If there’s anything that’s as intimidating as buying a house or apartment, it’s moving into it and making it feel like it belongs to you. If that doesn’t seem intimidating to you, then you’re really not using your imagination. After all, this place is now yours. This isn’t a rental. You need to have it make sense to you. You need to feel like it's your home. Intimidated yet? Wondering how exactly to do that? We spoke with Susan Doban, the founder/CEO of Doban Architecture and co-founder of Think Fabricate, and Jason Gorsline, the design director of Doban Architecture and co-founder of Think Fabricate, so that we could find out what they think everyone should keep in mind when designing and furnishing the interior of a new home.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about Think Fabricate and what it is you do?
Think Fabricate is a multi-disciplinary design studio. We work at many scales, designing everything from furnishings and products to interior projects and site-specific installations. We enjoy finding the design solution in everything we do. We have a fabrication shop in East Williamsburg that affords us the “hands-on” opportunity to explore function, detail and character through color, texture, decorative imagery in creating our furniture lines and custom products. We got our start working in association with Doban Architecture, and work together on many projects.
2. What are your backgrounds in design?
Jason: I went to University of Virginia School of Architecture but it took me 11 years before I started working as part of an architecture firm. After college I found an interest in furniture. I welcomed the opportunity to wrap my hands around the entire project and focus on every detail. I had been working with my hands since 10th grade so I figured I could blend that experience with everything I learned about design in architecture school. During the next few years, I worked designing and building furniture, but also took advantage of all that New York has to offer, going into every showroom I could, and studying the pieces I admired. I co-founded an earlier business, A&G Designs, with a fellow furniture designer in 2002, and we presented our first furniture designs at BKLYN DESIGNS in 2006. The next year, I met Susan through the show. She saw the color green in our furniture, which she loves, and a sofa that was the right fit for her home. We both enjoyed exploring the use of color, but also the process of developing the design together and enjoying the result, so we began working on more and more projects together, some as part of larger architectural projects. It was also the beginning of a relationship that took us through not only projects for her house but projects for clients of hers, and then she asked me to work on an architectural project designing cabinet details for a cafeteria in a college dorm, which also led to the cafeteria’s dining area and even the reception and lobby for the same multi-use building.
Through all of these projects we had realized that we worked well together and had a connection that eventually led us to starting Think Fabricate in November 2009. Now I am the Design Director at Doban Architecture and we are partners and work together on all of our designs for Think Fabricate. Interestingly, I feel now that I have been working as part of an architecture firm and leading the design studio, I feel like it has helped me to become the furniture designer I sought to be when I left architecture school!
Susan: It’s been great to work so closely with someone who brings commitment to design on every project scale and combines design rigor with an appreciation of what I would call the human element.
Although I have had my own architectural practice since 1996, working together as a team, with the dialogue and play of ideas and new viewpoints, has been a new chapter in my own design education.
Although I have a Master’s degree in Architecture from Columbia, my background is in the humanities. I was an undergraduate English major at Harvard, but enjoyed the printmaking workshop there and many other aspects of the arts there. Working now with the capability of a shop and introducing printing and graphics to our work has given me the opportunity to bring all aspects of my visual and architectural training into play.
Working together, we have sought to bring a focus to materials and detail even in our institutional projects, where we have custom designed and fabricated furnishings and even art works for spaces we have designed. It’s really satisfying to be able to work at so many scales, to incorporate a range of design influences, and to have a partner who is willing to engage in a critical dialogue on all of these projects. Even though I have more experience in years as a designer, Jason has been my teacher when it comes to the power of details and materials on the furnishings we design.
3. What are some of the most interesting/challenging customized projects you've had to work on?
Jason: I like any project I am asked to design and then build. But the ones that really stick out are those that have a really specific function and I get the opportunity to really solve a specific design problem. One that sticks out is a corner cabinet that had a really specific program, and very little space. They wanted towel storage, a tilt out hamper, and his and hers drawers and cabinets. That same client also needed a valet in the men’s closet that also had a really specific program: watch storage, cufflink storage, belt storage, and even a safe. It was gratifying to take these small spaces, pack them with function, and have them look great as well!
I guess you can say I really like the extra details. More than that I like to give the client what they’ve asked for, then a little something more. Another favorite of mine was an entertainment/bar built-in where I added a bottle opener with a built-in catch that was housed in a small pullout drawer in the side of the cabinet.
We have developed something of a specialty in designing for collectors, and this has led to a series of wall-mounted cabinets that take a collection which might be repetitive or even overwhelming, and gives it a home. Our Shift series of cabinets evolved from the needs of our clients: in one case, it was to store an inherited collection of cookbooks; in another case, it was a collection of antique toys. We took that basic practical need and it evolved into a whole new furniture line.
Susan: I love the custom work for the Pastry Lab project that we are currently working on for Monroe College. It’s a place where the students at the culinary school prepare and serve food to gain practical experience in running and working at a restaurant. We have designed everything from the kitchen to wall-art to furniture, and even the graphics. We took an ordinary wooden spoon and painted it bright pink as an accent when staging the space for the opening, and now it has evolved into a series of wall panels that give the place a unique character that is welcoming for faculty and students.
4. What are some of the goals that you keep in mind when designing furniture, customized or not?
Jason: I always strive for balanced material composition that gives the piece some unique quality.
Susan: We aim for quality, functionality, and to reflect something about ourselves and our time.
5. What specifications are most important to keep in mind?
Jason: I pay a lot of attention to wood-grain patterns and cuts, to material selection, and hardware selection and location on the piece. All of these factors are important to creating the look and level of quality that is characteristic of our work.
Susan: We source environmentally-friendly materials with care, and enjoy trying new finishing techniques and exploring color options in our work.
6. What are some of the future trends that you anticipate in home design?
Jason: Many of our clients have an appreciation for the old and the new. They might love a brownstone or historic neighborhood, but they want to make it work for them and their lifestyle. Whether it’s an existing home, or a new apartment, often there is a lack of functional storage that makes people feel good about how they organize themselves. So, we have developed a lot of furnishings that enable people to be more organized in a way that is appealing and fun. This applies to basics like where to put your gym clothes or how to keep track of all of your electronic devices and their chargers. Our Fleur de Tech charging station is a unique way to integrate a place to charge your phone within a chest of drawers.
7. In your own homes, what do you find to be the most functional piece of furniture?
Jason: The closet organization system.
Susan: The chest of drawers that Jason designed when we first started working together. It has all sorts of custom features to accommodate my silverware collections as well as pots and pans and granola bars—with a custom decorative motif and eco-friendly materials! It’s a visual focal point in my dining room filled with functionality and unique character!
8. What do you think every home should have?
Jason: A convertible sofa that you can convert to a sleeper in order to relax and watch a movie with your significant other.
Susan: Our furniture!
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