What happens when you bring together a NYC-based interior designer who isn’t afraid of color, a modern product designer and a sustainable design company / manufacturer from the Midwest? A whole lot of awesome.
But let me back up for a minute. About a year ago, I was told by designer Brad Ascalon that he was teaming up with Ghislaine Viñas on something cool. Since she was an interior designer, at first, I thought they’d be working on some sort of home interior project… I was intrigued to say the least. However, when I found out that they’d be working with Loll Designs on some outdoor furniture, I couldn’t wait to get my eyeballs on some renderings. I knew this was going to be this amazing collaboration.
You may already be familiar with Loll Designs. The Minnesota-based company is focused on creating USA-made, eco-friendly outdoor furnishings…out of recycled milk jugs. Yes, milk jugs—how could I not get behind THAT?! This is the first time the company is using a heat-bending technique and their first time offering products with cushions… and Ghislaine’s first time designing a furniture line! There are lots of firsts going on here for everyone… so I thought it would be great to talk to Brad and Ghislaine about this whole experience.Photo by Jaime Viñas
Since both of you are different backgrounds in terms of design, how did you decide to divvy up the responsibilities?
Ghislaine Viñas: I think that it was pretty easy for Brad and I to decide how to work on this together. We didn’t really have to discuss it too much since it sort of fell into place. I had initially worked on the “look and feel” of this new collection in a very broad manner. Brad is really strong in furniture design and I feel like I am strong in concept and also color and look and feel of the collection. We have always designed custom pieces for our clients but I’d never gone through this process before.
Brad Ascalon: We each had a vision of what we were hoping to achieve with the project, and it was simply a matter of sketching over and over again until we found common ground with the design language that fit both Ghislaine and I, as well as Loll. Together we audited a lot of products in the market to determine the right scale, comfort level, height, depth, etc., and once we established all of these missing pieces, my studio took the sketches and developed 3D models and renderings to start the prototyping process while Ghislaine’s studio developed the color, textures, details and layout configurations for the collection we were proposing. Every decision, we determined, had to be unanimous though. That’s the greatest challenge, and greatest reward, of such a collaboration. We were in sync every step of the way, and where we weren’t, we found a solution that allowed for us to be.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of teaming up with another designer?
Ghislaine: I don’t really feel like there were any challenges for us; we work together very well. I think that it helps that we recognize each other’s strengths and let that person take the lead in those areas. Brad knows furniture and product design and works through the process quickly and efficiently with great results and ideas, and I work through the general attitude of the collection. I have been specifying furniture for some time now so I understand furniture grouping and combinations.
Brad and I have a natural synergy, and once we sat down together and started the initial sketching, the collection came together pretty quickly. We also had a particularly great design session on the plane flying to see Loll Designs in Duluth, MN. Brad was able to take those ideas and sketches and work them into renderings. He works very quickly and efficiently so there’s never much time between the sketches and his renderings.
Brad: The benefits of this collaboration were clear to me from the beginning. I originally asked Ghislaine if she’d like to be part of this project because with her skill set as an amazingly talented interior designer, I knew that she could bring a lot to the table that I couldn’t. Not only did this help the outcome of the Loll project, but it allowed me to look at a furniture design project from a different point of view, that of the interior designer who would be specifying such a collection. I like to learn something from each project I take on, so there was a lot to learn from her. Furthermore, while a majority of my design work leans toward straightforward and logical, Ghislaine leans toward both sophisticated and whimsical. The end result is a collection that finds this beautiful balance of both of our aesthetics and approaches to design.
With regard to the challenges, I think we were very fortunate that there were few being that we were on the same page from the beginning. More than anything, since our studios and Loll are all so busy, I sometimes found it hard for us all to communicate as effectively as we may have has this been a solo project. The communication issues may have delayed the project along the way, but in the end, it wasn’t too challenging an obstacle and the project didn’t suffer because of it.
What was it like working with Loll Designs?
