Words with Masters

Dec. 17, 2013
We ask a group of leading interior and product designers about their careers, their inspirations, their thoughts on the current state of design, and their advice for the generation to come.

We here at Interiors & Sources live to celebrate great design and the designers behind it, so when it came time to put together our inaugural “Masters” issue, we knew it wouldn’t be complete without speaking to a few of the visionaries you’ll find on the next few pages. We asked this group of leading designers about their careers, their inspirations, their thoughts on the current state of design, and their advice for the generation to come.

Their responses ranged from the surprising to the subtle, but they also reveal some common thoughts and universal truths of the field. Respect from the industry is nice, but respect from clients is better. Collaborating with others isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Knowing yourself and chasing the things that inspire you is critical. And whether you’re designing a gleaming bathroom collection or a high-rise, true innovation takes risk.

Head to interiorsandsoruces.com to read extended interviews with these masters, as well as to share your thoughts on the following interviews. What advice from our masters resonates most with you? Tell us at our Facebook or Twitter pages, or in the digital version of this story at bit.ly/wordswmasters.

 M. Arthur Gensler Jr. | Co-Founder, Gensler

As a master of design, what’s one project in your portfolio that really stands out for its innovation?
I have no favorite project. I do believe that when the Shanghai Tower is completed in 2015, it will be considered one of the few iconic towers in the world—not just because of the shape, but because of its sustainability and many other unique factors in the design.

Was gaining notoriety for your work ever a specific goal?
Gaining notoriety with our clients for the work of our firm was a strong goal. I hope people in the profession respect what we do, but they are not our clients.

What kind of office philosophy have you tried to build at Gensler?
Gensler is a very big family. We all work together and support each other; we share the successes and the failures together. We are a “we” firm, not an “I” firm.

What do you think of the youth of today? Are they getting a bad rap?
The youth of today are terrific—talented, hard-working, and committed. They really want to save the world and will do whatever it takes.

Designers today often struggle with making a “personal brand” for themselves. Do you have any advice for them?
There are many ways to participate in the practice of architecture. There is no right or wrong way. “Personal brand” is one approach, but not mine. I believe it takes a team with the complexity of today’s construction process. The aesthetics are just one of many activities needed to create a successful project.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Get started. Learn all aspects of the profession.  I started for the first year in an office checking shop drawings on one research laboratory building. It was certainly not what I hoped to be doing as a designer, but in hindsight, it was probably the best early training I could have gotten because I learned in detail how a building is actually put together. My future design work got much better.

What’s one thing that will surprise us?
I never have my name on a project. I want the people who do the work to get the deserved recognition, not me.

What was the worst job you ever had?
Being a construction laborer and carrying 2- by 6-foot concrete form panels around a construction site all day.

What’s your number one vice?
I love Rombauer Chardonnay and don’t plan to kick the habit.PageBreak

 Mary-Jean Eastman | Principal, Executive Director and Founding Partner, Perkins Eastman

How would you define a master of design?
Being a thought leader or a “master of design” means knowing the rules well enough to know where to break them.

Describe the design philosophy at your firm.
Our firm mantra is that design is a team sport and every aspect of what we do is design. Excellent design is consistent in the quality of its concept and planning to its detailing and construction. Collaboration is essential.

What do you see as the future of design?
I believe the future of design is the intersection of mega and boutique. Clients are looking for both breadth and depth. They want residential/hotel/retail/office or higher education/healthcare/research, and they want the design informed by real expertise in each area with a hospitality perspective.

Project teams are becoming more diverse every year—what’s your advice to designers looking to create an effective team?
Recognize your strengths and collaborate with others who have the strengths that you do not. For instance, very few people are strong conceptual and detail designers. The easiest problems to solve are those with the fewest solutions, i.e. the most constraints. It’s more difficult to lift the layers of constraints, but that is the path to innovation.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Be an advocate for yourself and what you want to learn. To understand the design process, take your earbuds out and listen to the other members of your project team.

What’s the one piece of furniture you can’t live without?
My magenta Jacobsen egg chair and ottoman—it is the ideal laptop environment.

What interior space really wowed you and affected your perspective of design?
The Monet “Water Lilies” room at MoMA.

