Maki Aizawa: Flowers Kept Alive

We were so excited to participate in the annual Open Studio Design Crawl during San Francisco Design Week this year. We had almost 500 people attend! It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with some of our neighbors and to show off our new office. Maki Aizawa, a Japanese-born multimedia artist based in California, displayed striking arrangements during the event. Ikebana celebrates and promotes appreciation of the aliveness of nature; literally translated, ikebana means “flowers kept alive.” Students study for years to master the art. We talked with Maki to get her perspective on ikebana and ask her about some of her other projects.

 Some of Maki's beautiful work.

Some of Maki's beautiful work.

 Can you tell us about your personal experience with ikebana? When did you first become interested in the art form?

Ikebana has been a part of my life since I was 10.  My teacher taught the weekly classes at my house where was also a kimono making school. Practicing and forming the art with branches, leaves and flowers appealed to me.  

What is the philosophy behind the notion of “flowers kept alive”? How does the process of ikebana celebrate the aliveness of nature?

One of the things my teacher told me was to take care of the arrangement (rearranging every few days.)  By changing the water and recutting all make them live longer. In this way, the arrangement was a part of my life every day. I pay attention to little details of the arrangement each day.

 Maki and Kit, our CEO.

Maki and Kit, our CEO.

We work with interior designers. Are there some lessons from ikebana that could be useful when designing a room?

I think that the concept of tokonoma is interesting. Tokonoma is a specific space only for artistic appreciation or displaying art. This relates a lot with chanoyu, the way of tea. We focus on the season and that becomes the center of the conversations.   

Your Senninbari Project teaches women who lost everything in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake to sew, in an effort to provide them with another source of income and to create connections. Can you tell us more about why you began the project? Why did you choose sewing as the means to create connections as opposed to another art form?

I wanted to do something for my hometown when the disaster happened. Working with their hands was very therapeutic.

 Our studio being transformed!

Our studio being transformed!

What is next for you? Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

Through my cultural exchange organization, Sonoma Cultural Exchange, I am arranging classes such as kumihimo (Japanese braiding), kintsugi (golden joinery to repair pottery) and book-arts. In addition, I am producing the new performance with the Japanese bunraku puppeteers and performers from the Paiute Tribe of Big Pine, CA.

Find out more about Maki and her work here!

 Thank you to all who attended!

Thank you to all who attended!

Panafold at the 2018 TEI Conference

Panafold CEO Kit and CTO Meg traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to attend the Twelfth Annual Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction. We promote designers from around the world here at Panafold (see our post on our trip to Norway and Denmark last year), and we have been TEI supporters since its beginning. We met and exchanged notes with designers and scientists from all over the world who were interested in craftsmanship and materials informed by digital technology. Some are calling this return to a physical relationship with materials the Post-Digital Era.

 Our CEO, Kit, attended the 3D textiles workshop, facilitated by the duo behind the Embodisuit, which “receives signals from an IoT platform, allowing the wearer to map personally chosen signals to modular haptic actuators on the body.” ( more info )

Our CEO, Kit, attended the 3D textiles workshop, facilitated by the duo behind the Embodisuit, which “receives signals from an IoT platform, allowing the wearer to map personally chosen signals to modular haptic actuators on the body.” (more info)

We were happy to be able to show some of our work in progress, and to be inspired by art, products, and user studies. The next TEI will be in Arizona with the theme “hybrid materials.”

 Our table at the TEI Conference.

Our table at the TEI Conference.

 The Cuebe: A learning tool with an LED light that shows the color of the object it's placed on.. Mixed colors on the object?  An average of the colors is shown.

The Cuebe: A learning tool with an LED light that shows the color of the object it's placed on.. Mixed colors on the object?  An average of the colors is shown.

