The Chronicle

Meet the Maker: Ninon Choplin of Neenineen

Tetra maker Ninon Choplin first started playing with clay as a child hanging out in their grandmother's art studio in France, where they were born and raised. But it wasn't until emigrating to the U.S. at 16, graduating from RISD, and moving to Los Angeles that they took their first proper ceramics class, and — under the studio name Neenineen — started making colorful and playful pipes inspired by their love of childrens' toys. "You look at them and instantly get a smile on your face and feel like a kid again," they told Design Milk in an interview last spring.

When we first started carrying Choplin's Tobogan Pipe, though, we saw something decidedly sophisticated — a curved, tubular form in perfect lock-step with the current design vernacular, executed in just the right proportion, and with the kind of functional clarity that makes a pipe truly exceptional to smoke from. We asked Choplin if we could remake the Tobogan in glass, and luckily for us they said yes, the transparent Elbow Pipe quickly becoming one of our best-sellers.

This week we've welcomed another of Choplin's creations to the family: The Grenadine Bubbler — Tetra's first (mini) water pipe — in sleek, chic, all-over black. We decided to mark the occasion by interviewing Choplin about their process, their studio, and of course, their favorite smoking ritual.

When did you know you wanted to do something creative, and how did you get started in your current practice?
My interest in fine arts started when I was really young. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid. They both got into art after retiring and always had some clay, paint, or even soap stone laying around for me to play with.

After high school I studied industrial design at RISD, where I learned a lot about wood and metal work. It was only a few years later that I finally got to take a ceramic class in L.A., and as cheesy as it might sound, I truly fell in love with clay!

How would you summarize your approach to your work and your materials?
Most of my design work happens in my head, long before I get my hands in clay. I’ll play around with ideas without putting down a sketch for a few weeks, and when it feels like it’s getting close, I’ll either do a quick doodle or play with it on a 3-D modeling software. Finally when the dimensions and quirks are all figured out, I build a prototype. I really admire people who can just improvise with a lump of clay. I tend to get stage fright in those situations!

What’s the hardest thing about working with your hands, and what’s the most gratifying?
The hardest thing about working with my hands is that my work can't travel with me. Ceramic work can be very time-sensitive; if you leave a piece to dry even a half-day too long it might be ruined. It makes taking vacation or even long weekends difficult sometimes.

On the other hand, I'm never happier than when I get to work with my hands. Being able to mold a piece of clay from nothing to the perfect amount of curves and edges still feels magical every day.

Did you ever have an epic fail, and what did you learn from it?
This question made me laugh a lot — ceramic work is 50% fail! But I think that’s what keeps me interested. I don’t have words to express the devastating feeling of opening the kiln to find out that something went wrong. But time and time again I find that the happiness of finally fixing the issue totally makes up for it.

What’s been inspiring you lately?
I’ve been obsessed with toddlers' toys for over a year now. I love the colors and simple, blocky shapes! Silly straws and lava lamps also have a special place in my heart.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I spend most of my days making pieces for orders. I can’t say that there's any specific order of operation, but in general my day falls into one of these categories: throwing, slip casting, trimming, glazing, or packing. I usually group orders so that I can do all of each tasks at a time. Some days I'm lucky to get help from my assistant and friend Jordan, and on those days we usually listen to Harry Potter on tape!

What’s your studio like itself? And what are your favorite objects in the studio?
My studio is in my garage. It isn’t the prettiest to look at but is definitely my favorite place to be. My favorite object in this summer heat is definitely my industrial Vornado fan! I also recently got some new Hoka One One studio slides and swear by them.

What’s your smoking ritual?
I usually prefer smoking later at night when I am done working. My partner and I have an extensive collection of smokeware at home. From samples to trades with friends, we have somewhere around 12 different pieces to choose from. It’s always fun to decide which piece we’re in the mood for!

Lately we’ve been using the bubbler a lot; I really like how smooth the smoke is when it gets filtered through water. It’s a game changer these days with the air quality in southern California.


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Arc Lighters

"Flameless lighter" may sound like a sci-fi invention, but arc lighters — such as the Tetra Round Arc Lighter — are very real, and very useful. Have you ever tried to light a rolled smoke on a windy beach? Or accidentally singed your beard when lighting a pipe? The solution to both problems is an arc lighter, which requires no fuel and has no open flame whatsoever, making it wind-friendly, beard-friendly, and travel-friendly, too.

What Is an Arc Lighter?

Instead of a flame, an arc lighter produces heat via a small arc of high-voltage electrical current that's hotter than a traditional lighter, but in a more concentrated area. You activate the purple-hued arc with the push of a button, and simply place whatever you'd like to light directly in the arc's path.

