Behind the Brand: Product Designers Talk With KBB
May 15, 2023
Welcome to the inaugural ‘Behind the Brand’ post, a new series from KBB that 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:
- Knikki Grantham, creative director of decorative hardware company Belwith Keeler
- Ugo Marinello, creative director of appliance manufacturer Fulgor Milano
- Carl Steadly, founder and CEO of Lunada Bay Tile
As a product designer, my greatest responsibility is…
Grantham: Using my creativity, ideations and research to help guide the BKDS brands in designing products that preserve our legacy as design leaders in decorative hardware.
Marinello: My designs need to consider a multitude of factors. The product must be functional; have a strong aesthetically advanced form; intrigue, excite, and even amaze, all without forgetting its fundamental purpose. I feel it’s my responsibility as a designer to consider these aspects in addition to strong consideration for the environmental and sustainability principles. A good design works for humankind and nature.
Steadly: Offering carefully curated slate and beautiful tile. Throughout our 20 years, we have remained focused on bringing original products made with passion and daring design to interior and outdoor spaces. Since day one, the company’s guiding principle has been its commitment to customers, employees and suppliers.
One of my creative touchstones is…
Grantham: I rely heavily on the fashion industry. Dior, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, to name a few. But also coming from a furniture and interior design background, I love entities that stay true to their roots while also reinventing themselves to generational changes.
Marinello: It is difficult to express a single creative reference; each designer has specific and different cultural influences. Trained in Italy, I am influenced by a long history of cultural, artistic and architectural roots dating back to ancient times and up to the current day with the most recent and innovative artistic trends. Fulgor Milano’s style has deep roots, influenced by such great designers such as Achille Castiglioni (FLOS) and Dieter Rams (Braun), along with the master of details in the world of architecture, Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. I’m proud of our obsessive attention to detail and the use of finishes in a minimalist design. The functional detail elevates the cosmetic details of the product. Details which are almost invisible and barely perceptible bring balance to the product and satisfaction for those who use our products.
Steadly: Personal expression. Art fuels my product development, and graduate work at Sophia University in Tokyo altered the course of my career, impacting many of our designs. Sumi-e, the first big program under our own brand, was our first big hit. Sumi-e means Japanese calligraphy. The color effect is reminiscent of calligraphic brush strokes. We still sell this look today as Tozen, which has the same essence as Sumi-e but with a contemporary edge. Another example is the Momentum collection of sculptural tiles that can be used to create three-dimensional art for walls. The tiles create visual movement: use as a single shape to discover various textures, or puzzle together multiple shapes to express unique direction. These expressive creations help make it possible for tile to become part of a larger conversation about personal expression.
An industry trend that I’m watching is…
Grantham: I’m really digging into the hyperphysical experience and how that translates to home. The fashion industry has huge success in brand awareness through hyperphysical experience. The kitchen and bath touchpoints are so heavily in decorative hardware, how can we be innovative in a tactile way to intensify the experience?
Marinello: The globalization of goods, the speed and volume of information, the virtual world and the use of AI are increasingly reducing distances and compressing time. The “global” market allows for new influences from other cultures. This is so important in the kitchen as well as other environments. We all benefit from diversity. This is one of the goals that I as a product designer have set for myself and provides inspiration in the development of my projects: If one can improve, don’t stop; think differently!
Steadly: Taking historical influences and updating them for today. Since 2003, Lunada Bay has produced handcrafted glass tile collections through old and new techniques of glassmaking that elevate design possibilities and create statements using color, shape, texture and luminosity.
The best part of my job is…
Grantham: Having a vision and then seeing it brought to life. We are such a collaborative team; it is like a family. We win together, we lose together, and we learn together.
Marinello: I love having a blank sheet of paper and a pencil in hand with the opportunity to research and the freedom to express myself. I love facing new challenges and goals and presenting possible solutions. Seeing the feedback on the Matteo Collection at KBIS this year and the appreciation for great product design was extremely fulfilling. The best part of my job is doing it and loving it!
Steadly: Our collaborative environment. We’ve painstakingly assembled the dream team. I do not believe in genetic pedigree, but I do believe in career pedigree. We could sum it up by saying there is really a true human factor that is involved in the company. Basically, everybody was involved at some point or another in a very extensive tile career. It is a hiring prerequisite that our key staff members must love tile.
If I had a week off from the studio, I would…
Grantham: Beach, kids, my Frenchie Biscoff Chewster and power-shopping.
Marinello: I would travel back in time and visit Tokyo, accompanied by a person who was very special to me, who often spoke of his experiences there: my former colleague, the late Alfred Hendricks. Alfred was a long-time design and engineering consultant for Fulgor Milano. At the age of 75, he would drive 800 km from his home in Brussels in his yellow Porsche to our headquarters located outside of Bassano Del Grappa, Italy. Although we often worked on different projects, Alfred and I worked side by side toward the end of his career. What amazed me was to see how two different designers from different generations, of different nationalities and with different design techniques, could develop products with such similar results. It was almost as if there was only one designer at Fulgor Milano. I’d like to think that at the end of his career, I provided Alfred the tranquility and peace of mind to leave his beloved Fulgor Milano in good hands.
Steadly: Travel. I find inspiration everywhere, especially when wandering through art galleries specializing in glass, metal sculpture or landscape art. One such find is Birdscape, which I found in a national museum in Auckland, New Zealand. To me, the essence of these handmade glass birds is that Lunada Bay Tile glass is much more difficult to make on a daily basis than standard glass tiles and should be portrayed as reproducible commercial art. The individually made avian sculptures also capture our perspective on tile design to draw on various glassmaking techniques to create these one-of-a-kind art pieces.
—By Leslie Clagett, KBB Managing Editor
This article was originally published on May 15, 2023; it was updated on June 12, 2023.
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