Our Preview of a New Cooper Hewitt Initiative: Make It Tangible

One of our favorite museums in New York is the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The museum is housed in the early twentieth-century Carnegie Mansion on the Upper East Side, where magnate Andrew Carnegie lived with his wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie, and their daughter, Margaret. Cooper Hewitt strives to “educate, inspire, and empower people through design,” and they challenge their patrons to engage in design thinking and encourage dialogue surrounding design. Starting February 28, the museum will begin offering two Visual Description tours per week, which will include touch. I encourage any design lovers in New York to engage in these tours.

 The Bone Armchair (2007).

The Bone Armchair (2007).

Your intrepid Customer Connector is quite fond of the Cooper Hewitt Museum, and was able to preview the touch tour. I spoke to Kim Robledo-Diga, the Deputy Director of Education & Interpretation about the need for more accessible programming and what the future of museum exhibitions could look like.

Eighteen months ago, Cooper Hewitt began to make a concerted effort to make the museum more accessible. Traditionally, touching the objects is strictly forbidden, even for museum professionals. Cooper Hewitt flipped this idea on its head and will encourage visitors to touch the objects on display beginning February 28. For differently-abled communities their experience of the work centers on touching the objects and can enhance the experience for any museum goer.

Robledo-Diga reinforced this idea, saying, “Touch tours seem to point to the blind and low vision community, but we know it would benefit visitors on the autism spectrum and just about any design lover.” The recent exhibit Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age, offered an exciting opportunity to put this plan into operation.

Much of Joris Laarman’s work is 3D-printed or created using experimental and innovative design processes. The opportunity to touch his work opens up new levels of understanding. Robledo-Diga explained, “There is something about being able to touch something that is typically untouchable. The visitor can now understand the temperature, texture, and form the object so much better even if they are sighted. There is an intimacy that touch offers that is unique.”

For me it was wonderful to feel the curious seams of the Diamond Chair and the cold smoothness of the Adaptation Chair in addition to learning how Joris Laarman lab used 3D printing to create puzzle pieces that can be made into the innovative Downloadable Puzzle Chair.

The making of the Adaptation Chair. Uploaded by Joris Laarman Lab on 2017-09-11.

On my tour, the group had the opportunity to touch the works at the same time and share our experiences. “We found that touch tours created a mini community in the tour, “ said Robledo-Diga. “The tour format changed from the ‘group stepped back from an object and only participating in a conversation with the educator/docent’ to 2-4 people touching at once and sharing their own touch experience with the group.” As institutions make efforts to expand their offerings, I expect we may see touch tours become an integral part of the museum-going experience.

Tearing down the Fourth Wall: Lisa Staprans and Armin Staprans of Staprans Design

What’s the difference between working with a designer who understands your space and your history —and copying a room from a magazine? It’s something like the difference between going to the theater versus watching a downloaded movie.  Here’s how.

Live theater Sets are built, lights are mounted, actors are costumed, and people interact.  In Audience as Performer: The Changing Role of Theatre Audiences in the Twenty-First Century, Caroline Heir suggests there are two live troupes in the theater, the actors and the audience. From the 16th century, the audience “troupe” learned to act invisible. A so-called fourth wall separates the two troupes — an invisible one-way divider that the audience can see through, but, the actors, we pretend, cannot.

 Interior Designer Lisa Staprans.

Interior Designer Lisa Staprans.

Like in the theater, sometimes an invisible wall separates the designer and the client.  Lisa Staprans is interested in removing this wall between all participants in a design project. She explains, “ clients are [often] inspired by images from a magazine, but if we provide something that is too formulaic then…[others] may like it, but it won’t be attuned to the people in the house. You have to establish trust to collaborate, to enable exploration, challenge, and ultimately wonderment, pleasure and a sense of well-being for the inhabitants in the space.” Without that sense of trust and collaboration, the relationship, and ultimately the space, will not exceed expectations.


Lisa has spent her career in collaboration with talented architects, artisans and builders. She often works with her partner Armin Staprans (here testing a cardboard and wire mock-up of a pendant by David Weeks Studio). Armin manages the architecture and construction branch of Staprans Design. Trained in architecture at MIT and in large-scale construction in New York City, he returned to his native Bay Area to be involved in all aspects of a project. We sat down with Lisa and Armin Staprans to discuss theater and design.