Some models have two arcs that intersect for a particularly cool effect, like the Tetra Double Arc Lighter; that lighter's protruding flame area means that you can use it to light pipes. Smaller arc lighters, such as the Tetra Ombre Arc Lighter, can be used only to light thin surfaces like rolled smokes, candles, incense — really anything that can fit in between the arc's two nodes, as long as it's not your finger!

How Do You Use an Arc Lighter?

Arc lighters are easy to use because they don't require refilling, only recharging. Unlike a wick lighter, which you have to fill with fluid, arc lighters are battery-powered and charged via USB. Each charge gives you enough power to light up anywhere from 20 to 40 times.

Are Arc Lighters Safe?

Arc lighters are a safe, nontoxic alternative to traditional lighters. You should never place your finger into the arc, but if you did, it would cause a similar burn to a flame lighter, but on a smaller area of your skin. The electric current in the arc isn't strong enough to electrocute a person, but never use them with metal pipes as that may carry a greater risk of electric shock. Also, treat them with care and try not to drop them, because a particularly high-impact tumble could damage the electronics.

Are Flameless Lighters the Same as Arc Lighters?

Every arc lighter is flameless, but not every flameless lighter is an arc lighter. For instance, the Tetra Slide Lighter is also battery-powered, but it lights rolled smokes with a heated coil instead, sort of like old-fashioned car lighters. All flameless lighters are particularly great for travel, and an arc lighter is an impressive, high-tech addition to any smoker's toolkit.

Unique Glass Pipes That Don't Sacrifice Style

Glass pipes are an essential smoking accessory, but for a long time, your choices were limited to the headshop look, making it a challenge to find a well designed pipe to suit your style. Since 2015, Tetra has offered an elevated alternative to swirled or color-changing pipes that all look the same — modern, minimalist, and unique glass pipes that are right at home on a sophisticated coffee table. These glass bowls and pipes make aesthetic statements while acting as highly functional delivery systems for your smokable substances. Here are six glass pipes that double as high-end design pieces.

Laundry Day Glass Tanjun Pipe

The geometric design of the Glass Tanjun Pipe by Laundry Day ($48) will step up your smoking style. Tanjun means "simplicity" in Japanese, and the unusual staircase design of this pipe is accordingly elemental. Made from borosilicate glass in clear, pink, or green, the 3-inch Tanjun pipe pulls triple duty as a decorative object and an incense holder. Says Nylon magazine, "Not only are they made with beautifully colored glass, but their shapes are unique and special." Every Tanjun pipe is made by hand in Vancouver, BC.

Tetra Elbow Pipe

The unconventional shape of the Tetra Elbow Pipe ($70) makes it a conversation piece as well as a decorative accessory. Designed by Ninon Choplin of Neenineen, this tubular pipe is larger than most yet fits nicely into one hand. In profile, the Elbow masquerades as a standard pipe shape, but viewed from above, this design has an upturned bowl on one side and a mouthpiece on the other. Upscale and playful at once, it lets you watch as smoke billows around its curves.

Tetra Balance Pipe

The Balance Pipe ($65), designed by Jamie Wolfond for Tetra, flawlessly combines form and function. The flat-bottomed design solves a few common pipe problems: The Balance Pipe sits flush with your table, rather than rolling around, and the borosilicate glass doesn't conduct heat, so you get a cooler, smoother smoke. POPSUGAR calls it the pipe "every grown-up smoker should own." The Balance Pipe comes in four colors: green, blue, black, and pink.

Laundry Day Hudson Pipe

The stunning Hudson Pipe by Laundry Day ($65) resembles a waterworn rock or an understated vase, and it fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. Available in clear, lilac, teal, or black, this hand-blown glass pipe offers a wide, flat design that allows the smoke to swirl and cool before hitting your lips. Leave the Hudson Pipe on your table for a chic accent piece when it's not in use.

Tetra Duo Pipe

As the name suggests, the Tetra Duo Pipe ($50) comes in two-toned glass and offers the perfect single- or double-smoke pipe experience. This slim, portable accessory — designed by Yield — is slightly bigger than a standard one-hitter and a million times more beautiful. Plus, the borosilicate glass means the Duo doesn't get as hot as other glass or metal pipes. Endorsed by Coveteur as a chic smoking accessory that doubles as home décor, the Duo pipe comes in two color options: black and teal or pink and teal.

Laundry Day Charlotte Pipe

A creative twist on a traditional shape, the Charlotte Pipe by Laundry Day ($45) makes for perfect on-the-go smoking. The wide glass stem offers a ring-shaped central chamber that makes every puff graceful to watch. Made from hand-blown borosilicate glass, the Charlotte Pipe delivers a '70s vibe in shades of amber, smoke, or teal.