Behind the Brand: Product Designers Talk With KBB
December 25, 2023
Welcome to the December edition of Behind the Brand, where KBB seeks to illuminate – somewhat! – the creative process from the perspective of top product designers in the kitchen and bath fields. Being able to look at everyday objects in a radically different way is the [un]common denominator of these talented individuals.
This month, we hear from:
- Jill Cohen, vice president of design, Artistic Tile
- David Trubridge, founder of David Trubridge Lighting
- Christian Nickum, owner/president, Rocky Mountain Hardware
As a product designer, my greatest responsibility is…
Cohen: Working with the team to develop the most beautiful products we can create. We have 2 products and 2 visual display designers on the team. Our goal is to keep surprising ourselves with new ideas that will transform into unique products, develop them with our vendor partners and then install them in our showrooms in a highly creative way.
Trubridge: Way more important than any other responsibility is my caring for the environment. By that I don’t just mean the trees and grass, but the whole life support system of nature that we and future generations depend on. If a product does harm in any way then the designer is responsible because they specified the materials and manufacturing processes. It is also important to pay back to nature: we do this by planting trees and cleaning plastic from the ocean. Our Diatom series (Navicula, Maru and Toru) draws attention to the vital role of plankton in oxygen generation. $50 from the sale of each product goes back into ocean protection.
Nickum: To continue to allow our company to bring new and thoughtfully designed architectural products to market using old world casting techniques that appeal to the architectural styles of today’s demanding and sophisticated clientele.
One of my creative touchstones is…
Cohen: Going back to the basics; art and craft from all over the world. I try to keep forever looking for colors and techniques that we may be able to interpret into our material types.
Trubridge: Integrity – that I am truly expressing what I believe in – that it is fresh and comes from my heart, that it does not jump onto any existing bandwagon. I am the sum total of all my experiences. Everything I have done and been is there in some incremental way in all the things I create. This is one’s greatest asset; it is what makes us unique. It is this, not any ‘cleverness’, which I am constantly drawing on in order to make lighting designs naturally unique and devoid of contrivance.
Nickum: The ability to utilize our production strengths to appeal to our clientele by being able to bring the client’s dream quickly and effectively to life. We have grown our company based on a “never say no” attitude which has given us many challenging opportunities that we continue to learn and grow from. Our artisans use a variety of methods from hand carving, using found articles like real rope, to create the most realistic patterns possible.
An industry trend that I’m watching is…
Cohen: Colors are moving warmer and even more textured. There is no doubt that trends have swings and roundabouts and we try not to focus too much on trends themselves, but we have been feeling the warming up of color for over two years now. It’s a subtle shift but we take cues from what we see in global design overall and this is the direction.
Trubridge: I do not believe in fashion trends: they are usually a ‘commercial construct’, designed to get you to buy more stuff that you don’t need, just because the trend has made the old one outdated. However, in terms of direction, the only two that really matter are degrowth and sustainability. How do we provide the things people really NEED, not just what we need to sell them? In a happy future world where we are living within our means, within the limits of what the planet Earth can continually provide, what will we be making and how? Some companies will fail to take this on and disappear.
Nickum: The ever-changing design trends, we look to create new products that suite the styles of today in the beautiful medium of bronze. Our new collaboration with Jennifer Hoey, principal interior designer of Suede Studio, was designed to have a broad appeal. The Phases Collection bridges the gap between Rocky Mountain Hardware’s more traditional designs to the sleeker pieces that are often desired in many of today’s projects. The collection represents the phases of life and how it is always changing and how we adapt. Hoey said, “There are elements of design that can last longer than others, but the reality is that we are all inspired by the phases of life that we are in now.”
The best part of my job is…
Cohen: Working directly with our vendor partners and their artisans at the factory level. I truly believe the only way to push our creative envelope is to fully understand our makers, materials, and machinery. Only then we can work towards designing, or “leaning in” to their specific processes. This allows us to work with our resources and try new methods, a bit like how you must learn musical notes and scales before you can free form and jam.
Trubridge: The immense feeling of fulfilment I get from seeing an idea I have conceived out of my imagination come to fruition. But I have also become aware of late that this is rather egotistical and indulgent, and that we are no longer going to have the luxury to do this. Design has to become more responsible and more responsive to the requirements raised by the current climate crisis.
Nickum: To see a person’s dream come to life that my team and I have created, whether it be a complete custom item created from scratch or another piece from our standard line. We strive to make the best hardware in the world, and we want to ensure every customer enjoys their experience with us and our products. Our hardware enhances every room and seeing our customers happy is what keeps us going.
If I had a week off from the studio, I would…
Cohen: TRAVEL – everywhere is inspiring. I love seeing the world of art, nature and design from antiquity to today. While it is true that everything has been done in some form before, seeing a new material or a design element often sparks something that informs my creative brainstorming. For instance, our Pinnacle Fete definitely has a Mondrian-esque quality in how we chose the inlay stone colors and placement.
Trubridge: ‘If’? There is no if! We all need time off to relax and recharge. So WHEN I have time off, I do this by getting as far out into nature as I can, whether it is windsurfing offshore or climbing a mountain. But I never stop thinking about creating, there is always something going on in the background of my mind.
Nickum: Get out and enjoy the fresh air and experience a new adventure!! Like most people in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, I enjoy getting outside and looking for the next adventure.
—By Leslie Clagett, KBB managing editor
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