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.

Working in Sketchup

Like many designers (and also hobbyists), I have been recently enamored to Sketchup.  For those unfamiliar, Sketchup is a free* 3D design software associated with Google (but sold off a few years ago to a company called Trimble).  I have been using SU to work on environment design (as opposed to product design), as it is very quick to get ideas across and quickly develop views to communicate your design intent.

Seating Area Sketch

3 Minute “Napkin Sketches” – Essential to the Design Process

Most will maintain that drawing by hand is an essential function to working out your designs.  Many are familiar with the story of a “napkin sketch”, or a squiggly Frank Gehry concept drawing; there will always be a place for quick sketches.  With tools like free 3D design packages however, detailed hand drawings are becoming too difficult to justify.

SieMatic Beaux Arts 2 Kitchen for Client in Bermuda

Hand Rendering – Charming but time to move on?

Did I say *Free?  The basic program is free but a Pro version allows many more features including the full-featured Layout element which is similar to Paper Space in AutoCAD.  I use Pro as I would like to master the Layout feature and eventually move away from ACAD.

Entry 2

Sketchup – A Quick Design and Communication Tool

As mentioned before in previous posts, I’m well aware the time-consuming method of drawing by hand is charming but inefficient in today’s design world.  Although I can draw quite quickly in a loose fashion (napkin sketches and so on), more and more of my clients are used to seeing photo-realistic renderings and as this becomes the norm pencil and marker sketches just simply will not cut it.  It isn’t the speed and the efficiency alone that renders hand drawings obsolete (sorry), but the fact that realism is so easily obtainable and frankly expected in luxury interior presentations.  Worst is when you need to present a few options in the same space; this is where digital designing such as SU can manage things in a few clicks.

Classic Main Alt

Basic SU Presentation.  No Post-SU rendering needed for quick images such as this.

Although my screen shots show basic line work, you can always export your SU model to a rendering package (also inexpensive) to get into photo realism.  It should be noted there are consultancies – many in Eastern Europe or Asia – who do nothing but make renderings of complex buildings and other important 3D projects.  These “Rendering Farms” have super computers toiling away to make your models look like the CGI from Skywalker Ranch.

After working in SU for a year or two, it became quite clear that although I don’t need CGI-level rendering yet, the quality of materials representation and purchasable interior elements make a big difference to the quality of your design.  Looking at my screen shots above, I’m referring to not only the realism of the stone floor but the appliances, the paintings I placed on the wall (small replications of a friend’s work), the chairs – all the things we called Entourage back in the pens-and-marker days.  With hand drawings you draw these elements yourself, or Photoshop things in later.  With 3D design, you can insert scale models of products into your room.  One of Sketchup’s most powerful features is their database of objects you can download and use in your design; the 3D Warehouse.

SU Warehouse Image

A View to Mick’s 3D Warehouse Page

The 3DW is a user-uploaded repository of free models.  If it has been uploaded to the Warehouse, you can use it.  Some “power users” display entire buildings and iconic models they constructed in the manner of a gallery.  I have seen the Empire State Building, Endeavor Space Shuttle, Tie Fighters … there are some incredible models uploaded to the 3DW.  For me and other furniture designers/manufacturers however, the 3DW presents a unique opportunity to get our products in the hands of architects and specifiers.  By having your commercially-available designs in the 3DW, there is a very good chance of having your pieces specified when the design gets executed in real life.  With this in mind, I have recently been converting my product designs to the SU 3DW format and uploading them for other designers and hobbyists to use.  In the first week I had a couple of hundred downloads of some of my lighting designs.  Who is looking at/using my product models?  This I do not know, as there is not a feedback loop or way to track who is using what.

SU Screenshot

Screen Shot of Sketchup Interface – and the Popular Ilex SPAL24 Space Array Fixture

So far the most popular of my products is the above Space Array fixture, at over a hundred downloads by itself.  Not bad for the first week.  I looked at some iconic furniture pieces by well-known manufacturers and their downloads were in the many thousands.  Surely some of these model usages will result in actual sales, right?

