Behind the designs: Janice Feldman & Mathias Hoffman
Cinde W. Ingram -- Casual Living, 8/12/2011 3:21:29 AM
JANICE FELDMAN'S AWARD-WINNING designs reflect influences far beyond her Southern California roots but circle back to those ecofriendly, sun-soaked philosophies.
As founder and president of JANUS et Cie, her creations run the gamut between ancient art and future promises, similar to her company's namesake as a Roman god with two faces, one looking forward and the other looking back.
At the most recent HD Expo, her team wore white lab coats befitting scientific exploration. Inside the walls of their makeshift lab were lounge and dining furniture hand-woven in Generation-Next, weather-resistant fiber. The new JANUSfiber collection and powder coated aluminum frames offer an extended lifecycle and are completely recyclable, which she calls the ultimate measure of a "green" product.
"Today, I am most excited about the possibilities of working with recyclable materials," Feldman said. In addition to the Generation-Next and JANUSfiber initiatives, her designs also are made using JANUSwood II, an extruded synthetic wood made of 100% recycled polystyrene. "Our KOKO II dining and lounge collection is made using JANUSwood II with a frame of matte silver powder-coated aluminum - both recyclable," she said. "The KOKO II collection has a classic simplicity that works well in almost any setting - residential, hospitality or contract - you can leave it on the patio when it rains or in direct sunlight. The JANUSwood II is UV-stabilized and will not rot, warp or crack given almost any harsh environmental conditions."
Learning about materials, art and design has been a lifelong journey for Feldman, who says she can't remember a time when she did not draw or paint or make things. "In high school I chose to take shop rather than home economics because I wanted to learn how to design and build, to understand the process and machinery of manufacturing," she said. Her training continued at Chouinard in a special fine arts program while she was in high school and later took a more formal turn at the Art Center College of Design, now located in Pasadena. "I was able to support my studies there in part thanks to a talent for portraiture - which provided a small income - and I found Art Center to be a wonderful place to polish one's skills as an artist and craftsperson," she said. "Training will never stop as long as I have the gift of sight."
After graduation, she was able to see more of the world and found travel endlessly inspiring. "I did the classic postcollege grand tour of Europe and fell in love with the culture and beauty of France, Italy, Portugal and Greece - not to mention the wine and food," she said. "The names of several of our collections - Parma, Amalfi, Amari - reflect the influence of those places on my work.
"Nature, of course, is the ultimate muse whether one is soaking up the sun and sea of California or trekking the Himalayas," she said.
Since launching her lifestyle furnishings business in 1978, Feldman has cut a large swath through the interior and outdoor industries influencing both contract and residential design.
A great furniture design is ever-lasting, she said. "It looks as wonderful today as yesterday and should reveal its glory tomorrow," she said. "It requires a harmony among several factors - the beauty and charm of a piece, its simple utility, the quality of materials and workmanship. Also, is it designed and manufactured in alignment with sustainable principles and practices? That sounds like a lot to put in the mix, but really it goes back to form and function. Is this chair a pleasure to look at and sit in - and will it last season after season? The old maxim: design is for living."
Looking back, she wishes she had had more confidence in her ability to develop her own designs when she was younger and first starting out. "But I had a lot of energy, intense curiosity and was rather fearless about giving rein to my passion for art and design and about clearing my own path," she said.
Her actions to recharge her creative spark vary from walking on the beach to hitting the road for travel. "Europe is always a wonderful place to reawaken the senses and stir the imagination, but I've taken some roads less traveled as well," she said. "Would you be surprised to know that I once tracked the elusive chimps of Tanzania's Mahale jungle? These days I admit to being an aficionado of motor sports - there's nothing quite like breezing up the coast in a vintage rally car."
When asked which designers were most influential in her career, Feldman revealed a diverse range. "As one who grew up in Southern California, I quite naturally fell in love with the work of Charles and Ray Eames, and Richard Neutra was an immense influence. Neutra really created a golden age of architecture in Los Angeles - design of such stunning simplicity and elegance and houses that seemed to merge seamlessly with their natural environment," she said. "The paintings of Matisse, the genius in decoration of Cecil Beaton, the sculpture of Isamu Noguchi, the architecture of Saarinen were some key sources of creative ideas. I admire the strong sculptural quality of their work and I've tried to be as bold with pieces like the Triad bench."
Triad bench by JANUS et Cie won the IIDA/HD award for lounge seating during the HD Expo. "From one perspective, it is simply a well-crafted bench," Feldman said. "From another, it's a piece of modern sculpture, a grandly scaled statement piece with a unique form that's both minimal and expressive."
Amari would be another favorite product design, she said. "The Amari high-back armchair is one of the most arresting pieces we've ever introduced. It's sinuous, sexy and also very comfortable. One could say Amari expresses an aesthetic both ancient and modern - and that would certainly be appropriate for the JANUS et Cie identity."
