Karim Rashid is one of the most diverse and accessible designers of his generation, once described by Time magazine as the “most famous industrial designer in all the Americas”. His creations span product design, interior design and architecture, as well as various other projects in literature, fashion and music. His work is currently featured in 20 permanent collections and his art shown in galleries all over the world.
Rashid is renowned for his love of the colour pink (in not just his work but his personal style), futuristic aesthetic and sensuously curved designs. He has worked in over 40 countries, created more than 3,000 products and received over 300 awards, including an honorary membership from the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), awarded at its annual conference in June. We spoke at the event about his passionate belief in “democratic design”, continuing our discussion over email.
It’s hardly surprising that a young Rashid was drawn to the spirit of Andy Warhol’s Factory “where you could move around in all the disciplines of the applied major arts”. He vowed that his own practice would allow him freedom to “touch all aspects of our physical landscape… as well as lecture about the world at large”.
A move into architecture two years ago, for instance, was simple enough for Rashid, even without formal training – “It was an easy transition… I’ve been designing spaces in my head from the beginning.” Perhaps his endless sources of inspiration help to explain his unending appetite to create, which he describes as coming from all that is unusual and odd: “Beauty is in everything if we want to see it,” he tells me.
Rashid now works on around 40 projects at one time, each inspiring the next. He believes it is this pluralism in his nature that allows him to “cross-pollinate ideas, materials, behaviours, aesthetics and language from one typology to the other”. He is currently working on a vast portfolio of products, condominiums and hotels, including a 500-room resort in Cancun called Temptation.
He picks the Nhow hotel in Berlin as a standout project. Completed in 2011, the hotel interior is a playful and slightly surreal digital world. “I wanted the space to have a pulse, to sing and come alive around you, so that guests feel inspired and revitalised,” he explains.
“I love the larger experiential impact a hotel can have on people’s lives as well as the temporary human experience. With interior design or public space, I know that masses of people have access to my designs – and they aren’t just looking at it, they are physically immersing themselves inside my concepts… transcending home into another experience and inspiring them to live more progressively.”
Another “great joy” was designing a subway station for the Naples Metro – which selected various famous architects to design its new “art stations”. Instead of adding pieces to the station, Rashid turned the entire space into a work of digital art. “I sunk the art budget into the interior wall and spaces instead of selecting art… it was a better way to spend money,” he says. “I will always love the impact and challenge that was the Naples Metro. It is the epitome of democratic design.”
I ask Rashid why he is determined to add so much colour and playfulness to the more formal world of commercial interiors and furniture.“Ideally our public environments should exude positive energy, heightened experiences, contemporary design, a new comfort that is an extension of the new age of casualism, and spiritual wellbeing,” he proposes.
“In everything, I inject some human spirit and humour because it lightens up this overtly serious phenomena of LIFE,” he continues. “Everything that we come into contact with as human beings… impacts on our psyche and experiences – so why not try to bring inspired positive energies to our built environment?”
Rashid is well aware that many see his work as “outlandish” but suggests that when seeing the separate elements work together across one of his spaces, the sense created is actually “very holistic and very calming – a great environment to feel inspired”.
The designer selected his own studio space in New York for its high ceilings and natural light and enhanced the open space with glass floors and skylights. The studio has been furnished with 99% of his own designs – “from the Rastelli desks for the staff, my own Della Rovere desk… even to the dish rack, cup tree, dish soap, moisturisers, Post-it note holders and pens.”
In 2014 Rashid opened a second design studio in Shenzhen, China, and this year its staff moved into a studio in the city’s design district. The digital-printed floor, backlit glass wall, wallcoverings and fibreglass reception desk were all custom made and designed by Rashid. Whether working on products, interiors or architecture, it’s clear that, above all else, Rashid believes in what he has referred to several times – the “democracy of design”.
“Everyone has a right to well-designed products,” he reflects, when I ask how the idea shapes his role as designer. “A new renaissance of design is taking place… We must let go of old ideas of luxury and really create new aesthetics, new forms, new material, new languages that are more seamless and attune with the world we live in now.”
“Production technologies have become so sophisticated… [that] mass production and the digital technological age has created a ‘democratic’ luxury, and has really changed the old-school idea of what luxury was. Designers have the power to shape a better, smarter world, to simplify yet inspire every individual, to make well-made and beautiful products accessible to all.”
Looking back on his career Rashid explains that he has learned most from making “too many failures” and that design is mostly about listening and collaborating. “I realise that we live in a very complex world, and it can never be a utopian singular vision,” he admits. “And I’m just contributing as much as I can while I am on this planet.”
He adds: “I have also learned that many designers do a great deal of work but it remains in concept form only because the key to putting work on the market is to make sure it is a collaboration.”
An international lecturer, sharing insights from his colourful career with aspiring designers, Rashid always tells them to: “Be smart, be patient, learn to learn, learn to be really practical but imbue poetics, aesthetics and new paradigms of our changing product landscape.”
Clearly a follower of his own advice, he goes on to tell me that the new school of designers should “capture the spirit of the time in their product lines and not worry about looking, behaving, performing like everyone else”.
The designer tells OnOffice why any interior space can benefit from some colour and curves