Where are you based and what do you love about your neighbourhood? I’m based in the East Village neighborhood of New york City. I love it for a variety of reasons. To me it still feels like New York. So many neighborhoods like the Meatpacking District and Hell’s Kitchen have gentrified beyond recognition. The East Village still feels diverse and edgy. It’s not what it used to be, but it still has some flavor. It is diverse in all ways – racially, economically, sexually. It’s a residential neighbourhood, mainly, so there are lots of good small restaurants, and lots of people on the street in the evenings. For years the East Village was a creative centre of the City, and a home to many young artists and creative professionals. As rents have risen many of those young creative types have moved out to the boroughs, but some of the bohemia remains and I like that vibe.
Tell us about Areaware. Areaware is not my company. They manufacture and sell my REALITY line of products. However, I have been with them almost from the start. For about a year and a half I made the REALITY products on my own. I have manufactured a couple of times during my career. In general I am a consulting designer, but from time to time, when I have an idea I just can’t deny, and I cannot find a manufacturing partner, I go into production myself. That is what happened in 2003 when I first had the idea for the Bank In The Form Of A Pig. I started making it and selling it as best I could, but then in 2005 I showed at the ICFF, with my friend Ross Menuez and a fledgling company he was involved with. That company became Areaware, and they eventually picked up all of my products. My own company is Harry Allen Design, a multi-disciplinary design firm. I design a wide variety of products, furniture, lighting, packaging and interiors. I have a very diverse portfolio. I set up the studio in 1993. It was just the logical progression of my ambitions – to have a studio of my own.
Describe your studio/workspace. I live and work in the same building. The studio is on the ground floor and I live on the second floor. It’s a nice old building, when I bought it it was a funeral home, but it is not creepy at all. It was inhabited by a very nice Italian family. Two brothers bought it in the Forties and converted it into the Sparacio & DeMarco Funeral home. It has an amazing sign on it with a clock when I bought it. I’ve cleaned it up and added alot of windows. One of my contractors told me that it probably weighs half of what it did when I bought it. It is a nice place to be.
What are you working on right now? Two apartments, a yoga studio, a store project in Japan. Some new products for Areaware. An on-counter tester for MAC cosmetics. Two or three lighting projects, etc etc.
Before you begin a new design, you must… Not much. I like a clean studio, so sometimes I need to start by straightening up, but other times I can just ignore the mess. The creative process is very personal. You must give yourself the space and the time you need. Each design project is so different. I have yet to encounter two that are the same, so there is no way to have a routine, and honestly I like it like that. I am not a creature of habit – sometimes I drink coffee, sometimes tea, and sometimes nothing at all. I look and listen alot. I am in a constant state of research. I travel alot and look around at products, stores, design and art. I am constantly feeding my head so that when I get a project I always have new ideas to employ. I hate repeating myself. As you see, design permeates my life so it is difficult to know where one project ends and the next begins. Of course with the corporate work there is a contract and a kickoff meeting so it is pretty clear as to the start and finish. My mind usually starts designing in the first meeting. With studio work it is less structured, more artistic. I always have a few projects brewing that I can bounce between.
Who inspires your work? Everyone and everything I encounter. Really. I used to cite artists like Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt, and great designers like Kuramata and George Nelson, but they are not the great influences that they were in my youth. I’ve learned all that I will learn from them, I think. Now I am looking at the young designers to see what is going on in their minds. I loved the Salone Satelite this year in Milan. It had an energy that you do not find in the more grown up sections of the fair. In general, however, design only clutters up my mind. I use design references more as a limit on what I can do – to know what has already been done – than a true inspiration. I have my most creative thoughts when I get out of my environment – when I go see to an see art show or a dance performance.Read more →