Rachel Griffin channels her graphic design training to give simple objects uncommonly sleek silhouettes. We peek into her process.
Collaboration: Working with other people is where I’m at my best. I’ve collaborated several times with French textile artist/designer Emilie Pallard, who I met in school. Our partnership is such a good example of how collaborating can bring you somewhere new. We’re always joking that, if it doesn’t work or if it falls apart, she likes it more, whereas I’m more focused on function and simplicity. One day, she said that she’d like to have something that would make it easier to use leftover water for plants. We eventually landed on Deuce, a combination carafe and watering can. Umbra had asked us to pitch to them, and we thought it was a good fit. It’s such a strange, whimsical object.
Multifunctionalism: I really enjoy adding an element of transformation to my serial objects, whether it’s reusing the material or giving the user a lot of options for changing the object and the way it’s used in everyday life. In 2013, I worked with Canadian designer Dana Cannam on a collection of modular centrepieces that connect reconfigurable wood, marble and LED sections with magnets. And my new Post lamp series, which uses magnets to attach independent LED sources to a cylindrical steel armature, can also be customized in all its iterations.
Creative Process: I started my career in the U.S. as a graphic designer before enrolling at Design Academy Eindhoven. So in the same way that I’ve tried different mediums, I don’t stick to one specific way of working. I’ll take an archetype and try to simplify it and make it more functional or easier to produce. For a while I was really into stone and I still am, but I became wary of its overuse. I like to work with metal because it’s so versatile in its form and still so precise. It’s really controllable, and I’m very controlling. In my own work, I think a lot about flexibility. I want form to be functional. But it’s still really important to have a sense of wonder in the material or the posture of an object; it should still have a sense of character.
Balancing Act: The revolving Mill table lamp was – no pun intended – a real turning point for me. It’s where I found the balance between form and function and aesthetic that I’d been looking for but hadn’t achieved before that moment in 2016. When I was designing it, I had a bunch of Styrofoam balls on a table and was just putzing around; I put a ball on a cylinder and realized it could move around freely. Then it became all about balance, and that’s really interesting when it comes to light. The lamp is just a ball resting on a cone, and keeps its position using balance as you rotate it. People aren’t necessarily going to move their tables all the time. In our home, we hardly ever move anything – there are U.V. rings around our plants where the sun has lightened the wood. But people are more likely to adjust their lamps, so for ambient light and desk light, a flexible system is possible.
Inspiration: I love Jasper Morrison for his simplicity, and Bertjan Pot for his colour and playfulness. I did an internship with Dutch designer Jurgen Bey, at Studio Makkink & Bey, before I founded Earnest Studio. He’s a magical thinker. But, rather than cultivating mentors, I think I tend to pick up wisdom from the community around me. Rotterdam is much more experimental than other Dutch cities. There’s far fewer historical buildings here – it was bombed really heavily during the war – so it’s really modern, strange, and experimental, with a lot of unusual buildings. I moved here five years ago – now it’s really booming. And it’s still relatively inexpensive to live here, so you can start up your own studio without being super stressed about where the money is coming from.
What’s Next: Since creating the Mill lamp, which is currently in development with a manufacturer, I find I’m able to home in more quickly and sharply on the dynamic between function and aesthetic. My Post lamp series is an example of that. It happened fast, and had a mechanical flexibility and strong graphic character that I was really happy with. The hanging rail I showed at SaloneSatellite this year, called Strand, targets those elements too. I played with the archetype of a coat rack using steel and wood. That project is also now in development with a brand here in the Netherlands. I am working on a few new projects that are also exercising those skills. My two biggest works-in-progress are a new lighting piece and an interior – a top-to-bottom renovation of an apartment in Rotterdam. But I’m bound to secrecy right now.
Rachel Griffin at a glance
Born Boston, United States,1982
Location Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Occupation Multidisciplinary designer
Education Bachelor of design from Design Academy Eindhoven (2010); Bachelor of arts in graphic design from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (2003)
Selected Awards 2017 German Design Award, nominee; 2016 Sight Unseen’s American Design Hot List; 2014 [D3] Design Talents Competition, finalist
Selected Exhibits 2017 SaloneSatellite, Fuori Salone, Milan; 2017 Colony: the Designers’ Co-op, NYCxDESIGN, New York; 2015 Kunsthaus Rhenania, Cologne;
2014 Triennale Design Museum, Milan
Selected Clients Bolia, Umbra Shift, Schoenbuch