Designing the Details: 2 Firms Expand into Product Design

Event: Beyond Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.07.10
Speakers: Alexander Lamis, AIA — Partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Lisa Green — Partner, Selldorf Architects
Moderator: Donald Albrecht — Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of the City of New York


Patterned glass from the Robert A. M. Stern collection for Bendheim, Merletto (left); 90 degree coffee table from the Vica Collection by Selldorf Architects.

Courtesy Robert A.M. Stern (left); Selldorf Architects

Contemporary architects are increasingly drawing upon the legacies of designers such as Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames by exploring product design and creating holistic environments in which all elements exist cohesively. Firms such as Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Selldorf Architects have established branches of their practice devoted to furniture, product, and textile design, which not only serve to enhance the buildings and interiors they design, but are also independently marketable.

Lisa Green, a partner at Selldorf Architects, describes the furniture in the Vica collection — a name coined from a furniture and interior design firm of Selldorf’s grandmother in Cologne — as “only as big as it needs to be.” The simple lines, proportions, and crafted details of the furniture are constantly revisited. The collection is designed to be formal yet comfortable. The Vica collection also includes light fixtures, door pulls, and tabletop accessories originally designed for the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel. While Green says that the majority of orders from the collection are for interiors designed by Selldorf Architects, the firm is planning to open a showroom in NYC.

Alexander Lamis, AIA, a partner at Robert A. M. Stern Architects who also manages Robert A.M. Stern Interiors and Robert A.M. Stern Design, which licenses the firm’s product designs, describes the practice’s oeuvre as “spoons to cities.” Its “spoons” include product design such as candlesticks, bowls, ice buckets, and place settings dating back to 1985. The practice’s furniture design includes lounge furniture, and furniture for healthcare, hospitality, and residential settings. While designing the Nashville Public Library, the building inspired a line of furniture called The Library Collection comprised of reading chairs, tables, and study carrels. The firm focuses its product design on the contract market place and has established partnerships with multiple manufacturers for which it designs furniture, textiles, and landscape accessories. Expanding beyond the design of products and furniture, the practice collaborates with its product partners, such as Bendheim glass and Bentley Prince Street Carpet, to develop marketing and ad campaigns. By doing so, both the practice and the manufacturer gain brand exposure.