ArchiExpo e-Magazine - #30 – Custom MadeArchiExpo e-Magazine

Custom Made

In this issue we focus on custom-made designs for museum shops and retailers, as well as for “sleep sets” in the hotel industry. The London hotel event Sleep offers insight on the latter; we talk to participating designers about what’s going on in the hotel industry today and how the future might evolve. MoMa Design Store, Atelier Courbet and Chamber discuss the importance of limited editions and how they shop for hidden talents. Austrian designer Rainer Mutsch explains his method of understanding a company’s DNA before making his first sketch.

Happy Holidays from ArchiExpo e-Magazine

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This information is really a game changer for the hotel industry.
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London’s November hotel event Sleep challenges the context of hotel design and architecture for its 10th year running. Five design teams were invited to compete in this year’s competition under the complex theme Sinus-Milieus, a scientifically validated model which charts people’s changing values and everyday...

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You always have to have your eyes wide open and be ready to be surprised.
Courtesy of MoMa Design Store


Mass production has come to connote outsourcing and soulless factories where workers labor long hours for little pay to produce our furnishings. The tables, lamps and chairs may sport labels from famous designers, but increasingly for many consumers, the signatures don’t add intrinsic value to mass-produced commodities. It often is unclear where a table was assembled and whether it is solid rosewood or pressed wood. Worst of all is that thanks to FedEx and Amazon, chances are that the seemingly rare vase or the rug that you discovered during your last intercontinental trip is no longer that hard to find.

The increasing uniformity of domestic environments and workspaces throughout the world is fueling a reactionary appetite for limited edition works of design that double as art objects. Indeed, collectible design is all the rage these days. At the Sotheby’s Design auction in London this past November, sales were off the charts. A prototype from an edition of two of Surface Table, a sleek, black-lacquered carbon fiber coffee table by industrial designer Terrence Woodgate and design engineer John Barnard fetched $294,000, more than five times its estimate. A prototype of Gio Cabinet, an elaborately patterned affair from an edition of six, which was crafted from rosewood, bronze, polished brass and glass by Achille Salvagni fetched $139,579, triple its estimate.

An Important Role to Play

In New York, museum stores and new crop of design stores and galleries are getting in on the action. The Museum of Modern Art Design Store, which recently launched a limited edition of Robert Rauschenberg skateboard, is always working to gain exclusive rights to a product and to be the first to launch it. Museum of Modern Art director of merchandising Emmanuel Plat says that one factor driving the increasing appeal of limited editions is the Internet. “With shopping being so easy thanks to the Internet, most people can buy anything, anytime from anywhere,” he says, “Limited editions enable people to own objects that few others have.”

atelier courbet limited editions museum shops

Finding objects that few others have at Atelier Courbet. Courtesy of Atelier Courbet.

One of the highest-profile independent stores in New York selling limited editions is Atelier Courbet, a three-year-old establishment in an old warehouse building in Manhattan’s trendy NolIta neighborhood, which was started by the international art and design consultant Melanie Courbet. She is responsible for introducing the Parisian master-craftsmen Domeau & Peres to New York and she also has developed limited-edition furniture with the likes of Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Martin Szekely, Eric Jourdan, Pharrell Williams and Domeau & Peres.

Courbet generally discovers that talents she represents at her atelier through a network of friends and acquaintances that she socializes with at dinner parties and art openings. She then makes design suggestions and introductions such as the time she connected Frank Gehry and Vladimir Kagan, who were looking to manufacture a limited-edition collection of rugs for her store, to a group of weavers in Nepal.

Not Only for the Elite Designers

Although there are big names behind many of the products she sells, Courbet insists that the branding is not the point. An example is a limited run of vases designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid. “The value is not so much about the signature of Zaha Hadid,” she says, “The reason for the appeal is there is almost 4 kilos of silver and the fabrication and the material.”

Vase by Zaha Hadid for Atelier Courbet. Courtesy of the studio.

Vase by Zaha Hadid for Atelier Courbet. Courtesy of the studio.

Limited-edition design objects can command stratospheric prices but Courbet says that the furniture at her atelier should not be bought for investment. “The values and the prices are not based on the trading trends about an artist signature,” she says. “For example, a porcelain vase or a silver tea set was as expensive a hundred years ago as it is today; the fluctuations based on the price of the silver. These are timeless family heirlooms and they are about connecting the generations.”

