Interview with Kari Whitman

August 5, 2011 in Interview

Smith & Fong Co. did an exclusive interview with celebrity interior designer, Kari Whitman. In the interview, she outlines tips, tricks, and inspiration to incorporate her design aesthetic into you daily life.  To learn more about Kari, visit her website at: www.kariwhitmaninteriors.com.

Smith & Fong Co.: I read that you were an early adapter to environmentally focused interior design. What got you interested in this? When did you know you wanted to be a designer?

Kari Whitman: I’m from Bolder Colorado, a Tree Hugger Hippie, there’s no other way to be. I’ve never NOT been green. To recycle and reuse, even for a modern sleek home, I find pieces to redo, mix old with new, to find more personality in diversity. Older products are typically made with better ethics and better quality materials. I bring things down to the wood frame and re cover them.

SF: I first became acquainted with your work after seeing what you did with the home of Jessica Alba. Was she initially interested in green design or is it something you were able to explore together?

KW: She hired me because of my green knowledge. She understands sustainability and she will do everything she can to be non toxic. Jessica knows the value of creating a healthy home and worked with me to promote her standards through a designer’s aesthetic.

SF: What were the aims in the Alba home? Indoor Air Quality? Using rapidly renewable materials. What were the two of you going after when you collaborated on her home?

KW: Mold testing is a standard for about 65% of the homes, especially for a baby’s room. There are many issues about vocs (volatile organic compounds). So everything down to cleaning supplies was an issue. No quick fixes using chemicals. For maintenance, we used a combination of hemp oil, vegetable oil, and a splash of tea tree — wipe and clean everything, even on wood floors, they look great.

SF: I read in an interview not too long ago where you mentioned our Durapalm product (thanks by the way!) What drew you to it initially and what made you feel it was a product worthy of recommending by name?

KW: Plyboo is easy to work with as a company, has the most variation with different dimensions, and a large variety of products. I’m obsessed with Durapalm and it’s many ways of being used, along with coconut palm products having so many textures and tones. I love all the different grains. It is a sleek, yet gives an organic feel, but it can also look modern. Because it has a sleek look, I love to add metals to create a balance and harmony.

SF: Which projects did you use our products in? Do any come to mind? I am currently working on an estate, in Texas. We are creating furniture pieces with Plyboo, and possibly incorporating flooring. We might even use some of the materials to create an indoor and an outdoor look. In Aspen, with Tony Banderas’ house, I am using Plyboo to modernize a very rustic cabin to have a better balanced feeling.

KW: What challenges do you face when suggesting ecologically friendly building materials to homeowners? Challenges with manufacturers are finding those who are actually green and meet high sustainable standards. I want to use smaller companies, who are passionate. I do a background check to make certain they live up to what they say. Also getting a client to understand that green products can be sleek and modern.

SF: I see that you have a pretty large influence in green design, and you’re covered quite heavily in popular magazines. What advice would you have for a homeowner interested in making more environmentally sound design decisions — improving indoor air quality for instance? What advice do you have for renters?

KW: Find pieces of furniture, which are timeless. Also refurbish, reuse and give another life to a product. Take a chair and gut it. Perhaps use a beautiful royal blue fabric with cream piping. You can after five years take that same chair and use a silver grey fabric with nail heads and create an entirely different look. There are fantastic green no voc paints. I like AFM Safecoat. Take a few of their vibrant colors, add some lighting at lamps plus (a store known for green products, kooky and funky with a bit of hollywood glam). Find a few pieces of lighting, add some timeless pieces of furniture, use a Plyboo woven palm panel in a key place, and you have great design. It does not have to put you into debt to make your space sleek and well designed.

SF: Which eco-focused media do you follow? Any blogs in particular?

KW: I read the Bolder Magazine, Bolder Daily Camera, my home town is so profound they seem to be one step in front of everyone else. They even started their own sustainable place, Boulder Sustainability Network. CU has an education center which is tremendous. Dwell is great for ideas. Also Solar Row, reading from my roots, listen to lectures from CU sustainability project.

SF: Do you feel it’s difficult to transition into running a sustainable household?

KW: Not at all. Once you take steps, starting with cleaning solutions, fabrics, carpets — they all add up to a better organic aesthetic. You can feel the healthy environment. it becomes evident!

SF: I noticed that you’ve also done commercial design, and even have extended your brand to designing pet spaces. Is there any one area you feel people should really reconsider impact on their immediate environment when making their design to-do lists?

KW: Design with Paws in Mind, my book, is in the works. Pets and children, should use durable, non-toxic products. Chemicals and petroleum based products interact with pets and kids. I recommend when working with Don Henley when they were expecting their child, to look at all household cleaners. We also made certain that no carpet or other materials on the floors were going to be toxic. As we researched chemicals used in carpet I became more ware of how unhealthy carpet can be with all the added chemicals for stain resistance and simple binders they use for backing. Kids and pets are so interactive with materials that we focused on natural organic flooring and coverings. Also, take a look at Greener Pup Dog Beds. Remember use natural products, meaning few chemically developed fragrances and harsh solutions. The more simple it is the better.

