Custom Design and Collaboration: The "Just Right" Mailbox

 

PART I: THE BRIEF

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.

PART II: FABRICATION

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.

 
Sarah Suzuki