His forward-thinking, futuristic designs have been well-documented on Design Milk and now the multi-hyphenated designer Karim Rashid lets us into his workspace to get a sense of not only where he works, but his process. His colorful wares dot his office surroundings letting him and his staff live with the designs giving better perspective on future ideas. For this month’s Where I Work, we visit Rashid’s Hell’s Kitchen office in New York City to check it out.
What is your typical work style?
Wake up with my wife early in the morning. Spend time with daughter after my wife leaves for work. We draw together, watch videos, and I try and teach her as much as possible. When I arrive at the office I have a strong double espresso latte, then I answer emails, meet with my studio managers and assistants, sketch, write articles, proposals, etc., then go down the list of projects and meet with each one of my staff. I probably work on the design of 10 projects in a day. Head home for lunch with my daughter then back to the office to answer more emails, more sketching, more meetings. Meet with my trainer at the gym, then home for dinner with my family. I find I am most creative in my office when I am with my clients or staff, or in an airplane since I can be alone to think, sketch, and focus, isolated with headphones.
I am probably most creative when working on long haul flights. I travel so much for work that I am a pro at working anywhere. I can plug in my headphones, put on really good electronic music, and focus on my ideas. Here I’m free from the burdens of day to day running of the business, interruptions from meetings or interviews or questions from the staff.
What’s your studio/work environment like?
My studio must be very organized and clean. Objects lined up perfectly. Desk always clean, minimal. The most important part of my studio is the openness, the high ceilings, and massive amounts of daylight. That is most conducive to a positive work environment.
How is your office organized/arranged?
The studio space was designed to have a volume of serenity for optimum creativity. I chose the space because it is about 500 square meters with 8 meter high ceilings in the main space, and fantastic light from any direction. Huge windows flood the office and reception space with light. We even have glass floors to bring light down to the basement and skylights.
Do you have your own space with a door? Does everyone work at a long open desk?
My office is in the raised mezzanine overlooking the main floor. No doors, it is completely open and framed by clear glass. The staff are grouped into their departments of product design, graphic design, interior design and administration but it is open plan so people move free.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
For 10 years I lived above my studio in Chelsea so my commute was 15 seconds. When we moved to Hell’s Kitchen it was important to find spaces close to one another to house my growing family and growing studio. It’s been a pleasure to come to work every day for the last two years. A breath of fresh air. My old office had minimal natural light and looked out into a dirty courtyard of pigeon droppings. I have the shortest commute of any New Yorker. I like to minimize the line between work and home but still each is their own sanctuary. I can be really focused at work, meeting and sketching with my team, then home for lunch with my daughter in two minutes. Home is for escape not work.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
I would make the conference room bigger. We’re working on so many new interior projects and it means having large meetings of developers and architects and contractors. Otherwise my office is ideal. Many people see my work as outlandish but seeing it across the 500 sqm space it becomes very holistic and very calming – a great environment to feel inspired. People comment about how bright and positive the space is thanks to the big windows and colorful surfaces and soft furnishings.
Is there an office pet?
The Illy coffee machine is the closest we come to a pet. It gets a lot of love.
Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?
Absolutely! There is a hard drive with 30,000 songs that we play in the office. We generally play an mix of electro, house, ambient, down tempo, day disco, electronica, and space age. If music is abstract (minimal vocals and not nostalgic) then it affords me to concentrate, be inspired, dream, imagine, and become completely engrossed in what I am working on. It is an essential part of my process. Old music takes me places that I don’t want to go.
How do you record ideas?
I sketch. It is still my fastest and most effective way of conveying ideas. I use Pilot fine line pens and paper or Faber Castell markers (I have about 100 colors on my desk) and with my iPad and my finger when travelling so I can email them asap.
Do you have an inspiration board?
No, I don’t have an inspiration board. If I look at images I become derivative. In order to be original, my life is my inspiration board. The 42 countries I am working in, all the books I have read, all the travel I do, all the films I watch, all the research I partake in, all the factories I visit, all the clients I learn from, all the staff, and all the people I meet every day are inspirations.