SF: What would you like to see happen with the future of interior design?

KW: I’d like to see mandatory laws to really guide. I’d also like for sustainability not be a trend but a reality, from fad to a way of life. We should figure out a way for really green companies to be noticed and validated and be successful.

The views expressed are those of the interviewee and may not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Smith & Fong Co.

Interview with Joel Scilley of Audio Wood

June 28, 2011 in Interview, Uncategorized

Smith & Fong Co.: So Joel, could you tell us how you got started?

Joel Scilley: Well, I started designing things like the aerodynamic truck in kindergarten, but I’ve been a designer/builder with wood for about 15 years now.  And then about 4 years ago I built my first wooden turntable, just for fun.  It was pretty popular with friends and neighbors, so I went with it, and started Audiowood.

S&F: I noticed a lot of what looks like found wood pieces, how’d you transition into using Plyboo, or simply, what drew you to the product?

J.S.:Plyboo really opens up design possibilities for me, as I’m a big fan of using solid hardwood for my designs, but have been limited by warping, expansion and other issues associated with the use of conventional lumber.  Plus, sustainable production is a central concern of mine.  I love being able to buy what is essentially a super-uniform sheet of “hardwood” that is ready to go.

S&F: What inspires your designs?

J.S.: Hard question to answer.  I think I’m most inspired by raw materials.  I suppose I’m lucky that I can actually make things out of twigs and stumps!  In the case of Plyboo, I’m inclined to make things that are very modern, but that have the warmth of wood.

S&F: Do you find it simpler to get consistent designs with the Plyboo product versus wood?

J.S.: Absolutely.  You’ll never catch me saying much against wood, but the consistency of Plyboo is unparalleled.  It’s not that I couldn’t do similar things in solid wood, but for doing things in numbers, Plyboo seems indispensable at this point.  Also, I love to integrate curves into designs at times, and having a multi-ply solid-material sheet makes this simple, with no edge-bands, grain issues, etc.

S&F: How long does it typically take you to build a system?

J.S.: Well, I wish I was plagued with this problem more often!  Usually, I’m building single pieces for people.  Some of my new designs, including most of the Plyboo things, are CNC machined by Woodlane Cabinet Co. in Tallahassee, and then hand-assembled and finished.  This process saves a little time for some things, but the minimum for a turntable is still about 4-5 hours to get it ship-ready.  On the other hand, I’ve spent 100 hours on a single piece of furniture.  If I were to build a stereo system with amp, speakers, and turntable, I imagine about a week would do it.

S&F: I see that you’ve taken a bit of a departure with your new line.  What directed you towards complete media centers, iPad mounts, etc.?

J.F.: I figure I’m making things the world can’t live without!  I guess we’ll see about that, but I’m trying to make some things that haven’t been seen before, and make them properly, with quality, sustainable materials, and domestic production.  In the case of the Aerie home theater console, I feel that there are no modern consoles out there that have integrated quality speakers, much less that wall-mount, allow for wire-free aesthetics, and are constructed out of green materials.
Similarly, with the iPad2 shelf, I don’t think there is anything out there that allows for wall and tabletop use, improves the sound of the iPad, and that doesn’t look like a Battleship “Goplastica” device.

S&F: The iPhone nest is very cute.  Would you say that it’s a good holiday gift?  Who do you feel responds best to it (what type of customer)?

J.S.: Hey thanks.  I guess if someone doesn’t want an entire audio system, then the iPhone Nest is a great alternative!  I imagine most of my things in very modern environments, where they are either integral pieces or accents.  In the case of the Nest, I imagine it will appeal most to the person who wants something handmade instead of a generic piece of plastic.

S&F: Tell me more about Glow Audio.  How did you come together to work on the bamboo stands?

J.S.: I’m a retailer for a few lines of audio equipment in addition to making my own stuff, and Glow is one of these lines.  I’m interested in audio stuff that is fun or beautiful to look at and environmentally friendly, in addition to sounding good.  Glow hits on all these points: their little tube amp sounds awesome and uses only 38 watts of power, and their Voice One speakers, made out of recycled scrap wood, are a genuinely brilliant design, inside and out.
The limitation of the Voice One orbs was that they could only be used as tabletop speakers in their stock form.  So, Glow contracted me to design several stands that would allow for more flexibility.  Again, with the help of Woodlane Cabinet Co. and their fantastic CNC, I was able to make desk, floor, and subwoofer stands that allow these great budget speakers to be used almost anywhere.  I’m especially pleased with the floor stands that are a nice blend of organic and modern, and have a cable-hiding channel up the spine (made possible by using 3-ply Plyboo for this piece).

