How TRUCK Built a New Housewares Line

Four years ago, architects Jennifer Carpenter, Jonathan Marvel, and Rob Rogers founded TRUCK in order to create architecturally inspired furniture and products. This year, the company partnered with Studio Nova, one of Mikasa’s brands, to produce its first line of tableware. “When we make products, we’re thinking about the same things that we think about when we’re designing a space or a room,” says Carpenter, who devised the line of dishware, stemware, serving trays, vases, and candleholders. “[We’re considering] the materials, how they come together, the details of the construction, and how to have pragmatics and poetry together.” TRUCK by Studio Nova debuted at the Chicago Housewares Show last month and will show at ICFF in May. The products will be in stores this fall.

What was it like working with Studio Nova and their manufacturers?
I’ve never worked at this large a scale. At TRUCK, we started out doing our own manufacturing, and then we were working with small companies with fairly small runs, where you know day-to-day what’s happening and you have direct access to the people who are making the pieces. Studio Nova sources all over the world, so we’re a couple steps removed.

How did you approach working with a new set of materials and fabrication methods?
I really make a point of learning about how things are manufactured. This is actually the hardest part of what we’re doing, because Studio Nova is not used to people even wanting to know. I’m saying, “Tell me exactly how this is made, so we can do the best designs for the people who are making it.” What I hate to hear, and what I often hear, is, “Oh don’t worry, just draw whatever you like. We’ll figure it out.” To me that’s not interesting. Tell me what you do well, and then we’ll find the opportunities there that you haven’t thought of.

Did your training as an architect help prepare you to be a product designer?
The process of putting together an architecture project forces you to be involved at so many different scales of design; I don’t feel like this is all that different. But I think we approach it really differently than other product designers. We just approached it by drawing elevations, sections, plans—like it was an architecture project—and it works because the point is to be clear, not necessarily to know all the conventions.

Are you involved in designing the line’s packaging and sales materials?
Yeah—we’re psycho about that. I want to design all of it! Not just because I think it will look better, but because I think it’s going to help the sales team. On the pages about the products, I’m telling them little bits about how I came up with the ideas, and they love it because it’s not like “Here’s another vase,” but “Here’s why this works.” It’s a story to them. We’re also designing the boards that they’re going to show at some of the big shows.

There’s an architectural influence in the line: your patterns Foley Square and Park Avenue are influenced by building facades. Are there other moves in the line that are less obviously influenced by your background?
Yes, for sure. The theme that runs through it all is inspired by the practice of architecture and the kinds of things you have to think about. We have a few pieces that had to be engineered, and we had to think of them structurally. Like the Double serving-dish set: it’s three components and they stack really compactly for storing, but when you pull them apart, they can be combined in different ways depending on what you’re serving. There are these little vases—Radius vases. There’s a set of four of them, and they can nest up next to each other. So if you only have a few blooms—maybe four live flowers from last week’s arrangement—the vases themselves become part of the arrangement. Then there’s Link, a candle holder that’s a single module that you can endlessly stack up either linearly or vertically. People see Link and they say, “Oh, it’s an erector set. It’s building blocks for adults.” It resonated with people, I think, because adults don’t get to play that much—and it’s pretty fun to play with.

It’s interactive.
Exactly. An important point is that everything, even the plates, are about how they work. Whenever possible, it is not just about the form, it’s about how it operates.

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