q & a: industrial facility

As the 2012 London Design Festival gets underway, I am pleased to present mrs. roper’s first interview with expat Kim Colin — one half of the dynamic duo behind the design firm Industrial Facility. Kim and I went to architecture school together back in her native California. Soon after graduation Kim moved to London to work for a noted publisher, fell in love, married, started a beautiful family and soon a successful design firm with her husband and partner Sam Hecht. This year, marks their 10 year anniversary in business together.

To celebrate, Industrial Facility is throwing open the doors of their studio as part of the festivities of London’s design week. On Saturday September 22 from 10 – 6, you can “Pop Down” to their digs in the Clerkwell Design District to meet the designers and see recent works, including their newest outdoor chair design for French company Tectona (above).

From September 19 – 23, their online arm Retail Facility is hosting a “Pop Up” shop at the Tramshed event located in Design Junction where you can purchase calculators, clocks, knives, dishwares and other design objects they’ve created. And if that weren’t enough, the team will also be debuting two newly commissioned Corian® park benches — part of a collaborative exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum to mark, coincidentally, the 10 year anniversary of the London Design Festival as well.

It is so wonderful to celebrate the success of Industrial Facility and an even bigger pleasure to share their good works. A big thanks to Kim for being my q & a guinea pig. That is after all, what friends are for!

q & a:

how did Industrial Facility come to be?

Industrial Facility was borne out of the meeting of two minds, from two different points of view with a common objective — the things we live with should consider each other, not be imagined as selfish, sole products. At the time, there was little thought to the context and cultural landscape of products, designers were looking at ‘objects’ and companies were being market research driven, not design driven. We decided to bring the spatial, performative and cultural together to make products we’d all want to keep around for longer.

10 years is a real milestone. what have been some of your favorite projects through the years?

I love projects that challenge what I already know, that ultimately teach me about our world either technologically or conceptually. Some of first projects we did for Muji that involved electronics (the Second Phone, Fan and Coffee Maker) taught me a lot about the specific discipline of industrial design. Coming from an architecture background, I had no knowledge of how to talk to factories to push their manufacturing abilities a little further. I learned a lot from Sam and Ippei’s conversations during these projects, on how to encourage change in industry to make cultural change. We don’t give sketches to engineers and say ‘here, you figure it out’– so our involvement is more like architecture where as designers we are respectful and knowledgeable enough to push.

I also loved working on the Branca chair with Mattiazzi because their expertise and devotion is so extraordinary. Seeing Branca in the world now, it has a life of its own. It’s a real accomplishment. It still seems structurally like a bit of a miracle and there’s a magic about that I enjoy.

We have a wonderful Danish client right now and it’s been a bonus to learn their view of the world and to see their extraordinary working environment. It’ll never be in the magazines because they’re too modest, but it has inspired us and our work in other areas, beyond the specific project we’re working on with them.

can you tell me a bit about your collaboration with iconic American furniture company Herman Miller?

We’ve been working with Herman Miller since around 2006, designing for them (Enchord table and storage/2008) and talking to them about design in an advisory capacity. Some of these discussions have both energized and inspired us in their intensity. We have deep affection for Herman Miller’s history and for the people in charge and great faith in their future. Projects do take a long time and we are working on some right now that are still under wraps. (Herman Miller is also the North American distributor for the Branca Chair.)

i’d love to hear more about how you work. how many people are in your studio and how to you split responsibilities?

Sam and I started Industrial Facility and asked our great friend Ippei Matsumoto to join us as Senior Designer when he finished his Masters at the Royal College of Art. Ippei and Sam had worked together before and the three of us made a strong foundation for our first years: one of us from the UK, one from Japan, one from the US. Now we are 7, and even more international, adding Germans and Finish to our list. People often ask how we divide up the work; who does what? Design offices are not corporations where people have specific job titles — designers in small studios are multi-taskers, for better or worse. We always say that every project has all of our minds in it, and that is important. Sam and I have learned that the work gets better when there is an open environment to make it better, but importantly there is never any ego involved. It is not a democracy — the best idea always wins, the discussions are ultimately productive and it doesn’t matter who starts or finishes the argument. Balance is important (in more than aesthetic ways) because we want the work to be lasting and relevant. We have 7 people in our studio now and we’re all designers.

what’s it like to be living, working, and raising a family in London? what are some of your favorite local design and food spots for our travelers out there?

Life is intense and very full in all ways. I feel like I rarely have time to get out and explore as much as I’d like, but these are some of my favorite spots:

how do you stay inspired?

Living in London is not easy; it’s costly, busy and the weather’s mostly dreary. Living in a truly international city is both exciting and frustrating, but it’s these tensions that keep the design mind alive. Sometimes I have to get out (probably all city dwellers feel the same way), and I escape to the sea in order to remind me of where I came from — In Los Angeles, that great expanse of sea signifies that all things are possible. The coastal landscapes of Sussex, Devon and Cornwall have kept me healthy. If I can’t get out of the city, I go to the top of Primrose Hill or for a walk on Hampstead Heath, no matter the weather.

just one more question . . . love is a recurring theme here at mrs. ropers musings. if it’s not too personal, can you share with our readers the story of how you two met and fell in love?

Sam and I met by chance one night, when the Eames exhibition opened at the Design Museum in London (1998). Ten years later, when our exhibition opened there in the same space where we met, we mentioned that ‘this is where the conversation began’. It was the best conversation I had in six months of living in London– in a very compressed amount of time, it revealed how we saw the world, and our hopes for it. I think we have an innate curiosity about how the other thinks. We are good compliments to each other, different but excited by difference and at the deepest level, we both want the best for each other. That’s a recipe for love.