How many of you, dear readers, are using Sketchup and the 3D Warehouse?  Do you use actual products you intend to specify for the final project?  Does the availability of a model on the 3DW increase your chance of using it in real life?

With dozens of lighting fixtures currently in production – not to mention the scores of Amerock hardware designs I did between 2004 and 2009 – I could put a huge amount of product on the 3DW.  I’ll continue to focus on the newer and better designs for now, with the hope of getting a wider audience for my more marketable designs.

If you are a Sketchup user please have a visit to my product gallery and try some of my lighting and hardware in your models.  I’d love to know how they work in your designs.

https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/by/MickRicereto

Photos from the B&O Railroad Museum

This past Saturday I meandered over to Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum, something I had wanted to do for years.  Although many historic buildings have been removed after the B&O merged and absorbed it’s way into CSX transportation, there is still the amazing 22-sided “roundhouse” and some old car shop buildings on site.  The big draw, however, are the ancient locomotives, passenger cars and other supporting rolling stock.

The B&O railroad was one of the first in the world, with the short trip from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills (20 kilometers) being the first self-powered line in the USA.  There are many priceless rail vehicles dating from the earliest days, as well as some incredible monster locomotives from the 20th century.  I brought my camera and wandered through the old buildings getting close up to all the iron and dust.

B&O Railcar Interior

What I didn’t know is that we would be able to climb aboard many of the train cars and engines and imagine what it would have been like back in the railroad’s glory days.  Most of my pictures were taken in the southern car shop, out of the way of the train-crazy children and demonstrations.

Detail of old Steam Locomotive

It wasn’t my intention to shoot everything that had a grey-blue and black hue, but the old trains were speaking to me, drawing me to the shadows to study the age marks and wrinkles in the incredible old surfaces.

Old Railcar Detail

4 or 5 impossibly large locomotives are berthed next to each other in the old shop, possibly 120 or 150 centimeters shoulders apart.  There really is no way to step back and get a full shot of these magnificent beasts, but I was happy to get close and smell the waxy grease and study the giant forged mechanicals.

Locomotive Wheels at B&O Museum

The most impressive locomotive was one of the last steam engines built in the USA, the early 1940’s #1604 “Allegeny” 2-6-6-6 coal-hauling monster.  The numbers refer to how many wheels the engine has.  The main wheels are 160cm tall and the locomotive + tender (the coal cart behind the engine) together are as long as the building they are parked in.  The engine was built to haul coal trains from West Virginia up to the coal dumper in Baltimore’s middle branch harbor.  Standing next to or on top of this thing is awe-inspiring.  The engine itself weighs 389 tons.  That is 778,000 pounds.  The coal tender, loaded weighed 215 tons.  Now, they rest in darkness, silent and regal.

Detail of #1604 Allegeny Locomotive Hopper Car

Because these relics are safely indoors, their state of preservation feels as if they could awake at any moment.  Almost completely free of signage or modern interpretation, the big engines feel as if they rolled up for their last journey, the barn doors were shut and the overhead lights turned out.

Detail of Steam Engine Works

Listen close to the pipes and hoses and you can almost hear the hissing of steam.

Detail of Railcar Coupling

Considering the weight of these giants, it is amazing the condition of the concrete floor.  This particular car shop was not originally built for locomotives, but merely for the fitting out of passenger car interiors.  This building was constructed to last.

Train Car Detail

The volunteers at the B&O are very friendly and helpful.  The old boy sitting by the front door of the car shop jumped out of his seat to talk to me and give information about the building and the locomotives.  The yellow crane below is still functional, and the docent pointed out some recent activity with some diesel engine restoration in one corner.  On this day however, it was a quiet winter afternoon in the old train shed.

