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Process: Designing and Manufacturing a Collection of Cabinetry Hardware

In addition to designing jewelry, I design and manufacture cabinetry hardware. My education and practice as an Architect is the link between the two. I began making hardware out of necessity because I simply could not find what my clients wanted; so after taking a jewelry casting class at the 92 Street Y in New York City, I was able to begin producing custom cast hardware for them.
 
One of the advantages of working across multiple disciplines is that it sets up the possibility for designs to be adapted or translated from one discipline to another. A great example of this “cross pollination” is our Peak cabinetry hardware collection. Launched at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in 2017, the collection was adapted from a jewelry line I introduced the year before in honor of the Architect, Zaha Hadid, for whom I once worked and who died of a sudden heart attack at age sixty five. Intrigued by the geometries I had developed in the jewelry, I saw the possibility of scaling these elements up and transforming them into hardware.

long shard studs (earrings) and elongated shard pulls #1 and #2 (hardware)

"Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work."  - Chuck Close

What most people may not realize about making objects that are not only beautiful but functional, is that there are often countless steps leading up to the final piece. This is the process designers and architects term R&D (also known as research and development); and it can take months, even years to work through.

Hardware requires a level of precision, things like symmetry and dimensional tolerances, that jewelry does not. One of the key elements that facilitates the design and development of our cabinetry hardware is 3D computer modeling. It enables us to work more seamlessly such that we can tweak the shapes, print them out, and hold them in our hands all in the same day. The starting point for Peak was in the forms we had developed for jewelry. Because this was our first jewelry collection modeled in in Rhino, a 3D modeling software, the process began by scaling the parts up in size. Our Form2 3D printer has become one of our most valuable tools because it facilitates the speed of iterations by allowing us to quickly produce prototypes in order to refine the details of a design. This is of particular importance for hardware because we need to know how the piece feels in your hand. How the fingers wrap around the handle, how they feel between the stand-offs, and the weight and form within the palm, for example. All these functional elements are as carefully considered as the visual aesthetic. 

In addition to “in house” tools, we rely heavily on our network of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen to navigate this part of the process. We greatly value the mastery of their trade and all they bring to the table as well their willingness to share it! We have worked diligently to build these relationships, and feel strongly about supporting what has become a dying breed of American manufacturing that caters to small, independent designers. These are people who care about their craft, and are vested in the outcome. They are also willing to take on both modest as well as large orders without a second thought.

 All of our hardware is cast and our caster plays a critical role in assessing the viability of designs for the casting process. He will often weigh in on potential issues early on in order to help us achieve a successful workflow in production. In the initial stages of developing the designs for our Peak collection, he voiced concerns about the thickness of some of the pieces. Casting thick parts can be difficult because thicker parts take longer to cool, and the longer it takes to cool the more likely you are to get surface imperfections or what is called “porosity.” At his suggestion, we hollowed out the backs of the thicker pieces to address this. However, when we printed prototypes of these components and held them in our hands, it was clear that this was not an appealing solution since it looked substantial from the front but felt hollow in the back. This is a perfect example how we are always balancing technical challenges with those of aesthetics.

screenshot of computer model  
computer model of our elongated shard pull #1

If you build it, they will come

By far one of the biggest challenges of bringing a new product to market is getting the word out to the appropriate audience. Trade shows are the most direct route for this, but are a considerable commitment both in terms of time and money. That said, they can be an extremely effective way of reaching your target market. I chose ICFF because of its established attendees: high-end Interior Designers and Architects. I did not have the resources to hire a PR firm, so I partnered with a consultant who specializes in servicing small-scale designers who are launching products to the design trade. She coached me through all of the critical aspects including the process of writing an effective press release and the planning and implementation of my outreach to the press prior to the show.
 
Unless you can present it in a compelling way, it doesn’t matter how great your product is.  If you are participating in a high-end trade show, the design of your booth is almost – if not more – important than the product itself. These are the things that they DO NOT teach you in school! Because our new hardware line was translated from a jewelry collection, it felt natural to tell that story within our presentation. Comprised of nearly 600 3D-printed parts, our display illustrated the transition in scale from the realm of jewelry to hardware, and ultimately to furniture with a sculptural, wall-mounted console modeled after our Peak Elongated Shard Pull.
 
 
 Our booth at ICFF featuring a custom-fabricated, cypress console 

The resources and attention to details paid off when our Peak collection was featured in Interior Design Magazine as a “Best of the Year” finalist for 2016. This led to future partnerships with prominent designers as well as offers of representation from established showrooms.

In the end, it all comes down to execution 

To create bespoke, handcrafted, functional art is to simultaneously embrace artistic and technical challenges. To conceive and execute designs, from initial concept to finished product, has taken years of experience of learning how to transform failures into successes. Most importantly, this work involves collaborating with the artisans who bring these ideas to life and is also the most rewarding part of the process. I believe that collaboration is the key to evolving, whether it is in what we make or who we become because each relationship holds the potential for something far greater than its origins. Perhaps then, this is only the beginning of the next spark.