Armin is part of a theater group which made the comparison between design and theater easily accessible. “In theater, there’s a reason they call it drama! You don’t know how the story will unfold and resolve. It’s dramatic for the actors as well as for the audience.” Considering the building process, he reflects, “When you invite the audience into the process, you don’t know how it will evolve. There will be creative tension. And at times, a performance or project may feel too challenging — then it takes exceptional effort to work it through together, and you can end up with exceptionally successful results.”

Lisa adds, “In good theater and good design you are left with a feeling of something bigger than yourself. Creating an environment where the participants can trust in the truth of the vision can, if you’re lucky, stir the truth within.”

Staprans Design recently remodeled a 1950s California ranch house. The clients participated in the unfolding design with knowledge on the seasons and light, the setting and their design sensibilities, but also as an appreciative audience, watching  the project as it morphed from wood framing to a true home.  Collaboration led to an end product that made the clients feel comfortable immediately. It felt so welcoming that Sunset Magazine staged a photo shoot in the kitchen collaboratively designed by Staprans Design, Garde Hvalsøe and Panafold. Read Sunset’s article featuring Melissa King on “How to Hot Pot” for Lunar New Year here


Custom Design and Collaboration: The "Just Right" Mailbox


In the midst of remodeling a house, a few key components are easily forgotten. Who wants to think about a mailbox, when there are kitchens and paint colors to consider? It’s simpler to head over to Home Depot and pick up a generic mailbox. But we’re here to make an argument for thinking about the small things  that add up to the total design: Small things can bring you joy and make your project hang together. At Panafold, we’re in the business of helping designers and architects achieve success in their projects, and part of that hinges on custom design, designing objects, large and small, that are completely unique. We recently had the grand pleasure of designing a mailbox in tandem with a 1950s residential remodel by Staprans Design. The process was a practice in curiosity and collaboration, and we learned much along the way.

 Our plans for the custom mailbox.

Our plans for the custom mailbox.

Custom design requires extensive collaboration among the client, the fabricator, and the designers to realize an individual and satisfying outcome. Our lead designer, Wut, initially presented three options for a roadside mailbox to the client.  Because the client takes an interest in design and the process behind it, the team gathered feedback numerous times, all the way up to fabrication. The result was a design that was both functional and appealing.

The design process also requires internal collaboration and field research. Wut and Graham Feddersen, our industrial design intern, built full-size cardboard models that could accommodate parcels as well as letters. Wut interviewed the mail carrier---her complaint was that mailboxes were too small; they become stuffed when people go out of town. Wut also visited the site several times to make sure the design meshed well with the northern California landscape. The first iterations were comically huge, and the next versions proved too small. Through a combination of in-person meetings and collaboration over the Panafold app, the team reached the Goldilocks “just right” design and produced drawings for the fabricators. Rhino, CAD and Keyshot software were used extensively as well.

 Our fabricator, Luke, in front of the finished product.

Our fabricator, Luke, in front of the finished product.


Collaboration does not stop with the final design. Wut worked closely with Luke Stevens of Omnitasker Designs, our fabricator. In keeping the lines of communication open, we not only improved our design, but learned more about what technical specifications are necessary to construct a mailbox. Custom-designed objects are the first of their kind, and design mishaps are bound to occur. For instance, the specified ¼ inch metal would have been too weak and the locking mechanism too complex. The heavier metal made the design look too heavy, so the interior box was floated at a ¾” distance from the sides of the frame, rather than the original ½” spec. The final product delights the homeowners. The color of the mailbox matches the house, and a whimsical flag slides sideways to reveal the red “outgoing mail” icon. Running into these obstacles happens often and expands our design horizons.

Collaborative custom design can be tricky, but the result is ultimately rewarding: a personal, completely unique product that ties together a living space.

