Vancouver designers Calen Knauf (left) and Conrad Brown first met 15 years ago while skateboarding. Since then, the duo — a former graphic designer and photographer, respectively — have formed a friendship around a never-ending discussion of the visual details that surround them. So symbiotic — and instinctual — is their working relationship that upon entering design school together (at Vancouver's Emily Carr University), they made sure to sign up for all the same classes.
Knauf and Brown, the furniture and object studio they launched in 2013 after graduation, likewise takes an intuitive approach to balancing form and function. "A lot of people have very serious ideas about how they go about design," Knauf says. "We try to be a little more fluid in our process. The world is not set in stone and things change quickly — especially nowadays." Take the origin story of the Fog Pin ($36 in the shop), designed exclusively for Tetra: Tasked with creating a multi-purpose tool for smokers, they filmed different friends rolling, packing, and picking, and then studied the footage to calibrate proportions, weight, purpose, and scale. The handsome, coffee-table-worthy result — as anyone who owns one will tell you — is the kind of how-did-I-live-without-this object that feels as if it has existed forever. (Knauf and Brown agree: they also recently created a giant styrofoam version of it — like a walking stick — for an art show at Vancouver skate shop Antisocial called "Ancient Aliens.")
Delving into the uniquely conceptual worldview behind Knauf and Brown's work is every bit as enjoyable as using one of their objects. Here, Knauf describes a few of the references and ideas that have lately been getting their minds working.
"We read a lot of sci-fi books for the big concepts that are in them. A lot of it relates to interconnectivity. It’s a huge thing for us that we think about a lot. I don’t know exactly how it translates into the form of objects, but it plays into how we think about how people will perceive and enjoy the objects we make." (Pictured: a still from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, 1927.)
"You have to look at all these elements in front of you, and figure out how to use them in different ways. And that translates pretty well into looking at materials as a designer. It kind of trains you to have almost an X-ray vision — problem-solving, or picking puzzles apart." (Photograph by Fred Mortagne.)
"Conrad’s daughter is four. Human development is a huge thing that we talk about. Whether or not a person thinks an object is useful or beautiful is often based on the experiences they had growing up — how they relate to different shapes or different purposes assigned to things. Having somebody grow up in front of you is a way of seeing that — the way a person interprets things in front of them, and how that translates to what they are later drawn to or repulsed from." (Painting by Kyla Zoe Rafert.)
The work of designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
"It’s hard to not be in love with those dudes. They’re really amazing. We are inspired by people that don’t stick to one design practice… people who design graphics, buildings, objects, big, small, just having one overarching design principle and applying it to whatever."
The sculptures of Viktor Briestensky
"He's a friend of mine. I hate trying to describe art or why I like it. It's just really interesting."
Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas
"This is playing on loop in our studio. We both really like Christmas and it’s by far the most tasteful and listenable Christmas music around. It’s also good for other times of year — it's a really nice, mellow, jazzy album to just play."