Decrepit Rail Car

When I was a small boy I witnessed the ’76 Freedom Train go by the tracks near my neighborhood in NJ.  It was a restored steam engine pulling historic cars filled with Americana.  We only saw the train pass by, but it was an intoxicating and unforgettable sensory experience.

There is something magical about the billowing steam, the aching moan of a steam whistle, the jerking motion of the piston and cranks working away at speed.  To see something like the Allegeny #1604 pulling a train of coal cars up a mountain must have been an impressive sight.  Sleep well old iron, after a life of burden you have earned your rest.

Recent Renderings – Summer 2014

It’s been a busy summer here in the studio as we have residential kitchen projects, two small kitchen studios and some ongoing industrial design projects to finalize.  Here are some images from our residential kitchens:

Kitchen Project by Mick RiceretoThis first project is for a large home with the kitchen space centered within a sprawling floor plan.  There are numerous entrances and reveals to other spaces from all sides, which presents a challenge to circulation and maintaining a harmonious feel.  The space is quite large however, big enough for two very large islands.  Behind all those tall cabinet doors is an array of refrigeration.

The next project is has similar finishes and back-to-back, they almost feel like they could be the same project from a different angle.  Brown horizontal wood grain has been a popular finish now for about 10 years, with no sign of abatement.  The strong tones work well with the earthy palette many homeowners request.

Kitchen Rendering by Mick RiceretoBoth of these projects have fairly “traditional” building envelopes, meaning, they have all the trappings of today’s North American building trends like covered porches, traditional-style siding, raised panel doors, big moldings and the like.  It is good to see functional, modern kitchens being requested in these types of environments, even if there does seem to be a slight clash to the architecture.

This next project is a small kitchen studio.  The space is a converted car garage, with an extra high ceiling allowing for a loft space at the rear.  We have planned a large “living environment” similar to the types of spaces we have been designing for large showrooms such as SieMatic New York.  In this case the main space is shared between two kitchens, to highlight different solutions to the same living example.

Small Kitchen Studio by Mick RiceretoThe rear kitchen is functional, and positioned under the loft like it would typically occur in a converted apartment.  We kept the cabinet sizes similar and very similar, for an elemental look to counteract the busy, large industrial-type space around it.

Apartment Kitchen by Mick RiceretoThe front kitchen display is completely integrated into the environment and designed to be less “kitcheny” in appearance.  Across from the island is to be a built-in seating element with a long table suitable for parties and for client consultation.  The overall feel is to inspire the visitor and convey a feel of real architecture.  I think we will achieve all this with our design solutions.

Loft Kitchen by Mick RiceretoOn the Industrial Design side, we have been working on a few lighting collections over the past 12-18 months.  We have some models just finishing up and we are now in the process of picking colors.  Recently debuted at Wanted DesignNY in May, the Lacage pendant fixture for Ilex Lighting is entering production very soon.  We have launch photos in chrome and brushed nickel, but there will be some interesting color options for more pop.

Lacage by Ilex LightingHere is a sneak preview of another fixture we are working on, which is an array of thin aluminum blades painted in various powdercoat options.  The array is held together by a center cage which allows many options of blades to be used.  In future models we will be looking at various different materials and finishes.  For now, just a simple paint finish:

Lighting Concept by Mick RiceretoWell, summer is almost over and I feel like it hasn’t started because of all the work we have been getting though the studio.  The reality is though, time flies when busy and having fun alike.  I do look forward to getting our lighting finished and getting the latest news from Europe for next year’s kitchen trends like we do every September.

New Projects 2014 – SieMatic Charleston

It’s been 5 years since we completed the original installation for SieMatic Charleston.  That showroom won us the Kitchen & Bath Business magazine Showroom of the Year award for 2009 (Link to KB&B Article).  However five years is a long time in the luxury furniture industry, and innovators should be prepared to change out a display every 1-2 years to maintain authority over trends in materials and design.  SieMatic NYC and Charleston are good illustrations of this thinking.