What’s the most recent book you couldn’t put down?
Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” is an important and influential read right now. Although our firm is extremely diverse, the senior leadership is not nearly as diverse as it should be to capture the talent we need. We have to recognize that most women (including myself) were not raised to be leaders and lack the self-confidence of their male peers. We must identify potential leaders early in the careers and give them the encouragement they need. [Read more on Sandberg’s book in I&S’ November 2013 issue, “Leaning In and Pushing Forward”]PageBreak

 Roberto Palomba | Architect, Designer and Founder, Palomba Serafini Associati

Who are some of the design icons that you have looked up to throughout your career?
Each period of design’s history has its icons. Charles and Ray Eames are for sure people to admire: they were able to design a monolithic object that was at the same time sensual and light, such as the RAR chair for Vitra, which represents the maturity of the Eames and their ability to design innovative products. Another example could be Achille Castiglioni, who reinvented lighting with his Arco lamp, designed for Flos.

In addition to iconic designers and architects from the past, we have cultural or historical influences, like the moviemaker Pedro Almodóvar, artist Ron Muek, Russian composer [Modest] Mussorgsky, or the Italian poet Eugenio Montale. They are all fragments of a unique universe made by references.

At what point did you start to realize that people look up to your own work?
When we saw that more and more of our products have been copied.

What is your design philosophy? How do you work with your wife and partner, Ludovica, to make design a reality?
Our creations, whether they are pieces of design or architecture, are derived from observations of change in human behavior. Our initial drafts are projections of our own needs. Our two visions are complementary and our design consensual.

The challenge of our work is merging function, innovation, and longevity. We seek to project courage and serenity through the purity and originality of our work. Perhaps we are trying to pluck our creations from a collective unconsciousness; our task is to mold and deliver them. That is what characterizes our creations: research—often long, difficult, and exhilarating—to finally reach what is evident.

What most excites you about design today?
All of the new materials are very interesting, for example LAUFEN’s SaphirKeramik ceramic, which provides me with the opportunity to rethink ceramic design. There are always new challenges in terms of innovation. The real innovation must be 360 degrees—not only aesthetic but also functional and sustainable.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Be curious, always. Find your own style, even by making mistakes. Never forget your originality and taste while looking for what is new. It could be hard work, and we are not saying that it will be simple to find your own way, but there are no secrets to becoming a designer. You have to study, to work with companies and professional people that can teach you something new. It’s a path where you can spread competencies and passions. And last but not least, be yourself.

Tell us about your favorite place to work.
On a plane, because I can design without any interruption—there are no phones (although I’m afraid that in a short time this will change, too).

What’s the one piece of furniture you can’t live without?
It’s not a piece of furniture, but I can’t do without my iPod, because I can’t live without music.

What is your favorite interior space?
There is no one in particular, but for sure it is a space full of natural light.PageBreak

 Michael Graves | Architect, Designer and Founder, Michael Graves & Associates

How would you define a master of design?
I would define a master of design to be someone who worked within a language of architecture that was well-known, and whose work was truly original.

Who are some of the design icons that you have looked up to throughout your career?
Josef Hoffmann, Le Corbusier, Aldo Rossi, Gunnar Asplund, Andrea Palladio, and Francesco Borromini.

At what point did you start to realize that people looked up to your work in this way?
Since I lecture a lot, I have opportunities to regularly speak with people who come to hear me. It is humbling when they tell me that my work or lectures have influenced their careers, or have been personally meaningful to them.

What most excites you about design today?
To be honest, very little excites me about architectural design today. I find most of today’s work to be narcissistic, whether the designer is young or old.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Whenever someone who is just starting out in their career asks me for advice, I always suggest that they think like a pianist and practice every day. For me, practice means drawing. I also believe you need to read, read, and read.

What interiors have most affected your perspectives on design?
I can immediately think of three interiors that truly affected my perspective on design:  Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, The Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen by C.F. Hansen, and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, also known as the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

What’s the most recent book you couldn’t put down?
I am currently reading “Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History” by Robert Hughes, and I cannot put it down.PageBreak

 Joyce Romanoff | President, Maya Romanoff, and Maya’s Wife

How would you define a master of design?
A master of design fully understands the realm within which they work. Their work is constantly adapting, refining, renewing, and their work is never complete. Maya came to the world of design through the fine arts, which taught him adaptability, perfectionism, and dissatisfaction.

Who are some of the design icons that you or Maya looked up to? Who impresses you now?
Jack Lenor Larsen and Albert Hadley were both early supporters of Maya’s transition from the fine arts into the world of interior design. The strength and vision displayed in their designs will always be a huge inspiration for Maya and me. We also have developed collaborative collections with Roger Thomas and David Rockwell—both incredibly talented designers and sources of constant inspiration.

