Designer Crush: Michaele Simmering and Johann Pauwen of Kalon Studios

1. How did you two meet and what inspired you to start Kalon?

We met in Providence RI through a mutual friend. My roommates and I always had a lot going on and one day Michaele showed up. That was a lucky day.

2. Your company places a big emphasis on the emotive quality of everyday objects - what does that mean to you and how do you evoke emotion through product design?

I think that memory, form and material spark a lot of associations for people. They create meaning for them. Everything is ideological, so to have someting reflect your values back at you gives a sense of reassurance. So much of what we do is to create clarity without being boring.

3. What are some ways Kalon commits to sustainable practices?

We use sustainable mateirls, non toxic or chemically neutral materials, we ship factory direct to reduce our carbon footptint. Products destined for Europe are produced there while those meant for the US are produced here. We do not carry excess inventory, so there aren’t any products that we make that just sit in a warehouse. We also produce in places that have strict labor laws to protect the craftspeople. The materials we use are also not harmful to those that work with them. Lastly, not only are all of our products built to last, but they are designed to be versitile, not only in function, but to mix well in any setting.

4. Tell us about your latest dining collection and the process it took to develop that.

This was a long one. We knew that we wanted to create a communal dining table. It had to be aesthetially simple, but not boring. We wanted to see what we could do with advanced machining and wood. We also wanted to explore several new materials and construction techniques. There were several influences that were part of this exploration from the onset, Japanese cast iron work, Campaign Furniture and Shaker Design. We were drawn to the utilitarian but uterly aesthetic output of these movements. One of the key challenges is taking a design to production. Almost anything can be built as a one off, but making it ready for production and at a price that is still attainable can be a challenge. We also like the challenge of making the production process as efficient as possible. This meant searching far and wide for technologies and suppliers with those technologies to produce the complicated components of the collection. The awesome part is that those complex parts are now very efficient and easy to produce. It would take a human hand days to produce just one, badly at that, and we are doing it in just minutes with computer aided machining.

5. What’s the hardest part about working with your spouse? The most rewarding?

Never taking a break and always talking about work. It can be hard to disconnect to reconnect. Work disargrements can filter into personal disagreements and vice versa. That can be a challenge, But, for the most part it’s great. We get to work towards the same goals and hang out all day.

6. How do you define “California style” and what differentiates it from the aesthetic in Berlin, where you previously lived?

They’re both relaxed, and I would say anti-elitist. Berlin, at that time was definitely dominated by an elevated DIY aesthetic. There was lots of plywood and easy to work materials. The simplicity of the materials was offset by the conceptual approach of the design. California, and America as a whole, is far less conceptual in its approach. There is a gerater focus on craft and material. The approachis much more straight forward and there is less of a need to be a thought leader. Production values are really high though. Looking at design in the tech world, also ‘California Style’ is a whole other story, but I guess that is not what we’re talking about here. The similarity I would point out is that both had enough affordable space to create an intellectual freespace. It allowed people to take risks wthout falling too far. It spawned the creative entreprenuership so prevalent in both places.

7. How do your individual backgrounds (writing and literature/industrial design, respectively) influence your design work?

I think Michaele really understands communication and what messages are being sent. She also has a great analytical eye and knows how to formulate her thoughts. I like to problem solve. I also think that our aesthetic compromise is a far better result than what we’d do individually. For the most part the compromise is done as a recognition that the other’s idea just made the project better, rather than holding on to a detail or concept to satisfy our own egos.

8. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

It’s not so much where but how I could live in several places simultaneously? We have family all over the place and I’d like to live near all of them.

LIghtning round!

9. Chocolate or vanilla?

Depends on the mood, but probably chocolate.

10. Beach or mountains?

Mostly beach, altough I love and used to live in the mountains. The beach is sort of one dimensional compared to the Mountains. But nothing relaxes more than staring at the open ocean.

11. Action or comedy?

Action.

12. Salty or sweet?

Salty, I had a crazy sweet tooth until I was 30, then realized I was just hungry all of the time. Now I prefer savory.

13. Late night or early morning?

It was always late night until I had kids, now it’s early morning before they wake up. I still do late nights to get time to myself or when I need space to focus on a project.