Studio Prindsen: Design Beyond the Triple Bottom Line

At Panafold, we value curiosity and expanding our borders. So, it was with great excitement that Kit, Meg, Jorge, Wut, and Eduardo visited Oslo and Copenhagen to meet with direction-setting product designers.  The first stop was the shared creative community at Studio Prindsen in the center of Oslo.  There, we were introduced to Kristine Bjaadal’s work such as this elegant linen-upholstered wood and steel Ladybug chair. Its construction resembles a beetle’s; a soft inside covered by a protective shell. We also met with Runa Klock,  who is possibly coolest designer in Scandinavia and has an astounding resume.

 Striped Blue/Beige Bokhari Basket. Photo, Runa Klock.

Striped Blue/Beige Bokhari Basket. Photo, Runa Klock.

As we walked through the courtyard we saw evidence of one of Klock’s most recent efforts, Retour, which creates appealing bikes by uniting design, cast-off bicycles and under-employed people who want to learn how to be good with their hands. Check out a video on Retour here.

Klock is also leading a project called Bokhari, helping Pakistani artisans to create traditionally-crafted textiles that appeal to the European market. Every purchase helps employ artists and foster education in Sultan Town, Faisalabad, where the literacy rate is incredibly low. Literacy is life-changing for the children, she told us, enabling them to access knowledge on their own and change the way they think about the world.

 Ladybug Chair by Kristine Bjaadal. Photo, Kit Halvorsen.

Ladybug Chair by Kristine Bjaadal. Photo, Kit Halvorsen.

If that were not enough, in Oslo she cofounded a company, Epleslang, which employs young people who need work experience--including many people with disabilities. Epleslang produces  all-natural apple juice and brings their crew to harvest donated apples from trees that bear excess fruit. They then make that into juice. Klock’s work doesn’t stop there.

 Epleslang Apple Juice. Photo, Epleslang.

Epleslang Apple Juice. Photo, Epleslang.

Runa has also designed cutting boards for the social entrepreneurship project, Moving Mamas. The organization employs immigrant mothers, helping them adjust to life in a new country. The boards are made using by-products  donated by Kebony, an eco-friendly Norwegian wood producer. 

 Tableware from The Thief, Oslo. Photo, Runa Klock.

Tableware from The Thief, Oslo. Photo, Runa Klock.

Finally, Runa designed some of the most cutting-edge tableware in Oslo for the sophisticated hotel, The Thief. This project has a socially conscious bent as well: prisoners in Oslo Fengsel, Norway’s largest prison, craft the tableware and gain satisfying work experience. Norwegian prisons focus on teaching skills so that inmates can find work when released.

We’re proud to mention that Runa worked with us as an intern when Panafold first opened its doors. Even then, she fixed up a bicycle to zoom around San Francisco, foreshadowing Retour. In an interview with Cool Hunting, Runa said, “I believe the most important thing we can do is to make people feel useful.” We couldn’t agree more, and cannot wait to see what Runa has planned next.  

Digital Presence in Interior Design

In the fast-paced technological world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. How much is too much on Instagram? Which apps are worth using? What’s the deal with Insta stories? The fear is, while the Internet has widened access to design, it can also diminish the role of the designer to one of glorified shopper, as Jon Call of Mr. Call Designs pointed out. Last month, Panafold attended the What’s New What’s Next conference at the New York Design Center, and we came away with some thoughts on preserving your integrity as a designer while benefiting from social media.

 L to R:  Jon Call ,  Katie Lydon ,  Philip Gorrivan , and Tamara Rosenthal of  Viyet .

L to R: Jon Call, Katie Lydon, Philip Gorrivan, and Tamara Rosenthal of Viyet.

1. Digital presence is important at any stage of your career.

What we heard repeatedly was that a digital presence is essential, no matter if you’re a new designer with only a few projects under your belt or an established designer with years of experience. Social media is a way for potential clients to scope out your work and feel connected to you. And while it can feel contrived or superficial, Instagram can also be a good breeding ground for new ideas. Social media works well as a creative outlet or a visual diary.  Don’t go dark - your followers want to know that you’re there (we hear that 9am and 5pm on Fridays are particularly good posting times).

