Founder Noel Wiggins describes Areaware as "a gallery for artists, sort of like a group show." A fourth generation painter, Noel brought a different perspective to the product design industry when he formed of Areaware in 2005. Since then, the company's line of "everyday objects" has struck the perfect balance between function and sculpture, as they continue to seek out young, local designers for objects to include in their line.
Core77's Carly Ayres had the opportunity to talk with Noel Wiggins at NY Now (formerly NYIGF), where he walked her through some of Areaware's latest products.
Core77: Areaware seems to strike the perfect balance between function and sculpture. Having a background in painting and the fine arts, what led you to form such a product-driven company?
Noel Wiggins: I'm an object guy. I like things. And I also have a lot of the engineer's mentality of wanting to do things better than they're already being done.
I come to it from a kind of problem-solving idea. Painting, honestly, wasn't collaborative enough for me. You have to be a really kind of solitary person to be an effective painter.
I love mixing it up with our staff and the artists, and then we're banging ideas around, so it's like movie-making with objects—you know, with crews—and thinking about things, and they have narratives, and stories behind things. So it keeps me very mentally engaged.
Fort Standard released spherical bottle openers in wood, and, for the strong ones, cast iron.
How do you decide what product will make a good fit for Areaware?
That's a tough one. We have a tight edit, so most things don't make it through the squeeze. Mostly it's a tricky balance because if things are too playful, they enter the kitsch, and we don't wanna enter the kitsch. But if they're not playful enough then we're just another elegant company that make non-playful beautiful objects. We have to find this very fine little narrow valley.
A lot of Areaware's products seem to evoke a sense of play and frivolity, while others have a starkly utilitarian aesthetic to them.
It's tough. Sometimes the solution is to go back to the plain basics that don't change all the time. The challenge with novelties is that they're only exciting when they're new. And the great thing about basics is that you can make them for a hundred years. So we're always kinda playing between those two areas.
Box Turtles by Harry Hallen. "Harry's very particular," says Noel. "He will only do products that have a word association with them."
Do you actively seek out designers to collaborate with or do people typically approach you?
We do, we do. We haven't figured out the science... we are combing the Internet constantly, looking.
The challenge is that you can't really tell from photographs. We probably would've passed over Cubebot if I was rifling through websites, so it's a very interesting dilemma. We're actually looking to do more school programs and sponsor more classes because we really feel like the hands-on is the only way we've really been able to get great projects.
To what degree is there a give and take with the designers you choose to work with? Is Areaware involved in the design process?
It's a combination. Some come to us, just completed, beautiful, perfect things. Most are tweaked.
We do a lot of the branding, we do a lot of the positioning. We're kind of like an art gallery. We know kind of paintings sell, so we steer artists to make within a certain range within their language, but we always honor their language.
We don't try to glom on another artist's language.
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Star Spangled Spatulas by recent RISD Furniture graduate Jacob Riley-Wasserman.
Interestingly, there are a lot of RISD products—or products by students that come out of RISD. I think it's because RISD really teaches students to use their hands to make stuff and there is a kind of hands-on, analog vibe to so much of our stuff, which seems to fit the RISD education profile.
Do you see these new products as a continuation of Areaware's current line, or do you think this is an evolution and we can expect different things moving forward?
Our company is split between a surrealist language and a very utilitarian language and it's sometimes hard to balance those two languages. They're very different and with very different customers. But we like the tension that that create—it's sort of like the classic-romantic split. We like 'em both, so you'll see us kind of dabbling in both directions as part of our own continuation.
Cubebots in their natural habitat.
It's interesting to see a company take what is a successful product, expand upon it, and see how that plays out. For a company that seems to focus on having many one-off products, what led you to take Cubebot and build off off that?
The other kind of story that's developing in our world is executive toys market. It's this notion that we're a creative society now and executives need to be thinking more creatively, so they need toys to keep that part of their brain engaged. So we're getting into the market of like, high-level executive toys. Stuff that was made originally for children are actually now—like Cubebot—more of a men's—
...More of a desk-toy?
Puzzleheads, a rather complicated jigsaw puzzle by Richie McGuire.
Minecraft came around and turned Cubebot back into a children's thing again, but, meanwhile, there's this whole notion of a "kidult" market, which is kids that weren't given a toys growing up. They were busy playing video games too young and weren't able to have any of those, or didn't have the usual amount of time with those that previous generations had.
So, as they get older, they want toys back, in their cubicles.