Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Corner of America

Taking a walk this morning in my little neighborhood of Los Angeles, in this particular chunk of the state, within this 50th of America, I got inspired by the beauty. Not obvious beauty, but the unique splendor of my tiny niche. I took some photos and then I got to thinking. What if we all stopped to appreciate what is different and beautiful about our little piece of this great country? Would we be inspired to support it? Would we want to help bring it back to the days when it was the greatest producer of goods in the world? Would we take more time to check a tag and see where the products we buy are bought?

Send us some photos of your gorgeous neck of the woods. Maybe this will be a recurring theme.

DWELL Guest Blog: Cisco Brothers' Factory Tour

Cisco Pinedo began making custom pieces for his neighbors when he was in his early twenties out of his garage at his home in South Central Los Angeles. As his business grew, he began buying old abandoned buildings on an industrial strip of Western Ave. in the downtrodden neighborhood where he started out. Cisco Home still makes all their upholstered goods, case goods, and their welded and hand-blown glass lighting in Los Angeles (under the name Cisco Brothers), employing over 100 workers in their factories alone. Every item in the huge range of stylish pieces is made with an eye on sustainability and green practices. 

Cisco is by all accounts an unusual business man. He is the rare kind of boss who is loyal and flexible with his employees. It says a lot that the very first upholsterer Cisco ever hired when he started his business over 20 years ago is still working with him. He also made the all too rare decision to keep the vast majority of his manufacturing stateside. I was fortunate to get a guided tour of Cisco Brothers' factory in South Central Los Angeles this week and I truly was impressed by what I saw. I headed straight from the manufacturing side to the retail side, visiting the showroom in Pasadena. From raw materials to beautiful vignettes, Cisco keeps it locally grown.

All the wood Cisco uses is sustainably harvested or reclaimed. They use FSC certified hardwoods, guaranteeing that all their wood comes from sustainable legal sources

Hand-turned selection of legs!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


CYDWOQ shoes are more art than footwear. The unusual shapes, the texture of the leather, the rich colors, the patinaed hardware; you have truly never seen a shoe quite like it. Lovingly handcrafted in Burbank, CA since 1996, CYDWOQ shoes are a thing of beauty. Founder Rafi Balouzian comes from a long line of master shoe-makers, growing up in and around his father's shoe factory, accompanying him on trips to Europe where he was exposed to those nations’ great handcrafted leather working traditions. Add to that a degree in Architecture and you have a completely unique take on a modern artisan shoe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lattice In, Lattice In

The unique combination of privacy, pattern and light that lattice provides in any space can create a magical environment. The founders of LatticeStix knew this when they started their company based in San Francisco. Knowing, too, that the Eastern tradition of intricate lattice was cost prohibitive in the states, they thought "that, surely, with today’s technology it should be possible to create beautiful lattice that didn’t cost a small fortune." Now they have over 100 patterns for screens, trellis, gates, walls, doors, fences and more, that don't just hide the view, but enhance it. With wood dowel joinery that won't rust or loosen over time, these pieces are built to last, from sustainably sourced wood like Western Red Cedar and Mahogany right here in California.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Q: What do skateboarders and cooks have in common?

 A: If they're using Epicurean cutting boards, they're both cutting it up on the same durable material. Sister company to Loll Designs (see our article about them here) Epicurean was founded in 2003 by TrueRide, a custom skate park manufacturer in Duluth, Minnesota. They used the excess material they had to create home food prep surfaces. Commercial kitchens had long ago discovered the durability of the material, so this was a natural next step. We especially love this series, called the Designer Series, for its adorable patterns and the built-in way to keep track of which board you use for raw meats and poultry, versus the one you want to cut your kids veggies on. They have tons more to choose from, check out their selection here and buy them directly from their website or from a store near you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Re-Opening of an American Staple

"The Revival of American Excellence" - this is the tagline from Faribault Woolen Mill Co.'s website. Started in 1865, quality wool blankets have been turned out from this country town in Minnesota. They provided blankets to the army in both World Wars. They kept people warm in covered wagons during the frontier movement. Tough times hit the mill however, and they shut their doors in 2009. We are so please this week they celebrated their grand re-opening. Starting with a staff of 31, the mill is starting up under new ownership. But don't fret, their simple classic style is as relevant today as ever. Their online store is coming soon, but you can pre-order some items on their site now.

The New Face of Design Patriot!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The real thing


Randolph Engineering, or RE, was founded in 1972 by two engineers with the intention of designing and manufacturing optical tools and machinery for the trade. In time, the company turned its attention to making its own eyewear and by 1982 RE became the prime contractor for military-style aviation flight glasses for the U.S. Department of Defense. These glasses are the real deal: classic styles, built to last, and manufactured at their headquarters in Randolph, MA.

Monday, September 19, 2011

DWELL Guest Blog: Muu Kids' Furniture, An Interview with Robert Kwak

I had the pleasure of sitting down for a cup of iced coffee with Robert Kwak, the owner, founder, and designer for Muu, a great modern line of furniture for nurseries and kids rooms, manufactured in the US. I was curious about his decision to keep the process stateside, especially considering the extra regulations involved in crib manufacturing which are on top of the more stringent (and some may argue more expensive) worker and environmental regulations that companies must follow to manufacture in the United States.