2. Maintain a healthy balance between work and personal on Instagram.

Instagram offers an immediate portfolio of your work, but also allows people to feel personally connected to you. So, how do you determine how much of your content should be personal and how much should be work-related? The consensus on this point varied at the conference, with some designers (for example, Katie Lydon) leaning more heavily toward a work-oriented page and others (for example, Patrick Dragonette) treating Instagram as a diary of their everyday lives. What eventually emerged was that whatever ratio of work to personal you have on your Instagram, it should feel authentic. Don’t post thoughtlessly, and keep your tone consistent.

 Beautiful lighting at What's New What's Next. 

Beautiful lighting at What's New What's Next. 

3. Pinterest can be helpful in particular circumstances.

The designers at What’s New What’s Next expressed a complicated relationship to Pinterest. Almost all used it internally to onboard new staff to the aesthetic of the company or to bounce ideas around in-house, but rarely or never used it with clients. When clients come in with a Pinterest board already put together, designers said it can feel like their skill set is reduced to that of shopper, not designer. However, some did say that Pinterest boards can be useful in establishing a baseline of the client’s tastes.

4. Cultivate your relationships and create new ones on social media.

The Internet and social media have widened access to design to nearly everyone. That translates to relatively easy exposure for a designer. Several of the designers at WNWN recalled meeting new clients through Instagram DMs or finding inspiration on other designers’ pages.

All the designers at WNWN expressed frustration at the lack of convenient, intuitive applications that help, not hurt, the relationship between client and designer. While these are being developed, embrace the power that social media can give you and the growth your business will experience.

What’s new what’s next: In world leadership and design

New York ruminated on technology in September, appreciating it in the New York Design Center's annual market day as well as during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.  As AD writes “We've passed the point of forgiveness for designers who are un-savvy about technology.” A few days later, all member states of the UN were encouraged to be savvy as well.

The UN High-Level Event on Innovation and Technology gathered Heads of State, CEOs and technology thought-leaders. The President of Estonia, H.E. Kersti Kaljulaid related why her small country already has 5G LTE - the government kept out of the way.  (She also noted that the washing machine changed more lives than putting a man on the moon.)  The event  was convened by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General's Global Pulse and the SDG Action Campaign and we were pleased to participate. SDG stands for the Sustainable Development Goals, the “to-do list for humanity,” a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The 17 Goals include Sustainable Cities and Communities and Responsible Consumption and Production - two goals designers and architects can embrace.  Kristin Gutekunst, an Executive Producer for the UN SDG Action Campaign, moderated a panel on “The future we want in virtual reality.” On the panel was Monique Marian, architect, BIM Coordinator and VR Specialist  at Grimshaw Architects, who spoke about VR use in her field.  

H.E. Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the United Nations General Assembly urged, “Let us unleash innovation to unlock the potential of every person everywhere, especially young people.”  Likewise Reid Hoffman, Co-founder and Chair of LinkedIn, stressed the importance of Artificial Intelligence in shaping societies, saying how all people will be needed to solve the problems ahead.

Marc Benioff, the CEO and Founder of Salesforce, reminded us that the UN was born in San Francisco, and we all need to allow innovation to happen. He explored AI as a basic human right as it touches on education, farming, commerce, health.  

At the NY Design Center’s What's New What's Next, designers Jon Call, Philip Gorrivan, Katie Lydon and Philip Gorrivan talked with Viyet CEO Lix Brown about issues Panafold helps designers with, such as having a digital presence (important at any point of your career), and using tech-enabled Moodboards to create design boards (stay tuned.) Dering Hall Executive Editor Dennis Sarlo led a discussion on tools the panel knew about and used. On the panel were Kati Curtis, Joe Human, Paloma Contreras, Patrick Dragonette. The group sourced ideas from attending a lot of markets and often stored them in Dropbox folders.  They were cautious with sharing Pinterest boards with clients,  finding it can lead to misinformation (an interesting user experience design problem).  Instagram was good for connecting with people so long as designers kept a good ratio of personal and work content.  Online design services hurt more than helped their work. More helpful services were Matterport, which will document and model a space, and Trello-like applications such as Dapulse and Asana.