S&F: Do you have any upcoming plans with Plyboo products?
To be honest, I’ve expended a huge amount of energy getting together this little line of bamboo things, so I’m happy for the time being.  However, I’m a tinkerer by nature, so you never know.  I would love to do some variations on these pieces, but I have to see how the initial designs do and whether the marketplace will allow me to take on other things.

J.S.: Where are you sold?
I have a few small retailers, mostly in the Southeast, and Anthropologie sells a couple of my designs.  I also have a Paypal webstore linked to my website which has most of my non-custom things listed, plus a few thing by other manufacturers.  But much of my business is still based on people calling me up, telling me what they want, and making things to order.

S&F: Which markets would you be interested in doing retail?

J.S.: I would love to have stores that are genuine fans of what I do in the major metro areas of the US and some spots abroad.  It’s a little tricky, as many of the things I do are hybrids of audio tech or just plain tech and decorative home accessory.  But I hold out hope that folks in the design world will take notice of technology that is fun to look at and use, and that audio/techy folks will realize that metal and plastic black boxes are not the only way to go.  Miami, Atlanta, NYC, Chicago, SF, and LA would be great starts!  Today Grand Ridge, tomorrow the world!

Special thanks to Joel Scilley for making this interview possible!
*All photos by Joel Scilley

What do you do with Plyboo Bamboo Flooring and Plywood?

April 18, 2011 in Interview

From time to time, we receive images of projects and installations of what individuals build with Plyboo’s plywood. It’s inspiring to see so much talent and such a diverse set of applications. Bamboo is such an incredible material, and very appropriate to utilitarian and aesthetic ends. Today’s post focuses on an incredible craftsman: Miro Buzov.

Plyboo: Miro, so that you know, I’m a huge fan of yours. I saw a photo of the wine rack and the cut-outs repurposed for coasters. Wow! Was it your original intention to do that?
Buzov: Nicole, thank you it means a lot to me. Yes it was my original intention to do that. It actually serves several purposes, the cut outs can be used as coasters but also give the guest of the cafe the option to touch and look at the material used for the cabinet. Another thing about this is, I always respect the money my customers invest in a project. In case of the cabinet which the referred wine rack is a part of, Durapalm was used and at it’s price point I feel my customer should get as much of the material they paid for.

Plyboo: Are there any designers in particular that you keep in mind when designing?
Buzov:I was born, raised and educated in Germany, there are many who influence my designs but not really anyone in particular. Generally said I prefer modern European designs and bamboo gives me the option to introduce warmth to designs which by others not familiar with this style often are referred to as minimalistic and cold. I find bamboo products to be the perfect medium to break through this barrier. And yes come to think of it, there is always Michael Cheng.  Love his stuff, not to mention what he does with concrete.

Plyboo: What attracted you to Plyboo’s materials?
Buzov: Gosh, I have to think back a long time. I don’t want to give false dates but it really all started sometimes in the early to mid 90′s when Plyboo introduced (or at least I found out about the company by then) flooring in Germany. I used Plyboo back then for flooring and early on I actually made my own plywood out of the flooring boards, as sheet goods where not offered at this time. I just simply love the look and feel of it. It machines well with any equipment I have, it finishes up with as little as just some oils if needed and is super durable. For sure, sustainability was a major factor as well, even so many years ago.

Plyboo: I saw what you did with the bar/cafe with the alternating color bands. Seriously, how did you do it? I’m in awe!
Buzov: I always keep every single little bit of material, so often I consider some waste from other jobs for new projects. I have been making counter tops and cutting boards for years using left over Plyboo plywood strips. So, for the drum design I decided to go into my stash of goods. We build a tapered form and individually glued on 3/8″ thick bands alternating amber and natural Plywood. It also took a lot of sanding to get it all to look right. Here again the strength of the material itself allowed us to build it this way.

Plyboo: Do you typically work with bamboo, or do you use other materials like metals and plastics?
Buzov: I work with all media. Wood, metal, plastic, glass, acrylics and concrete as well. In a nutshell anything out there can be turned into something, new or reclaimed it does not matter. I do however prefer to use Bamboo and wood. That said, for a long time there was not a big market for bamboo plywood, for example it was hard to turn customers onto something new. That likely also has something to do with the are of North Carolina I operate in. Some things just take a little longer to get here if you know what I mean.

Plyboo: Back to repurposing, do you typically use waste or design using as little material as possible?
Buzov: I don’t particularly design projects with using as little as possible in mind, often it is just simply not possible in order to create the right look. However, since I always use everything which is possibly usable. You could say it is a little of both.

Plyboo:Do you have any other projects in mind using Plyboo?
Buzov: Currently I am in the process of designing a Sushi bar as well as a Banquet/Event hall. Plyboo like always is my first choice of materials presented to my customers. I hope to be able to use it for both projects in some way or the other.

All photos were taken by Miro Buznov