Exploring the World for Inspiration

A markedly different approach is on display at another relatively new design gallery called Chamber, which is located at the epicenter of the New York’s art gallery scene under The High Line in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. At only three years old, Chamber shows an eclectic assortment of rare and unusual ephemera that can range from dinosaur bones to hand axes made in 6000 BC to limited edition industrial design objects.

“Chamber’s design philosophy is to create a 21st-century cabinet of curiosities comparable to the ones that inspired collectors of exotic ephemera in the 19th century,” says Michael Vince Snyder, the gallery’s director, adding, “You would have things brought together by philosophers or scientists that would constitute souvenirs from other cultures: animal specimens, plants, microscopes and time pieces—all of those things were inspired by the exploration of the world.”

Each year, Chamber features work chosen by a new curator. The current exhibit is curated by Matylda Krzykowski, a designer focused on collaborative and performance-based projects. Current items on display include Cruise Blue3/Blue9, a large hand-woven carpet made from high-performance silicon cord made by the designers Louie Rigano and Gil Muller. Another industrial chic item was Neon Chandelier by Jochen Holz, which consisted of curved fluorescent glass tubes in different colors. Some of these collectible design objects operate on a subtle level, such as Blue Leather Shelf by Tina Roeder, a simple two-level unit that distinguishes itself through the material used in its manufacture.

chamber lauren coleman limited editions museum shops

Curated by Matylda Krzykowski. Courtesy of Chamber.

Finding Needles in a Haystack

Snyder says that his team casts a wide net when scouting for talent at design fairs and schools such as London’s Royal College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design. “You always have to have your eyes wide open and be ready to be surprised,” he says. Last year, for example, the Chamber curatorial team found the Chilean woodworking artist Nicholas Aracena Müller on Instagram and brought him to New York for a performance piece, where he worked inside the gallery crafting one of a kind benches and tables from reclaimed wood.

Of course nurturing limited-edition collectible design involves inspiration and tireless work on the part of a gallery or a museum shop. “Developing products, whether limited editions or not, requires a lot of steps as well as risk,” says MoMA’s Plat. “Few institutions have the bandwidth to do so.”

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    Nothing epitomizes the sweet smell of success for a product designer like seeing their wares for sale at the MoMA Design Store in New York City. In fact, every product at the store has been vetted by the museum’s design department curators. In some cases, you can even find items at the store sold under the label “MoMA Collection,” which are replications of art you were just admiring in the museum gallery.

    The key word is innovative, says Emanuel Plat, the store’s director of merchandizing. “Is it innovative or made with material that is innovative? Is the way the material is used innovative?”

    Under the direction of Plat, the design store staff drops by design schools and international fairs like SaloneSatellite in Milan. They also constantly surf websites like Kickstarter, Dezeen, Design Milk and Cool Hunting.

    When they feel like they have spotted a special talent, the team hammers out deals to for as-yet-to-be-produced items, which are then sold in the store as MoMA Exclusives. Always working to get closer to the wellsprings of creativity, last year the store partnered with New York City’s School of Visual Arts, which is helping create products for the museum’s wholesale catalog.

    Plat has a knack for spotting the next new thing. One example is Artiphon’s Instrument 1, a long electronic device shaped like the neck of a guitar that can be strummed to produce guitar sounds, tapped to play piano notes, and thumped to make drum sounds. Plat and his team first noticed the Instrument 1 on Kickstarter two years before it was even produced and contacted Artiphon. Instrument 1 proved a prescient discovery—when it debuted, The New York Times named it the best invention of 2015.

    Another product that the store helped launch is called Lumio, a lamp masquerading as a book that magically becomes a sculptural light when opened. Plat says that Lumio, which was designed by a young San Francisco based architect named Max Gunawan, is one of the best-selling products that he has seen in his twenty-five years in retail. “We met him in Paris, before the product even existed,” said Plat, “We said that ‘when you are ready, we will do it together.’”