 In the foreground an example of design innovation: The Aplat + Chef Melissa King Shibori Tote makes its debut at the UN. On the monitors, President Kersti Kaljulaid (Estonia).  

In the foreground an example of design innovation: The Aplat + Chef Melissa King Shibori Tote makes its debut at the UN. On the monitors, President Kersti Kaljulaid (Estonia).  

Along with the SDG goals that directly relate to design and architecture, we at Panafold want to underscore the spirit of Goals 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 10 (reduced inequality). Just because many in the design industry work in small companies it doesn’t mean that we can’t have impact. The Global Day of Action is September 25th.

On Wayne Thiebaud and Gary Hutton: Art, History, Place

 Fall Fields, 2017 © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017

Fall Fields, 2017 © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017

Not many know the art lineage of two western artists and designers, Wayne Thiebaud and Gary Hutton, or the role of the land in their work.  In 1920, Mesa Arizona had a population of 3,000, among them Wayne Thiebaud.  Mesa has hundreds of miles of thousand-year old canals that texture the Sonoran desert. There and in his boyhood home of Long Beach, California, the sun was bright and cast well-defined shadows.

Wayne Thiebaud called himself a painter of illusionistic form. Others credit him for helping to invent pop art. Thiebaud is well known for his paintings of pies and other diner and cafe objects. It took a British critic describing Thiebaud’s recent show at White Cube (2017) to see beyond pop to portraiture and landscape. Laura Cumming writes, “Thiebaud’s joy in America extends out through the landscape, no matter how industrial. Gold and pink striped fields somehow keep their terrestrial reality, despite the celestial colours, because he puts so much exactitude into the drawing that underpins every work.”  Among his pupils was Gary Hutton, an art student who would become a California designer, furniture maker and interior designer.

Hutton told Designwire, “I was born and raised on my grandmother’s apple orchard.  My dad was an engineer, driving trains for the railroad; my mother a homemaker.”  He left for U.C. Davis “during the Golden Age of its Art Department,”  which included Wayne Thiebaud.

 Designer  Gary Hutton

Designer Gary Hutton

Thiebaud had been inspired by New York artists whose work was experimental, modern, sometimes clean and spare, sometimes textured.  Willem de Kooning’s paint textured the canvass, and Thiebaud’s cakes are textured with paint as thick as frosting. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns  captured objects in the life of post-war America.  Elaine de Kooning expanded possibilities of portraiture. She studied each person hard to uncover the essential pose that would define them.

Did Thiebaud’s inspirations influence Gary Hutton’s work? “My design aesthetic originates from my art background and training. Touch and feel are very important. It’s like textiles —how does this fabric feel?  What’s it going to look like?  How is it going to perform?  I’d describe my style as clean, modern, and experimental.”  Equally, he said to us, the relationship between the client and the designer is key to the success of the job. He studies his clients hard.

We met with Hutton on a mild summer day in San Francisco.  He told us about an enjoyable project on a house designed by architect A. Quincy Jones and postwar developer Joseph Eichler.  “Postwar clean, modern, and experimental” are terms that come to mind.  They peeled back layers of misguided design and reintroduced mid-century designers.  He also introduced artworks from the period.  Gary spoke fondly of the clients - they developed “a professional partnership, but also a friendly one.”  

 Gary Hutton's Lagoon House: A revitalization of one of the last remaining Eichler houses.  Photo: Matthew Millman

Gary Hutton's Lagoon House: A revitalization of one of the last remaining Eichler houses. Photo: Matthew Millman

The house sits on the water. It is not large, but its open plan, glass walls and interior garden capture a sense of place and give it a light feel that honors the modernity and historicity of one of few remaining Eichler houses.  Gary humbly says that “working for ghd is a continuing education.” For the rest of us, his work educates and continues the work of his teachers.