The Charleston design team was fortunate to have sold off some old displays just as new product was coming out of Germany, so we were able to do the latest here.  This first display, in the front window, is very modern in layout with a long rectangular island in Agate grey lacquer and natural walnut.

SieMatic Agate Grey Display

The geometry is as simple as possible, with as little clutter we could devise.  The hood is a ceiling mounted unit and cooktop a flush-mounted induction, to keep the furniture sleek and less “kitcheny”.  The long countertops are in a ceramic material which replicates basalt, but to a length of over 300cm.  There is really no reason to consider natural stone in place of this incredibly strong, impervious and eco-friendly material.  From arm’s distance you cannot tell this is a manufactured material.  This countertop is a SieMatic exclusive, and comes in several colors and finishes.

Note how the pullout cabinets have no hardware, and the faces go to the floor.  The cabinets open with electronic “touch latches”, a hugely popular trend with European kitchen design today.

This display replaced another long island layout, but retained the fireplace area towards the front window.  We softened the look by removing the TV and taking the bookmatched/sequenced walnut panels up to 9 feet.  The glossy panels on the backsplash are SieMatic Graphite lacquer.

The original Beaux Arts display remains in the sister window slot.  With this look very appropriate to the South and with the recessed white panel design being timeless as ever, there is no need to change this display any time soon.

SieMatic Beaux Arts Display

We installed a new “Sophia Loren” Beaux Arts Lotus White Gloss kitchen 2 years ago, and it remains as is.  It is interesting to see how the Beaux Arts feel has changed over the past few years, with just these two displays in one location showing the depth of range one “doorstyle” can go.  It is very much about overall feel and appointments, and not the design of the cabinet door.

Beaux Arts 2.0 Sophia Loren

We also changed a smaller display in the back, which represents an “apartment kitchen”.  Although we are starting to move away from doing smaller displays like this, it is good to show SieMatic can meet smaller budgets and still deliver world-class function and style.  This display is in laminate and the price of such a design is more accessible than many would surmise.  Such is a benefit of modular German cabinetry, having all the interior quality and function but choose laminate for the finish and be practical and budget-minded at once.

SieMatic SC10 laminate Floating Spaces display

The shelving system is called Floating Spaces, and is completely adjustable in height.  Although we carefully composed the standard widths and shelf placement, it is designed to be flexible.  The seating is a small banquette, as large as space would allow.  This is composed simply of laminate panel material.  I love banquettes and in fact, if I had one at home I would be sitting in it typing this right now.

The last display also contains some Floating Spaces, integrated into a series called S2.  This is SieMatic’s “channel” series, of handle-less cabinets.  SieMatic invented the handle-free design of kitchen cabinets in 1960, and this look is exceptionally popular today.

SieMatic Sterling grey gloss laminate display

The finishes are Titan oak (a limed quartersawn veneer) and Sterling grey “similacque” laminate.  This gloss laminate is so flat and distortion-free, it looks just like lacquer.  I understand it is coated with a clear gloss so in fact it is really a paint finish on top of laminate, and the clarity is just simply remarkable.  Combined with the “Zero” edge of the door, there really isn’t anything else that compares.

We are very happy with this display but I should remark how I miss the design we replaced, if only because of the Photoshop work I had to do documenting it.  The old display in Terra Brown gloss lacquer, from my main website at mickdesign.com :

Old SieMatic display at Charleston

At the time of installation, I had only a 35mm wide lens and this display was very wide, requiring me to do a panoramic stitch-type edit.  This was before easy stitch-type apps were available, where you just follow directions on the screen … so I had to take several manual pans and edit them later.  It was grueling.  So, in support of manual craftsmanship, this old display photo shall take one last victory lap around the internet in honor of midnight photo edit-efforts around the world.

As always, working with SieMatic is a great honor and I’m looking forward to the next round of showrooms this year and beyond.  Have a look at my Facebook page for more news and links to exciting design projects.

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.