The 1940’s and 1950’s saw a revolution of form in America. Across all fields of design a new visual language took hold, centered around the idea that design is for living.
Two designers at the helm of this shift were husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, who not only designed some of the most iconic examples of 20th century furniture but defined a new, organic, emotionally expressive approach to design and lifestyle.
For several decades, Charles and Ray Eames shaped the visual character of daily life in America. The dynamic duo designed for the practical needs of ordinary people, and their influence seeped into every facet of the average American’s life, both at home and at work. They placed great value on simplicity and beautiful functionality, and they created a new look with their pioneering use of new materials and technologies. They revolutionized the “art of seating” with their molded fiberglass seats and bent plywood chair, which was dubbed “the chair of the century” by Time magazine. Today, the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman are regarded as quintessential modern classics.
The Eameses left an indelible influence on the way in which design is an integral part of daily life in America. Continuing this tradition is Mark Dellplain, maker of modern, artisan furniture and owner of not2big, a custom furniture company dedicated to design that is both functional and inspiring. Mark stepped away from the flying sawdust to chat with us about his inspiration, design process, and the role of furniture in the modern lifestyle.
Q&A w/ Mark Dellplain
I love the name of your company, not2big. What’s the philosophy behind that name and what are your values as a design company?
When we sat down to develop our brand, we wanted to convey a clear message.
First, it had to be visually appealing, simple, and balanced. The color palette needed to be fresh with a name that was easy to remember.
Second, not2big is all about providing a unique product. We want our clients to know that we truly love what we do. It’s our passion. That we “get” what great design is, but at the same time we enjoy the journey, have some fun, and in the end, still have something elegant and beautiful.
Finally, and most importantly, we want our customers to know that when they work with us, they are getting a personalized experience. Somewhere along the way, America has become the land of big. Big warehouse stores, fast food meals, huge cars, and bigger houses. At not2big, we are the flip side to that story. We are not about high volume; we are about quality. We believe that design needs to be inspiring, not mediocre. It needs to combine elegance and style with freshness and a bit of surprise. When our clients see their finished piece, there always needs to be a “wow” factor. We think our name fits well with who we are as a company.
How do you see furniture fitting into the modern home lifestyle?
I see furniture in the modern home as the opportunity for the homeowner to make a personal style statement. Combining pieces together to fill a blank canvas as though the home were a painting. Thinking of the home in these terms, there then can be a mix of color, style, form and shape. Some will be functional, some decorative, some wacky, but all working in concert together. As far as how not2big fits in, we see our line as functional art, each piece unique, elegant yet functional.
As a furniture designer, where do you draw your inspiration? What’s your background?
What separates me from traditional furniture designers is that I don’t come from a furniture background. My father designed and built classic wooden boats and I have always had a love of restoring classic sports cars. To me, some of the greatest designers come from these two industries. Names that immediately come to mind are people like Harley Earl (GM), Sir William Lyons (Jaguar), Sergio Scaglietti (Ferrari) and in the boating industry, manufacturers like ChrisCraft, Ditchburn and Garwood, all companies who built beautiful boats in the 1930’s and 40’s.
My educational background is in graphic design and art direction, both in advertising and in the fashion industry. I also spent a year studying design in Tokyo and it was there that I feel I learned to really appreciate clean, elegant design.
I would love you to walk us through your design process, from the conception of an idea through the finished product.
Ok, believe it or not, what really happens when I work on a new project is that the night before, an idea will just pop into my head. No kidding. It might be triggered by seeing a random object or working with a piece of material the day before. I’ll sit down at my computer or put pencil to paper and sketch the thing out. That doesn’t mean the finished product resembles the initial sketch, but that is how it starts.
I think of each project as if it were a puzzle. I gather together all the different elements I want to use and then proceed to physically work with them. I love combining the warmth of wood with the hardness of steel, then adding something unexpected into the mix. This might be a repurposed object or just an ordinary everyday thing. That’s where the bit of surprise comes into play. Finding an element that isn’t normally thought of in a furniture context, but also feels natural and not forced.
It can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to develop a new sample. Most of the time I let a new piece just sit there after building it, coming back to it again and again to look at it with fresh eyes. I find that it’s only after actually putting the materials together that the final design becomes clear to me. I’ll adjust an angle or trim the shape until I feel it’s just right. Then it’s off to the showroom and on to the next one.
What are some of your favorite trends in modern furniture design right now?
Honestly, I try not to pay much attention to trends. To me, trends are basically what’s hot right now and as a designer, if you try to design to the current trend, you are more apt to be chasing, rather than developing your own style. I prefer to go my own way and stay true to my own modern design aesthetic. All that being said, I do like mid-century modern, which you see a lot out in the market place right now.
Check out the rest of Mark’s collection here!