    After seeing some of the products in the store, you might find yourself wondering, “Now how did they think of that?” One imaginative product, the Makey Makey Invention Kit enables you to do things like draw your own joystick to play Pac Man and also make your plant into doorbell. Then there is the Cubelets Robot Kit for building robotic creations that respond to light, sound and temperature.

    Novelty is the whole point. “We don’t consider ourselves a museum shop,” Plat said. “We try to establish ourselves as one of the best venues to launch new products—it is really about discovery, like a treasure hunt. We want to feature what people don’t expect to find.”



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    The ability to draw by hand—both to create precise technical drawings and more expressive sketches—has underpinned the architectural profession for centuries. Yet the advent of the digital age and the pervasiveness of design software has seen the role and relevance of hand drawing in architecture increasingly questioned.

    It was against this backdrop that the Drawing Futures Conference was held at University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture on November 11 and 12, 2016. After her keynote conference speech entitled “What’s the Difference”—discussing the speculative and exploratory possibilities of drawing in architecture—ArchiExpo caught up with leading American architect Hsinming Fung to discuss the salient points of her presentation.

    ArchiExpo: Can drawing by hand allow architects to explore ideas in ways that digital software can’t?

    Hsinming Fung: Drawing by hand is a link to intellectual and emotional resources that are much more elusive in the digital realm. This is partly because the “sketch” is an evocative medium that allows the architect to rapidly appreciate its relevance, while simultaneously encouraging a response. It allows the architect to rapidly explore and evaluate myriad options, without the burden of overly explicit dimensions, geometries or preconceived configurations. Conversely, digital software can rapidly delineate an idea that has just been formed, so in my mind, the two create a very productive balance.

    ArchiExpo: How often do you sketch concepts by hand? Do you know any highly talented architects who can’t draw?

    Hsinming Fung: Initial explorations are almost always communicated to our team by sketches, or even whiteboard discussions. The development of graphic representations in digital form is extremely difficult without a constant stream of helpful suggestions, generally in sketch form. Those very talented architects whose work I know personally are obsessed with drawing. I’m not familiar with anyone who doesn’t communicate primarily without drawing.


    ArchiExpo: Is there a distinction to be made between the usefulness of technical drawings and sketches?

    Hsinming Fung: There I think you’ve put your finger on it. Technical drawings, which must communicate dimensions, detailed relationships that faithfully represent the materials and methods governing construction, and drawings to explicate custom configurations meant to guide tools—such as water jets, robots or five-axis mills—have benefited enormously from digital methods. They can save architects a vast amount of time.


    ArchiExpo: How do you see the role of drawing in architecture developing over the coming years?

    Hsinming Fung: I believe it will continue to be valued as an artistic choice rather than as a genuine and profoundly rewarding tool. Already there is a dearth of students with the requisite interest or talent; to many, bent on a career in which the marketing of their architectural product is paramount, it must seem an anachronistic, even irrelevant skill. Yet I am optimistic about the evolution of drawing within the digital realm, and am confident it will remain a powerful way to conceptualize design.

    About the architect

    Hsinming Fung is principal and co-founder of Hodgetts + Fung (HplusF), a California-based architectural studio founded in 1984. Specializing in the design of unique places for learning, cultural events and civic functions, HplusF’s award-winning projects include the redesign of the Hollywood Bowl, the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Centre, CalArts’ Wild Beast Pavilion, Jesuit High School Chapel and Nashville’s new Ascend Amphitheatre. Fung is Chief of Strategic Advancement and International/Special Programs at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and has taught at Yale, Ohio State and Cal Poly Pomona.

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    Erin Tallman

    American artist Erin Tallman is a journalist for various online publications and is the Editor in Chief of ArchiExpo e-magazine. She has published three books, including her first novel.

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    Vanessa Liwanag

    Vanessa Liwanag, is an MBA alumni of the prestigious Mod’Art International in Paris and founder of Creative Talents Worldwide.

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    Hilary Edesess

    Hilary Edesess is a freelance journalist based in Marseille, France. She blogs about culture, art and urban design.

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    Alex Ulam

    Alex Ulam is a freelance journalist and design critic based in New York.

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    Erin Gigl

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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    Daniel Allen

    Daniel Allen is a writer and a photographer. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including CNN, BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, Discovery Channel.

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