Her pride in product design expands when she considers other accomplishments. At the top of her list? "The building of a fabulous company with superb teams of people and beyond wonderful clients, which includes countless long-term and valued relationships," she said.
IF ANY DESIGNER CAN BE DESCRIBED AS "CUT from the right cloth," it would be Mathias Hoffmann.
The international designer's first exposure to design and color was at the textiles studio of his mother, Gertrud Hoffmann, a well-known German fabric designer in the 1960s. Her talents led her to work with Knoll International, which was known in the 1950s and '60s for its innovative designs and high-quality office furniture. She also worked with Jack Lenor Larsen, who was known at the time for his distinctive hand-woven furnishing fabrics in variegated natural yarns that were popular with such clients as Marilyn Monroe.
In addition to learning about color and design dynamics, Hoffmann remembers his mother's teaching to "never give up when you have an idea or a dream."
Hoffmann's mother died when he was only 12 years old. "For this reason I have had to take care of myself," he said.
By the time he was 17, Hoffmann was sketching storyboards for film. After graduating from the art academy in Stuttgart, Hoffmann worked as a freelance artist in Munich. Following a professor's advice to get started in the business right away, Hoffmann accepted Rolf Benz' offer of a job in his development department.
"So I took the chance," Hoffmann said. "In Rolf Benz' company, I got training in all facilities from selecting wood through preparing a cushion with the right comfort."
Because Hoffmann spoke both English and French, he became the contact person for all international designers and architects who were working for Benz during that time. Hoffmann said he learned a great deal about proportions from Wil Eckstein as well as about detail and architecture from Paolo Piva. During Hoffmann's work designing booths for international trade shows, he also was strongly influenced by Ingo Maurer, who had started his own career as a graphic designer and later became famous worldwide for his innovative lighting designs.
Hoffmann said the design school in Ulm was influential in shaping his way of thinking. He noted Henry Engler, one of his teachers, in particular. He felt the influence of the Bauhaus Group, Danish and Italian designers, including Joe Colombo and Vico Magistretti. Hoffmann also noted the influence of American designer Edward J. Wormley and his work for Dunbar Furniture Company, which inspired a global perspective and achieved iconic status in U.S. design and furniture history.
After 10 years as project manager with Rolf Benz, Hoffmann opened his own office in 1980 with a team of designers. His team includes textile designer Ulrike Sarvari, whom he married in 1999. The couple has four children.
Over the past few years, Hoffmann shared his design talents with Brown Jordan. When asked to envision what form casual furniture might take after the days of woven resin pass, Hoffmann recommended the company return to the power of its historical roots with aluminum forms. A series of industrial art lines - Architect, Cubic and Shape - was created to evoke a sculptural yet chic aesthetic for cutting-edge designs.
Edgy, his newest furniture design with Brown Jordan, sports structural lines yet the materials used to create them bring out the pieces' natural and organic qualities. "My idea in creating this collection was to design pieces that are connected to nature and how we interact with our environment," Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann also has turned his attention toward designs for Lloyd/Flanders. "I think loom is traditional and a part of American culture," he said. "Used in the right form, it could be a future material and even a ‘green/ecological' mixture of today's demand with traditional/ vintage look."
Hoffmann searches for inspirational themes in nature or lifestyles as "godfathers" for an idea. "Sometimes it is an inspiration by new materials or an amazing group of craftsmen," he said. "There are so many new possibilities to create."
In addition to function and aesthetic quality, Hoffmann finds the best outdoor furnishings include a sense of sensuality and emotion. He wants to capture the good feelings consumers have when they enjoy being outdoors and the easy lifestyle the products allow.
Natural or high-tech materials that are long-lasting, eco-friendly or recyclable are the ones Hoffmann finds most satisfying for creating his designs.
"I'm still very proud of what I developed together with Brown Jordan," Hoffmann said. He added the Architect, Shape and Cubic groups foster traditional feelings in a high-tech version.
When asked which of his other designs are his favorites, Hoffmann recalled Rolf Benz 6500, which has proven successful over the past 30 years and was his first product selected from MOMA. Rolf Benz 4500 and his sleekly shaped Perobell products are other personal favorites. "I also like de Sede 102 and Katz und Co. Helene because of their good emotions and timeless characters," Hoffmann said. Designing a glass collection with Maxmillian/Salviati was a great experience, he said. He also likes the Steybe Children's Collection because it brings smiles to most women's faces.
One thing he knows now that he wishes he had known earlier is to always trust his instincts, whether good or bad. "More than ever I believe in now and tomorrow," he said. Rather than feeling distressed about the changing world around him, he said, "It is so interesting what is going on in our crazy time - maybe I'm a little more relaxed."
His former professor's advice to get started in the business right away was taken to heart with amazing results. "I never stopped working," Hoffmann said. "There always has been an idea which has not been developed to the final point, and it always starts a new fire if you meet somebody really interesting for a fascinating project."
His mother would be proud.