Ghislaine: They’ve been fantastic. They are super relaxed and fun and are open to our ideas. Brad initially met them and started talking about doing a collection. Brad and I had also talked about working together in some capacity so when this opportunity came along it seemed like a natural fit for me to be involved and to collaborate with him.
In January we went to Duluth to look at the facility and it was great for me to understand the manufacturing process and also to understand the capabilities and also the limitations of the material. Greg and Nate could not have been more welcoming and we spent two days together working through things as well as being shown around.
I just can’t say enough about how wonderful the process has been.
Brad: Loll is a great company to work with. I met Nate Heydt, Loll’s VP of business development, at a dinner with a couple of Design Within Reach people during Neocon in Chicago a couple of years ago. We had known of one another, but that was the first time we talked and got to know each other better. We kept the communication going, and eventually the owner of Loll, Greg, was in NYC. The three of us had dinner together, and it was just obvious that these were great guys with a very interesting brand. They were people I wanted to work with.
Working with them was a very smooth process. Ghislaine and I flew out to Duluth, MN for a few days to understand how they operate so that we could better design for them. Their engineering team worked directly with us every step of the way, offering solutions where we had none, and asking for advice where they were stuck. The back and forth was seamless. It helps that Loll shared our vision for the project. They were just as excited as us with each new decision, from the initial design and development to the booth design for ICFF to coming up with a name for the collection. We were all on the same page throughout the process.
Ghislaine, you always use bold color and shape in your work – how did you decide on the upholstery patterns?
Ghislaine: Yes and this collection for Loll is right along those lines as well. Of course it helps that Loll already uses bold color, and I had been specifying Loll for my projects for years and was familiar with the collection, so I knew that it would be a good fit for me to design for them. Right now we are not entirely sure about the collection because there really are so many options. It can be bold or soft or contrasty… basically there are so many color and finish options available. We are going to be showing the prototypes at ICFF. We won’t be able to show all of the nuances so the approach is more conceptual and really highlights the design of the chair. The booth is color blocked with a color-on-color approach. From there, we can take the collection in any direction.
Brad, how is designing for outdoor different than interior products?
Brad: For this particular project, I don’t think it was very different. We wanted to bring the indoors out. This was one of our goals. So we were almost treating it as if it were an indoor collection we were designing. Of course we had to think about how and why people are using these pieces, and that’s where scale and comfort play a crucial role. Also, we had to account for the elements (water, dirt, wind, etc.), so each design decision had to reflect the problems each of these elements might present. Aside from that, however, we tried to remain indoor/outdoor neutral in our treatment of the project.
The series appears to be a modular collection that includes seating and tables that can be arranged in various ways – did you set out to do this kind of collection? How did the process change (if at all) over time?
Ghislaine + Brad: We very quickly assessed that we wanted to do an upholstered line and that it would be great for Loll to have this as part of their collection. We also wanted to keep it really simple in terms of inventory and fabrication.
The decision to develop this collection as a modular system of parts was a direct reaction to what we witnessed when visiting Loll’s factory in Duluth, MN for the first time. Once we saw how their production process is organized, and more importantly how their inventory is systematized, it was clear to us that having a strategy that better lends itself to how they operate would be extremely beneficial. So we rethought our original concepts in order to develop what is essentially a kit of parts that allow for multiple configurations based on a few crucial connections. We even extended this strategy into the table collection, allowing for the same tooling that creates the back radius of the sofa to create the radius on the table corners. When working with companies that don’t have endless budgets, it is always important to be as smart as you can about your design approach. You have to look at each problem from multiple angles and solve accordingly.
This new Sunnyside collection from Loll Designs is truly a collaborative effort. “I think we truly all worked together as a single design voice, and I believe that continuity is reflected in the collection,” said Greg Benson from Loll. We can’t wait to show you the collection, which will debut next week at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. You can visit Loll Designs in Booth 2226. Check back here after the show for the entire collection.