toy

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Hold on to your Dunnys and Munnys, design fans, because Kidrobot founder Paul Budnitz is making time in his new life as a maker of beautiful bicycles to guide Smorkin’ Labbit lovers–and anyone else who is interested–through the process of creating a great designer toy. Budnitz has signed on to teach “Beautiful Plastic: Creating a Great Designer Toy,” an online course that launches October 16 through Skillshare.

“The goal of the class is to help artists sketch their own toy,” Budnitz tells us. “I talk about the basic history of designer toys, since it’s important to know the medium in which you’re working. There’s also a discussion about appropriation and juxtaposition, two elements of design that are found in most good art (and toys), and some ideas of how to apply this to your own toy.” And of course, he’ll offer plenty of pointers on how to design and draw a toy, with an eye to getting it off the page and into into production.
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Watch: Rich Brilliant Willing on Ideas, Collaboration, and Avoiding Fisticuffs

As the talented and exceedingly charming gentleman of Rich Brilliant Willing (a.k.a. Theo Richardson, Charles Brill, and Alexander Williams) head across the pond for the London Design Festival, which kicks off on Saturday, join them for a video interview produced by our friends at Design Within Reach. Click below to watch the trio discuss their design process —which only occasionally calls for consensual “duking it out,” their way with materials, and how their own decidedly 21st century aesthetic resonates with that of midcentury masters.

I Spy: New Museum Opens ‘Privacy Gift Shop’


An Anti-Drone Scarf, part of a collection of “stealth wear” by Adam Harvey in collaboration with Johanna Bloomfield.

A temporary store for stuff designed to help users evade detection? Such is the lowdown pop-up now operating at New York’s New Museum, which has given over its ground-level selling space to the Privacy Gift Shop. Stop in through September 22 to stock up on clothing and accessories that protect against various methods of surveillance.

Designed by artist Adam Harvey and fashion designer Johanna Bloomfield, the “stealth wear” on offer includes a metallized silk scarf (inspired by Muslim dress) that protects against thermal imaging surveillance, a dollar bill-sized wallet insert made of copper fabric to thwart would-be RFID skimmers, and an optical character recognition-resistant version of the iconic “I ♥ NY” t-shirt.
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Sneak Peek: Volvo’s Concept Coupe


(Courtesy Volvo)

When Thomas Ingenlath decided last year to take the position of senior vice president of design at Volvo, he began asking anyone he encountered to describe Volvo cars in a single word. The prevailing response: “nice.” “Not iconic or cutting edge,” notes Ingenlath, who previously headed up the Volkswagen Design Center in Potsdam, Germany. His first design sets out to change all that. “This is how Volvos will taste from now on,” says Ingenlath of the Volvo Concept Coupe (pictured), a bold two-seater that will be launched in Frankfurt next week after a hush-hush sneak peek in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“The last few years, car design has become increasingly standardized…and too often defined by cluttered and overly complex design,” he explains. “While other brands try too hard to look luxurious and muscular, Volvo Cars will stand out as the calm, confident, and naturally powerful challenger.” With new proportions and a face full of design elements (a floating grill, cow horns in the lower front) that reference the classic Volvo P1800, the new coupe is the first in a series of three concept cars that will each represent the next generation of Volvo models, starting with the New Volvo XC90 that is due out next year. As for the jaw-dropping interior, with its luxe leather instrument panel and hand-carved wood inlays, credit goes to design director of interior, Robin Page, who joined Volvo earlier this year from Bentley.
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Stylish Sleeping Bags for Urban Overnighters

Just in time for Labor Day weekend voyages, writer Nancy Lazarus surveyed the market for sleeping bags and got a sneak peek at the back-to-nature themes, trends, and colors that will be setting up camp come 2015.


Spoon-shaped sleeping bags from Dover, New Hampshire-based NEMO.

From the American Museum of Natural History’s Night at the Museum-fueled all-nighters to the recent “Citi Field Sleepover,” where 400 fans plopped down their tents and sleeping bags to watch a jumbotron broadcast of a New York Mets’ road-game, the sleepover isn’t just for middle schoolers anymore. Soon the age-old question of what to wear will be replaced by what sleeping bag to bring, so UnBeige went on a hunt for suitable choices.

While sleeping bag options for children abound, stylish adult sleeping bags for urban use are in short supply. Adult sleeping bags have mainly been designed for serious camping excursions. More innovations have been introduced in shapes and materials than in colors and technology, as detailed below. We’ve added a few suggestions regarding upcoming colors and patterns based on StyleSight’s spring and summer 2015 preview, to give enterprising designers something to sleep on.
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Seven Questions for Designer Dan Black of Black + Blum

With the megatradeshow NYNOW (formerly NYIGF) bringing mobs of product-seekers to Gotham this week, the hunt is on for the latest and greatest lifestyle and home products. A must-see stop in the cavernous, merch-stuffed Javits Center is the booth of Anglo-Swiss partnership black + blum. Designers Dan Black and Martin Blum joined forces in 1998 as a London-based design consultancy and soon began developing products such as an award-winning anthropomorphic doorstop named James (Black is brandishing one in the photo at right), a no-nonsense tape dispenser, and the “Brrrrr” polar bear ice tray. Black, a veteran of IDEO and Frog Design, paused in his NYNOW preparations to tell us about the personalities behind the products, their latest thirst-quenching hit design, and what the duo is debuting this week.


Punch up your lunch. Colorful sandwich keepers are among the black + blum products launching at NYNOW.

If you had to sum up the black + blum aesthetic/design philosophy in just three words, what would they be?
functional, soulful, and minimal

You’ve described a true black + blum product as “always a joint input of [your] and Martin’s personalities.” What are your personalities like?
We both like the same sort of products, whether they are contemporary new designs or vintage antiques. They will all have the same deep-rooted qualities. Although we have very different personalities, the inputs that we give to each design are actually very similar. Perhaps it is not so much our different personalities, but rather our tastes that influence the design. The most important thing is that it will never be only one of us that works on a design. We always find the final design will be a result of both our inputs and the end result is always better because of this.

What black + blum product has been flying off the shelves this summer?
Our “Eau Good” filter water bottle has been selling really well. The natural active charcoal filter is exposed inside the bottle. This can be a bit daunting for those who don’t what it is, but it becomes a talking point and allows users to proudly show that they are not drinking bottled water and helps spread the word to tell people that there is an alternative which is better for the environment.
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