Sight Unseen: 6 Insiders on the Best Design Moments of 2018

Sight Unseen: 6 Insiders on the Best Design Moments of 2018

1. 3D Printed Mug Handles: “East Fork had so many memorable design moments in 2018 and I’m really so excited about them all, but, fine, I’ll pick one. 2018 is the year that we 3D printed a mug handle! Alex and John came up making pots in what we call the pre-industrial tradition — all by hand, glazes mixed with ash from the fireplace, fired in wood, tools no less rudimentary than a piece of fishing wire between two sticks, yada yada. The biggest challenge of scaling our business has been scaling our production methods; we needed to make a lot more mugs, but to do so meant buying, refurbishing and training ourselves on all new machinery, developing a new clay bod, and using processes we’d never imagined using. The quality of a mug really comes down to the way weight is distributed across your hand when you’re holding the handle — and trying to translate the pulled handles we’d been making and selling for years into a press mold was not easy. We enlisted our friend Nick Moen, founder of The Bright Angle to make 3D printed prototypes of our handle to be used to make plaster molds. Watching our mug handle twirl around in a spindle of plastic in the 3D printer was so COOL. We’re finally starting to produce our mug again, and it feels really good. They’ll be available on our site March 2019.

2. Country Comfort Non-Design: “K, this is probably cheating the rules of this assignment and also might be a tremendously unpopular opinion on this platform but I’m gonna say it anyway. Several of my my most memorable moments of 2018 involved sipping crappy white wine in overstuffed, dirty-armed, Calico and gingham couches. There was a restaurant in the Hudson Valley with copper bundt pans on the walls. A goat cheese tasting room in Fairview, North Carolina with acrylic throws on every sofa, mismatched china and a big window overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. A bar downtown with truly terrible cocktails and clashing Rooms-to-Go furniture crammed in an attic space with perfect lighting. All of them were shabby-mother-fucking-chic. These three places were the containers of a small handful of moments in 2018 where time truly slowed down and I felt 100% present with my family, my body, and my surroundings. None of these places were designed ‘well.’ All of these places signaled ‘no one here cares about your MNZ tortoise shell shoes. Please remove them and put them on this pouf.’ Lately I’m all about spaces that draw you in rather than push you away, which leads me to…”

3. Benne on Eagle: “I’m not really in the Design World so I don’t have my finger on the pulse of what conversations are happening around Design and intersectionality, but as an outsider I’d like to hear more about how design can contribute to making our communities more socially equitable and I think the Design World, like all of us, can be doing a lot more. I think about this a lot when I’m in public outdoor spaces, retail spaces, and restaurants. And I think a lot about this from the perspective of a business owner with a brick and mortar establishment that essentially screams ‘A White Person Made This’ before you even open the door. Asheville — where we live and have built our company — gets a lot of pats on the back for being progressive, but in truth it’s an extremely segregated place with a lot of work to do. A lot of people call it “homogenous” but it’s not true — there’s a whole hidden city of people of color who — as in cities all over the country — experience only the downsides to an exponentially growing tourist economy. A month ago I went to a new restaurant called Benne on Eagle. The folks at the helm of the restaurant are on a mission to honor and advocate for Asheville’s black community, whose neighborhoods and cultural centers have been decimated by gentrification. The tricky thing is the restaurant is contained within new development owned by a big hospitality management group — pretty much a case study on gentrification. I was nervous that the whole thing was going to feel contrived and tokenizing, but it wasn’t that way at all. The night we went there were black people plating food in the kitchen, greeting diners from the hostess stand, having a cocktail alone at the bar and eating with family and friends in the comfortable booths. If you live on the coasts this may not seem remarkable, but in Asheville, where only white people go out to eat in restaurants downtown, this felt like a real moment. For you Asheville-dwellers—the menu, designed and executed by Chef Ashleigh Santi, is superb. Please go. It’s not an accident that the black community in Asheville has felt welcomed to dine at Benne on Eagle — it was designed that way, and other businesses can be designed that way, too.”

4. Alok’s line of gender-neutral garments: “What do you think of when you think of ‘gender-neutral’? Probably boxy cotton drawstring pants in a strict palette of taupe, dove gray, navy and nautical stripes? That’s how I used the word until I saw Alok’s second collection of garments they launched in April of this year. Alok is a gender non-conforming performance artist, public speaker, and fashion designer. Their approach to fashion design answers their own question: “What would I wear if I no longer had to be afraid?” The Design world — like most worlds — continues to be stymied by the trappings of the gender binary. Isn’t it funny that we’re all so married to using gendered language to talk about color, materials, shapes, textures, spaces, and concepts? Alok says they wanted their collection of garments to be a ‘visual argument that our understandings of beauty and gender should not have to be mediated by cisgender norms and anxieties.’ This year, Alok and other gender non-conforming activists and influencers has busted my brain wide open around how deeply the social construction of the gender binary affects how we relate to ourselves, our environment and others — and how it’s used to uphold the systemic oppression of women and gender non-conforming people the world over. As a white woman aging out of my youthful glow and desperate to feel good in my skin, no one out there is leading the movement for full-spectrum body positivity and radical self-love like our community of trans and gender non-conforming creatives. I’m so grateful for it.”

5. The Cash Wrap at East Fork Asheville, designed by Shelter Collective and made by Union Wood Works: “This one’s only about East Fork only insomuch as it lives in our store, but we really had nothing to do with its divine creation. All the glory goes to Karie and Rob Reinertson, of Shelter Collective, and Chris Spoerer and Matt Bell at Union Woodworks. Isn’t it so beautiful? (PS Atlanta, we’re finally open. Come see us at Westside Provisions!)”
What I’m looking forward to in 2019: “I’m crossing my fingers and trusting that in 2019, the Capital B Brand Culture of D2C, millennials-only, consumer startups will unclench its grasp on the design world. I’m looking forward to designers and business leaders getting bored of peeking over everyone’s proverbial shoulder (via social media) and doing a big turn inward. I think the result is going to be so fresh, funky and real. A lot less #authentic and a lot more honest.”

Connie Matisse is the co-founder of East Fork Pottery

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