Formafantastma, Ladies & Gentlemen, Rich Brilliant Willing: The list of design partnerships that began in art school is pretty endless. But rare is the pair who knew and liked each other so much that they not only registered at the same university at the same time, but also enrolled in all of the same classes, “to keep each other on our toes.” That’s Calen Knauf and Conrad Brown of the emerging Vancouver-based design studio Knauf and Brown; the two met through skateboarding more than a decade ago.
Brown was a photographer and Knauf a graphic designer, and once they graduated, the natural thing to do was to go into business together. “It’s a good partnership,” they say, “because we both have different strengths, but fairly similar aesthetics.” What’s emerged so far has shown an emphasis on simple and honest natural materials, like ash and marble, as well as a healthy sense of humor that occasionally surfaces in the form of performance art. For “despite how much of our lives we dedicate to design and our studio, we still place a high priority on having as much fun as possible,” they say. “We both still skateboard and regularly get up to no good.” Read on for a deeper look at this brand-new practice.
Tell us about your studio, what's it like?
The studio is on East Broadway and Fraser in Vancouver, which is pretty busy intersection with lots of cheap things to eat around it, including about a thousand Vietnamese restaurants, and Matchstick cafe a few blocks away, which has really good coffee. It's a home studio, which has its ups and downs. On one hand, the studio/office itself is pretty small, maybe 100 square feet. It's big enough for a table, a desk and all our hand tools. We both love an organized space, so most of the time the studio is pretty spic and span when we're not modeling something.
When we take breaks, Calen makes cappuccinos and we get to chill on a Bouroullec sofa to watch cartoons on a big screen. No one complains if we blast music at two in the morning. The office itself has a really pretty view of the north shore mountains, and the back patio is even better.
Tell us one thing that's been inspiring you lately:
Ever since we started working together, even before university, we’ve always been doing both art and design. For us they’re inseparable. So we spend a lot of time in both worlds, and the space where they cross over. This means we spend just as much time looking at commercial products and spaces as we do looking at other artists' works. So, for instance, lately we've been inspired by certain makeup point-of-purchase stands in the cosmetic sections of department stores. They always look really chic with lots of frosted acrylic slabs and flesh tones. They have a very natural tone, but at the same time a really hard, chic look. It really does reflect the fashion model wearing it.
Describe your next project and how you're currently making it:
The Standard Collection consists of a movable floor coaster, a modular table light, and a vanity mirror that all require user interaction. The idea is that in a world of ubiquitous automation, it’s easy to fall into mindless routine. The more often you flip a light switch, the less you think about it. Flipping a switch allows you to become passive in your interactions with objects. You don’t touch the objects, make decisions about them, or build a connection to them. The Standard Collection uses the word ‘standard’ to describe the manual rather than the automatic option. A standard transmission requires greater input from the driver and more frequent interaction. You change gears using both hands and both feet. You make decisions in relation to context. You are attuned to your surroundings.
If you use a Standard object everyday and build a thoughtful relationship with it, you will not be cavalier about throwing it away or replacing it. You will want to fix it, sell it, or continue to enjoy it in your home. Too many discarded objects, you will realize, have passed through your life unappreciated.
Our project Standard Collection will finally be launching at Sight Unseen OFFSITE in New York, May 16-20. It’s a series of products for the home, aimed at the luxury market. The products themselves are designed with enjoyment of use in mind, rather than simply ease of use, so we wanted to create photos that reflected their unusual nature. Instead of the classic product-on-a-white-seamless look, we took everything to the beach, twice, for what is now the most arduous shoot we've ever done. Nothing about the beach is conducive to making photos! The light is constantly changing, the wind is ruthless, it's so bright that you can't see anything, and sand, well, you can imagine. But it was totally worth it!