Knocked Off Again

Knockoff.  Webster’s definition reads as “a cheap of inferior copy of something”.  A bit similar to “knock down” and “knockout” but to be sure I refer to plagiarized, and again by a big box store with the victim being an Amerock hardware design.

Rolling into the Box one evening looking for blue painter’s tape and some CFLs, I passed this forlorn little vanity ensemble:

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The unit’s cup pull is as close to my Amerock Manor pull as one can get, only not as wide.

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Here is Amerock’s official view of the Manor pull – model number BP26130 – for some reason shown from the bottom:

amerock-bp26130g10-lg

I designed this piece of hardware way back in 2003-2004, while living in Washington DC.  I used to wander the majestic avenues looking for architectural inspiration.  In this case, I was thinking of some details I liked in Daniel Burnham’s Union Station.  I’ve blogged about Union Station before I think … ah yes, here is a picture of the entrance vestibule:

Detail of Union Station in Washington DC

When I started with Amerock in late 2003, they were thick in the transition from a domestic manufacturing company to a run-of-the-mill importing brand.  Needing new designs to be made in China and appeal to the mass market, I whipped up some collections that would have timeless appeal and work with a myriad of cabinet and interior styles.  Manor was actually the first design I did for them.  In fact, the Manor knob was my very first design, penned in late 2003:

amerock-manor-square-knob

As I have stated before, I don’t mind so much to be knocked off as I can just design another knob or handle very quickly.  In this case I’m actually a bit proud to think a 13 year design still holds up enough to be copied so blatantly.  My goal of “timeless appeal” seems to have been met.

While I will continue using the world’s architectural monuments for inspiration – as any good artist should – some will simply copy other’s designs.  I don’t suppose there are great old buildings and fascinating streets to wander out in the Big Box corporate park, but that should not be an excuse for failing to come up with an original design.

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Knock Offs

I was recently walking a “big box store” – nameless for now – and noticed some private label cabinet hardware that carried an uncanny similarity to a design I did for Amerock a few years ago.  This doesn’t bother me as this sort of thing happens all time.  You know what they say about imitation and flattery.

Here are the designs at the ‘Box:

Here are my designs for Amerock, designed around 2007:

Amerock HandleAmerock Knob

My designs have a subtle curve the ‘Box models lack, but looking at the knob in particular I think we can say my designs have undoubtedly provided the inspiration for these retail pieces.

Discussing plagiarism in design is a important topic and a little too deep for me to tackle today.  In this case Amerock is not sold in this particular store; the product manager probably wanted to have something similar to my design, but could not find it in their manufacturer’s catalog.  In today’s product development environment, it’s simply a matter of sending a drawing (or “inspirational sample”) to your Far East factory and ordering the minimum quantity to have something very close in your store.

Another situation I have been meaning to post about is what happens to a design when it gets passed over for launch, but then mysteriously shows up in somebody else’s product lineup.  This happened with a mid-century-inspired bow handle I did back in the mid 2000’s.  Here is my design:

Bow Handle 2007

You are looking at a die cast and chrome plated “actual handle”, and two development prototypes.  At some point I changed the design from the awful 3-banded idea to this simple and frankly, “familiar” bow handle design that would have been a typical design in the 1930-50’s.  Our product team rejected the design in the end however, and we went ahead with some other products.  The die cast mold went on a shelf in China.

Then, a matter of a few months later I saw my design in the display of a competing hardware company, here in the US.  The factory had simply flipped it over to somebody else!  I studied it very closely but I was convinced it was mine and not some crazy coincidence.  Here is Haefele’s handle:

Haefele Handle

It may not be the actual mold, but the engineers could have changed it a touch and then passed the product over to this other buyer.  I just can’t see how my design would otherwise be so similar.  I have nothing against Hafele here at all – it’s been years since I have done this design and I just find it amusing.  I wonder how many of my other “rejected” designs may be out there under another company?

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In other news, I have designed the kitchen area for another store for Pirch, the exciting appliance and fixture retailer – a great location in downtown New York.  The opening is later this month; look for a feature on the store in a few weeks time.

1960’s Amerock Hardware Concepts

In the mid-2000s I worked as Senior Design Manager for the kitchen hardware company Amerock.  During my employ, the venerable manufacturer was in the process of closing their old factory in Rockford, IL and sourcing everything from China and Mexico.  I took some pictures of the enormous stamping and diecasting facilities but people were very edgy at the time, with word of closing still not public, so I get less shots than I would have hoped.  I did, however, manage to abscond with some old marketing and industrial design relics.  I wish I got more.

Here is a small sample of catalog kitchen concepts I found in a dusty old folder.  These are probably from the 1960s, photos of the original ink on paper with watercolor.  The 1960s were the golden age of fashion illustration (nee Mad Men), and illustrators were probably not hard to find like they are today.  This first kitchen has that old-world feel that was so prevalent at the time.

Kitchen Concept Watercolor Circa 1960

Some of the concepts were just pen and ink.  These were probably used as fillers and interludes between the main catalog shots.  I love the little housecoat she is wearing.

Kitchen Concept circa 1960

This next was my favorite illustration – very detailed ideas.  Note how in all of these concepts the hardware is integrated into the design of the cabinets.  This was one of the things which frustrated me about working for the company in my era; we only marketed the hardware as objects that would sit in a bin at a big box store and did not try and lead along fashion with adventurous ideas like below.

Kitchen Concept Watercolor Illustration Circa 1960

Amerock was instrumental in piecing together the rec rooms us older kids remember from the 60s and 70s.  Built-ins were much more common back then, and somebody got to pick from fantasies such as this warm hunting lodge complete with happy child and dog.  I really miss the days of built-in seating nooks and fireplaces!

Hardware Concept Drawing Circa 1960

In this particular file were small thumbnails of internal storage organizers.  Amerock at one time was involved in all aspects of cabinet fittings, a position which they did not maintain in my era.  In my practice today, one of the main things I find with kitchen design is the extreme focus homeowners put on internal cabinet organization.  Then again, I focus on European design and interior organization is a strong feature of manufacturers such as SieMatic of Germany.

Kitchen Interior Storage Concept Illustrations Circa 1960

Another watercolor, this one featuring something of an English manor concept.  I love how the illustrator left some of the beams without tone, and only just sketching in the table and chairs to balance out the heavy wood.  Note that all these illustrations were in grey scale and uncredited; I only have photographic reproductions.  I wonder what color might have been used, if any.

Catalog Kitchen Concept Watercolor Circa 1960

Here is the cover of a catalog dated 1952.  A little friendly help from the shop clerk, just like the big box stores of today.

Amerock Hardware Catalog 1952

As a parting shot, here is a pastiche of furniture detailing, probably used as a suggestion that “Amerock can be used anywhere you need storage” or some message of the sort.  The photo was white on black; I did not reverse it.  Cool effect for a catalog.

Cabinet Hardware Illustration circa 1960

I have more interesting Amerock design archives, including original pencil concept drawings from the 50s and 60s.  I’ll take the time to curate and present some old industrial design models too – real full-scale wood carvings of hardware concepts, which are a great contrast to today’s near-instantaneous rapid prototypes.