Tell us about your creative process—how do you and Maya create with your team?
We are first and foremost a collaborative team. At times we are undisciplined, but that was all by Maya’s design—he wanted to cultivate an environment that fostered a lawless sense of play. This is how all of the best ideas are generated. We are a family.

What do you see as the future of design?
The future of design is going to be led by the people that can harness the tremendous momentum that is taking place in technology. It is exciting for us, as we’ve always strived to blend cutting-edge technology with the thoughtfulness of the human hand to create a product that is truly unique. A good example is our Beadazzled Murals, which contain an image printed at an oversized scale by an enormous printer, and hand-applied glass beads, done here in our Chicago studio. The resulting product has far more character, visual interest, and elegance than digital print alone, but would not be possible without current technology.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Find what inspires you and stick to it. Also, don’t be solitary—make use of the people you have around you, be sure to ask for feedback and for help when you need it. It is a delicate balance between originality and collaboration. There is no formula that works for everyone; it is a great deal of trial, error, and hard work. And always be kind. You never know where relationships may lead.

What’s the one piece of furniture you can’t live without?
Oh, that’s an easy one—my cowhide Eames lounge. It’s a work of art!

What’s the one space that really wowed you and affected your perspectives on design?
David Rockwell’s design of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas really knocked my socks off. It is such an unusual and eclectic environment, from the forest of LED screens at the entrance to the multi-story chandelier.

What’s the most recent book you couldn’t put down?
It’s probably the new biography we’re releasing on Maya in 2014! It is called “Multifarious: Maya Romanoff’s Grand Canvas,” and was produced by Chicago-based CityFiles Press.We only just received our advanced copy, and it is stunning! Maya and I read a few pages every evening—it is an amazing thing to be able to be surprised by your own life story. He never ceases to surprise me, that’s for sure.PageBreak

 Carl Magnusson | Industrial Designer, Inventor and Founder, CGM Design

How would you define a master of design?
It is a person who can assimilate various design disciplines into a cohesive result.

Who are some of the design icons that you have looked up to throughout your career?
Gilberto Colombo, the engineer of the Maserati chassis; Sven Markelius, an obscure Swedish architect known for his humanistic architecture; and Edward Tufte, the author of “Envisioning Information.”

People like to point out that in spite of Babe Ruth’s success, he also had 1,330 strikeouts in his career. What have you learned from your “strikeouts”?
If we can set aside sports analogies, failures are normal in design. Design is the exploration of the new, therefore there is always risk, and with that comes some failures. But you eventually learn to navigate these risks and increase your success rate.

What most excites you about design today?
Industrial design was founded in the industrial revolution and continues into the now-nascent digital revolution. What I find exciting is the digital ability to accumulate information or data to shape new understandings of the issues that need to be addressed by design. What are the next factors that need to be plugged into the formula of a good design solution? The formula of design is continually adding new factors, such as environmental and ergonomic considerations, which were not present 50 years ago.

What do you see as the future of design?
Design has an ever-increasing role in our society’s survival as it solves ever-more complicated problems that need the inductive and deductive disciplines of design thought. To mature, design needs to embrace science and social behavior further.

Designers today often struggle with making a “personal brand” for themselves. Do you have any advice for them?
A personal brand should be the result or byproduct of good work as you build up recognition, not a goal in itself. Hard work gets the best good work out of you.

Do you have any advice for fledgling designers?
Apprentice with the best. Learn to draw by hand before you draw through CAD. Make or repair things by hand so you understand how things work, and learn first-hand about materials and their properties so you can specify what works. Stay close to simple realities of the sciences.

What was the worst job you ever had?
Working in a city planning office in Southern Sweden. It was my fault, not theirs; a bad fit of ambitions. I quickly learned that industrial design was more to my calling.

Where’s your favorite place to work?
At home in New York, surrounded by books that know more than I will ever absorb. It is intimidating and inspiring at the same moment.

What stimulates your creativity?
Music by the Baroque masters and driving my old Porsche aimlessly. Both have a certain fluidity that allows the mind to wander around until some magnetic force moves one towards a natural direction.

What’s the one piece of furniture you can’t live without?
My Bantam folding chair/suitcase. I don't really use it but love to be reminded of its brilliance. It personifies my belief that design is function with cultural content.

What is an interior space that really wowed you and affected your perspectives on design?
An igloo. You were sheltered from the wind, surrounded by available light, cold but safe, and humbled by the material: frozen water carved and built by hand, lasting as long as the climate would decide.

What’s your favorite read?

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