A lawyer by training, Robert left that field looking for other creatively enriching opportunities. He worked for a while in politics and had a chance to experience more of the country than the two coasts he had lived on.  He learned there was more of a commonality among the people in the 50 states than he had previously been led to believe. A commonality in what people want for their lives, their homes, and their families.

Robert started Muu in 2008, inspired by the birth of his daughter. While they shopped for furniture for their nursery, everything looked the same after a while. He was interested in starting a business, loved design, was a woodworking hobbyist and saw an opening in the crib market. Here is Robert's
daughter, Amelia modeling a crib for their first catalog.

The idea was a high-end customizable line of modern kid's furniture. Robert developed a panel system that allows you to change the look andfeel of your furniture as tastes change and kids grow, without having to replace the whole piece. Made with magnets, the panels are simple to change, no tools or DIY skills required.

The name, Muu, came from a Zen concept: Mu which, according to Muu's website "teaches that there is no difference between us and our environment." But in our conversation, Robert relayed that it is also about interconnectedness. He believes this relates to the connection between the product itself and where it came from (the manufacturer) and where it is going (the customer).

When deciding where to get his fabulous new line of furniture manufactured, for Robert it came down to two key words, quality and safety. He found that when he broke down the process of what it would take to insure both of these qualities in his furniture, manufacturing at home just made good sense. Between quality control, shipping costs (and the damages that come from oversea freight), tariffs, and lead time, the cost difference was much less than he thought. Combine that with the pride he felt in the Made in the USA label and it wasn't that difficult a decision.

He also takes pride in knowing that the people lovingly creating his pieces are getting paid a living wage, have 401K and truly care about the work they do. There are no cultural barriers between the manufacturer and the people they are making the furniture for. No language barriers confusing Robert's interactions with the factory. They can also react faster when there are changes in the marketplace or in regulations.

For decades Robert's grandfather Sam, owned two shoe stores that were distributors for the iconic American kids' shoe brand, Stride Rite. He was also a real stickler for quality. The debut line of Muu furniture is named for him. With a great splayed leg base in two finish options, these pieces are classic and modern with a slightly retro vibe.

Muu's second collection, Ray, was named for two strong women named Ray, Robert's great-grandmother who raised eight kids on the Lower East Side and Ray Eames. As a father of a daughter, he wanted to give recognition to strong female role models for Amelia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DWELL guest blog: Tile Heaven

In the heart of design-centric West Hollywood, there's an extraordinary tile showroom just off Melrose. Filmore Clark owned and operated by Lee Nicholson, carries only domestically produced American artisan tile. A North Carolina native with years of tile experience under her belt, Lee knows a thing or two about the business. After noticing a disturbing trend valuing quantity over quality, she began to worry about the future of American artisans. This was the impetus for the beautiful little gem of a showroom that now carries and champions over 20 lines of US made tile. We visited Lee recently and got a tour of the store and the wide range of American tiles available.
Here is a small sampling of what they carry.

This subtle, geometric brand new line of tile called Instinct out of Chicago. It is a blond quarry body with a low-fire glaze from Lowitz & Company;, with a design inspired by American abstract painting.

 Blue Slide Art Tile has been making tile for 23 years. Headquartered in Point Reyes, CA, you can definitely feel the affect the beauty of the surrounding ocean and fog has on their designs. Their tiles are etched using brass and wooden tools, and the hand-crafted effect is palpable.

Modern-yet-retro and fabulously chic, Portland Cement Co. truly adds a third dimension to the world of tile. Started in 2006 this Oregon based company started to "fill a void in the concrete tile industry." Innovative, unique and durable, Portland Cement pushes the limits of what we think of as tile.

Founded in 1880, Rookwood Pottery was the first female-owned manufacturing company in the U.S. Rookwood, of Cincinnati, OH, has changed hands since then. Although most famous for their highly collectible pottery, they recently began producing tile again, and some are surprisingly modern, like these.

Started by industrial designer David Clark in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, ModCraft now operates out of a barn in the Hudson Valley. Specializing in amazing dimensional tile in a truly gorgeous palette of glazes.

Lee Nicholson raved about GRID's abilities with large format glass tile, and a little hunting around on their website makes you think that with their architectural surfaces and tile anything is possible. A dazzling array of colors, patterns, mirrors and stone, all from this division of M2 Innovative Concepts in Tacoma, WA.

Founded in 1990, Native Tile in Southern California is known primarily for its Spanish, Craftsman, and California Mission style hand-crafted tiles. However, with over 800 copyrighted original patterns, the team at Native are constantly innovating. We were taken by these striking styles.

Second generation ceramicists Jason Coleman and wife Megan Coleman, joined forces (he on the creative side, she the business) to create Clayhaus Tile. A relatively new venture making handcrafted tile in Portland, OR, Clayhaus (the name is a nod to the Bauhaus movement) makes fun modern tile with a nod to the 60's.

Lots of companies do mosaics, but few have the options, the designs, the sheer volume of variety as New Ravenna Mosaics.  Founded in 1991 by Sara Baldwin, New Ravenna Mosaics employs more than 100 people and is one of the largest employers in Northampton County, Virginia.

Lee Nicholson in her element, the entry of Filmore Clark. Thanks for the hospitality.