From left to right: Russ Naylor, design director, Bok Modern; Brad Satterwhite, principal, Kem Studio; Nils Finne, principal, Finne Architects; and Paola Moya, co-founder, InNuevo. Illustrations by Peter Arkle.
Architectural Metal Products, Bok Modern
Russ Naylor, AIA, co-founder of San Francisco’s NC2 Studio, entered product design to avoid value engineering. After a “beautiful woven-wood railing” on the balcony of a multifamily housing project was slotted for replacement by standard pipe railing, the architect designed a unitized panel that required virtually no fasteners or welding. “We could put this ornamental railing on the project for less than the cost of the pipe rail,” Naylor says. The railing helped launch a separate company, Bok Modern, which offers laser-cut, powdercoated steel panels in nearly any pattern. The panels can be used as railing, fencing, or cladding. A forthcoming line called Aigo! will apply the same technology to furniture. Naylor splits his time equally between NC2 and Bok Modern, although his accountant has suggested focusing on the latter full-time, due to its success. “But at heart, we are architects and would never give that up,” he says.
Kena Digital Microscope, Kem Studio
Kem Studio was founded based on the European model of firms that “combine architecture and industrial design in a more meaningful way,” co-founder Brad Satterwhite, Assoc. AIA, says. “We all have our hands on everything.” Having industrial design in-house has emphasized the role of human behavior and interaction. “Before we start any project, there’s a complete understanding of the parameters,” he says. “Not just program and budget, but … in the experience.” Kem Studio has designed medical products such as the Cool Stretch foot splint and consumer items such as the Bushnell Voyager binoculars. The Kena Digital Microscope combines the usability of toy microscopes with the technology of advanced digital microscopes—“less technical and more approachable,” Satterwhite says. With knob controls and real-time output on a monitor, the scope can be removed from its base for extra mobility.
Foss Pendant, Finne Architects
A professor once urged Nils Finne, AIA, to pursue furniture and lighting design rather than architecture. Finne’s response: “Absolutely not.” “I said I’d dream of architecture because that’s a much larger scale design challenge than just objects.” But 30 years later, Finne’s custom furniture, which frequently appears in his Seattle firm’s projects, is often how clients find him. “We live in a Crate-and-Barrel society,” he says. “My clients seem to appreciate the highly personal touch [my designs] bring.” Product design has also heightened his attention to detail. “An eighth of an inch can make a huge difference. You don’t always experience [that kind of precision] in building design.” Finne has begun selling his wares a la carte. The undulating glass diffuser of his Foss Pendant luminaire evokes flowing water. Hence, its name is Norwegian for waterfall.
DOCKr and Dockr 2, Innuevo
For Marshall Moya Design (MMD) co-founder Paola Moya, Assoc. AIA, objects can be as complex to design as buildings. “You’re thinking about the amount of users who can touch this object,” she says. Though MMD was established as an architecture and product design firm, Moya and co-founder Michael Marshall, AIA, formed a separate company for products, InNuevo. “I wanted to make sure the architecture remains a service business,” Moya says. InNuevo’s first release, the DOCKr, is a carrying case and tablet docking station that can rotate 140 degrees. Its successor, the DOCKr 2, comes with wireless speakers and a battery to extend the life of the computer and other devices. InNuevo is funding and marketing DOCKr itself. “We wanted to take control of the opportunities,” Moya says. “Sometimes it’s hard to go to big companies and say, ‘I have a design,’ and be taken seriously. So we said, ‘Let’s do everything on our own.’ ”