What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?
Every project is different and usually the process is also. I fill sketch books weekly, and then I bring my designs back to the studio. My team creates 3D renders of my ideas, does research with me on materials, production processes, and then we refine the concepts based on all the plethora of criteria, be it social, economic, or technological issues until my vision is realized.
What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?
My office is 99% my designs from the Rastelli desks for the staff, my own Della Rovere desk, Chakra office chairs, BoConcept Ottawa conference room table to even the dish rack, cup tree, dish soap, moisturizers, Post-it note holders and pens.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
My last studio had a workshop but it hadn’t been used in 15 years. We’re a long way from blue foam and wood models. I leased my first 3D printer in 1999 when the technology was at its infancy and we’ve had them in the studio ever since. I have since produced hundreds of prototypes and models on 3D printers. We also have a large format fabric and paper plotter. My HP large format printer can print 1.6 million colors so I experiment with everything from wallpapers to testing repeating tiles to upholstery to digital paintings.
What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?
All digital with about 6 softwares, rapid prototyping, and large format archival printing.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.
I am sure I am typical of most, I use an iMac, MacBook Air, iPhone 6 and Apple Watch – the full suite! I travel with an iPad to draw only. I travel with Harman Kardon Bluetooth speakers for hotels, Monster noise cancelling headphones for the plane, and a Hercules controller for deejaying.
What design software do you use, if any, and for what?
I used to use computers for 20 years but now my teams render my ideas using Keyshot, Solidworks, 3D Studio Max, VRay, Rhino, Maya, Grasshopper and Adobe Creative Suite. 3D renderings help to really suspend disbelief and perfect the final product or space. Today computers are an essential tool for design. It is the most incredible phenomena, especially with space and architecture because I can see and walk through spaces. I can light them the way they would be almost exactly in reality.
Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?
As with most creative people it is difficult to have a favorite since my mind and passion is always into my latest projects. I also have designed so so many projects from micro to macro. Right now my favorite project is several condominiums around the world, a hotel in Amsterdam, a restaurant in Morocco, a café in Qatar, a hotel in Tel Aviv, a hair dryer (great project) and I am branding and designing an entire new airline (interiors and every aspect of the new airline). I must say that I enjoy from micro to macro, anything and everything that creates a better human experience.
Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances?
Yes, I feel successful. But there are still so many poorly designed objects in the world and so many obstacles to making them better. I think I will feel ultimately successful when the world is seamless and perfectly designed. It is an honor but I feel the real accolade is seeing my objects in average people’s homes or to see a space realized, enjoyed and experienced by people. Design is for people, not for museums, design is for everyone, not just the rich. The highlight now is to see that 500,000 people on Facebook like me because I always saw design as a populist act, not an elitist act.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
I’m designing several hotels, condominiums, restaurants and other hospitality projects around the world. I’m very excited about a 500 room resort in Cancun. The light in Cancun is so sensual, so romantic, so beautiful. The hotel is a mirror of that precious gloaming. I love color – and colored glass of diverse colors is used throughout the hotel to give diverse illusory effects and changes all day from the light. I tried to make this hotel a real fantasy from reality. It will be unlike anywhere else in the world. The greatest hurdle was to make an interesting facade that reflected the interior and spoke about the merging of art, comfort, and humanity. The interior needed to be inviting and visually provocative when seen from the street, as well as when immersed inside.
What’s on your desk right now?
Honestly, not much. I have an ugly phone on it that I wish I could redesign, a Pebble Post-it dispenser, pens, markers, large format sketch paper, bracelet I designed 25 years ago, computer, phone, and a BoConcept coffee mug.
Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?
My home is also 95% my designs from the dishes to the furniture to the lamps, to the sheets! I think it’s important to live with my designs. The only pieces that are not my designs are the collection of paintings and sculptures/ceramics that inspire me that I have collected over the years.
Photos by Stanislas Liban, courtesy of Karim Rashid Studio.