Friday Five with Jen Bilik of Knock Knock

If you’ve stuffed a Christmas stocking in the last ten years, chances are you’ve used a product conceived by Knock Knock. You know them, those tongue-in-cheek sticky notes and pre-printed grocery list pads in perky colors. Berkeley, California native Jen Bilik, who founded the company in 2002, achieved her goal, which was to create witty, design-driven goodies. Let’s check out her inspirations in this week’s Friday Five, some of which should make you smile.

1. Pilates Reformer
Pilates is the second-best exercise you can get while lying down. The Reformer itself, a wood frame supporting a spring-tension gliding carriage, is as beautiful as a piece of fine furniture, all natural materials of integrity: wood, metal, fabric, sheepskin (for the foot straps). The quantity and diversity of exercises the Reformer accommodates astonish me. My favorite is the jumpboard, which feels like playing on a trampoline and provides an unusual-for-Pilates cardio workout. Joseph Pilates was an innovator and inventor, with some twenty-six patents to his credit. During World War I he created the first incarnations of his machines by using the springs from hospital beds for resistance exercises to rehabilitate the wounded and the sick. Beyond the fact that Pilates equipment is so beautiful, I’m guessing that Joseph and Clara Pilates were also aesthetes: a famous picture of their first exercise studio, in New York City, shows a distinctly un-gym-like room with wood floors and oriental carpets.

2. Eames Splint
Based on their experiments with molded plywood, during World War II Charles and Ray Eames were commissioned by the Navy to develop splints and stretchers, work that later informed the design of their bent-plywood furniture. I love the simple sculptural beauty of the splints which, because they were mass-produced, are relatively affordable art pieces with a great story. I also love that the creation of something meant purely to be functional later led to furniture of such great beauty (and that these functional splints are themselves so gorgeous, with their complex curves and slats for webbing). Mine currently hangs above my kitchen–living room door. And yes, I have tried it on—and it fits beautifully.

3. Claes Oldenburg, N.Y.C. Pretzel
I am a huge fan of affordable art, something editioned multiples, versus singular originals, can accomplish. Right when I was starting Knock Knock, before we’d released our first products, I traveled to New York City in May 2002 to check out the National Stationery Show, now one of our three big tradeshows. I went all over the city to stores and galleries seeking inspiration and reviewing the marketplace. Printed Matter, one of my all-time favorite store-galleries, purveyor of artist-made publications, sells a variety of editioned pieces, including Fluxus boxes. Through the boxes (also affordable and also purchased by me and sitting on my tchotchke shelf next to the Oldenburg pretzel), Printed Matter introduced me to Fluxus altogether, a creativity-changing encounter. On this New York City trip, my first visit to Printed Matter, David Platzker, Printed Matter’s founder, took the time to answer my excited questions and referred me also to the gallery of his wife, Susan Inglett. She took a generously long time to speak with me and introduced me to all the amazing multiples of her I.C. Editions, which printed the Oldenburg pretzel. I love the pretzel for so many reasons, including the integrity of the non-process ink silkscreen; the exposed edge of the corrugated cardboard—something I love in general, like the stripe of a plywood edge—especially burned as it is from the laser cutting, like the burned smell of a New York City street pretzel; and the sizing at about 100 percent of a real pretzel. Sadly, my original N.Y.C. Pretzel was gnawed by a rescue dog I was fostering some years ago. I kept the pretzel in its gnawed form even though I desperately wanted a pristine one. The edition had long since sold out and the secondary-market versions were going for five times what I’d originally paid. Finally I determined that my desire wasn’t going away, so I splurged on an undamaged pretzel and gave the chewed one to another art-loving friend. My original plan for Knock Knock included doing what I called “Few of a Kind” projects, inspired in part by this limited-edition arena, but I quickly found it was hard enough to create a product company—though someday I would still love to make that happen!

4. Cereal Timeline
I love breakfast cereal. I love cereal so much it’s a problem. In fact, I haven’t allowed myself to eat cereal for months (don’t worry—I seem to be making up for it with various other foods, so why I’m denying myself I don’t know). When I was in college, some twenty years ago, I found this framed timeline in one of the early Z Gallerie stores in the Bay Area. It cost something like $50, which at the time was a fortune for such a frivolity. I was with my brother, who thought I was crazy for buying it. I’ve hung it in every kitchen I’ve ever had since and it’s given me no end of happiness, not to mention lots of compliments from others. It’s unsigned, uncredited, and unbranded, and I think whoever made it used real cereal, in part because they’ve all faded to an inaccurately uniform beige. This timeline was the inspiration for an accordion-fold book Knock Knock just published, A Foldout History of Cereal. We also did A Foldout History of Antidepressants, my next favorite thing to ingest after cereal.

5. Stick shift
I learned to drive on an old Volkswagen bus, the kind with the tall, creaky gear shift that extended from the floor to the dashboard. The good thing about this technical challenge—especially on the hills of Berkeley, where I grew up—is that any car seems like a cakewalk (or cake drive) after that. I’ve only owned two automatic cars in my life, both in Los Angeles, chosen because I was getting tired of the stop-and-go traffic and wanted to be able to more easily text while driving. Just kidding. With automatics, however, I find that I abdicate control in the car, space out more easily, and float along like I’m in a big, inconsequential boat that just happens to be a big boat of consequence that can kill people. It’s harder and harder to find manual transmissions these days, especially if you want the higher-end bells and whistles with your package, and I’m sure they’ll be a complete thing of the past sometime soon, especially as all cars go electric, etc. I recently bought a Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen Diesel (great mileage with that diesel!) with a manual transmission and I love it. My last car was an automatic and I was found myself yearning for a bit more interest and performance while driving. Fortunately, even though I live in LA, I can go days without getting in my car, since most of my life is within walking or biking distance. Today, in fact, I drove for the first time in six days. But you know what? Because of the stick shift, I actually felt like I was driving.

Marni Elyse Katz is a Contributing Editor at Design Milk. She lives in Boston where she contributes regularly to local publications and writes her own interior design blog, StyleCarrot.