Israeli designer Dror Benshetrit established his studio in New York in 2002, after working in Paris and studying art and product design in The Netherlands. His work, which spans many arenas, from product design and interior design to architecture and urban planning, focuses on what he calls “transformation and movement.” The companies he’s done work for are just as far-reaching: Alessi, Boffi, Bombay Sapphire, Kiehl’s, Levis, Puma, Target just to name a few. We visited his studio in the Garment District for this edition of Where I Work for a glimpse of his environment and models, and of course a chat about this design philosophy and process. We also learned that design runs in the family.
First, I really like your chairs. OK, now tell us what’s on your desk today.
Thanks, I took them from another designer’s office. My office also functions as a conference room. As for my desk, I try to keep it minimal. My sketchbooks, pens, coffee, water, phone, camera, project reports. And a stack of business cards I need to respond to.
What’s a typical work day for you?
Every day is a different day for me. There are days I try to be free from meetings to work on designs; sometimes that means sketching, sometimes that means working in the workshop and building or testing. When I’m coming up with the concept, I’m writing, collecting and sketching feelings, later on it’s about sampling, and then refining technical aspects. It’s constantly varied.
How do you approach design?
I like the idea of practicing design holistically, and that includes architecture. I’m not an architect, but we have architects on the team. What interests me is innovation — looking at scenarios in ways they haven’t been explored before.
What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?
The closest tool is the pen, that’s the one thing you can never be apart from, the easiest way to translate directly from your brain. I like Faber Castel PITT artist pens, but it goes in phases. I also like a Stylo and the Pilot Razor Point.
What design software do you use?
We use all kinds; a lot of parametric software, mostly on a PC.
Do you do a lot of design work on a computer?
It’s an interesting balance. The Tron chair for Cappellini speaks about the digital world meeting the physical world. It is composed of intersecting layers and textures of “digital” rock. Sometimes you design on the computer and only later see it in the physical representation, but sometimes you work from physical and then digitalize the process, turning a physical cohesion into a digital experience. It’s a process of back and forth.
Detail of Swarovski light
A lot of polyhedron and pyramid forms coming out of the design world lately. There is certainly a good representation here in your studio, which we assume comes out of your innovative QuaDror System. Can you tell us about it?
Experiments started about five years ago here in the studio, because of a one-of-a-kind light we did for Swarovski. While playing, we came across the ability to articulate four identical members, and convert them from flat to 3D, which proved to be extremely strong structurally. We experimented for four years with different scales, shapes, manufacturing processes, and applications.
Today we have 16 different patents. We are working with different partners, collaborating on a variety of different things. We used this geometry to a few interior projects, including in the Cut 25 boutique, as clothing racks and in the Creative Rec showroom as shelving. We applied it to a desk, the MGX lamp and installations. We did an installation at the Museum of Arts and Design here in New York and a 20-meter wall for the Interni Mutant Architecture & Design event in Milan last year, both QuaDror system projects.
Model for the MGX lamp
What amazes you about what technology can do now that you would have thought impossible just a few years ago?
I am fascinated with parametric software at the moment. It is very new to our industry. The capabilities are mind blowing. It is so advanced in terms of form creation and form analysis. I play a lot with three-dimensional printing. We’ve even done a couple of projects for which we used the results as the final designs — the Volume.MGX and a project before that for Surface magazine. The final model is the finished product.
Do you find you work differently as the studio grows?
I’m always involved in every project we’re working on. It’s important to me not to grow to a point that we have no control.
Tumi luggage and Tron chair
What are the studio’s best-sellers?
The Vase of Phases has been a consistent best seller. The Tumi luggage collection that we just launched in mid-April has been very successful already. Our Target collection of desk accessories — stackable bookcase, ruler, boxes — sold out. We also did a mezuzah with Alessi that is popular.
Any projects you hope to do one day?
Many, the list is endless. I really like the fact that we are never bound by certain type of design, we always look at ways to influence and affect different industries and lifestyles.
Can you tell us about a current project you’re working on?
I’m working right now on my very first master plan. It fascinates me every day. Working on a city plan is a different scale than we’ve ever done.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve designed?
I like all of them for different reasons. It’s hard to compare sushi to a burger.
Ok, then tell us about about the first piece you designed.
Our first commercial product was the Vase of Phases for Rosenthal. It represents my early experiences in New York, coming into a large metropolitan area as young and naïve, not aware of challenges in the industry, and feeling broken. The idea was to take the iconic form of the vase and turn it into the worst form it could have — broken. There are three designs, all have been broken slightly differently; each went through different experiences to get there.
First we designed the perfect iconic form of vase. We molded and fired it, it was porcelain. Once we had the perfect shape, we started breaking them. The process was quite experimental. At first, I was breaking them completely, but I didn’t like it, it felt very archival. To keep them from shattering, I started protecting them by using a silicone rubber on the inside, so when they broke they would stay intact. The next stage was to fill the cracks with liquid porcelain, which bonded them, filling the separations, smoothing it. I make a mold for each one. It’s all handwork. I don’t know how many vases I broke, quite a lot.
Vase of Phases for Rosenthal
Was that the first project you did when you came to New York?
The very first project was the interior design for fashion designer Yigal Azrouel’s boutique. He’s my uncle. The chairs in my office you said you like, he’s the guy whose studio I took them from.
Detail of a QuaDror installation model
Photos by Kate Glicksberg for Design Milk.
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