When Dan Black—who recently bought out business partner Martin Blum to take on sole ownership of renowned UK industrial design house Black+Blum—launched a dishrack inspired by the skeletal shapes of Calatravan architecture, he knew he'd hit on a new niche.
With so many folks investing heavily in their dream luxury kitchen these days, Dan was surprised to find so few kitchenware products that could sit comfortably in these unrelentingly minimal contemporary kitchens that didn't also come with exorbitant pricetags. The resounding success of the space saving (protruding ribs to hold glasses tightly beside dishes), aesthetically sophisticated and context fitting (a clever little flap incorporated into the tray for 'on' and 'off' drainage) rack got Black and his team thinking—what would a range of products designed with the same characteristics look like?
The Forminimal Dish Rack – sculptural and functional in equal measures
So began a gruelling six-month process for Dan and the team at Black+Blum in which they developed a family of ten products around the principles that had shaped the first: an uncompromising balance of style and substance at a price point suitable for those who'd already blown the budget on that polished concrete worktop.
The range the team developed combines some stylishly matte white and slate grey polypropylene with warm touches of silken bamboo – just one of the techniques employed to give the plastic products 'soul' as Dan describes it.
Another is undoubtably the intense attention to detail given over to the production of the range—Dan and colleague Rich Donaldson tell stories of the battles they fought with the manufacturers to get the matte finish just right and the extraordinary lengths of trial and error production prototyping they went through to develop radius and angles (particularly for the voluminous bread bin) that would shrink down to give perfectly straight edges when removed from molds and cooled.
Straight architectural edges the result of serious industrial design know how
Another way that the design team injected a little life into the range was the old but often underemployed trick of creating products that are simply a delight to use. The bread bin and combined knife, board and utensil holder present themselves at the perfect angle for kitchen worktop environments. The knife block also does away with tricky slots and replaces them with a section filled with carbonized (i.e. mould-free) bamboo sticks in which to stick knives into.
All your utensils at just the right, grabbable angle
Carbonized bamboo sticks are easy to insert knives back into
Chopping boards that become a feature and a kitchen roll holder that blends into the background (and is usable with one hand)
With no detail left undesigned, the team also turned their attention to creating beautiful packaging that would make their products prop. Looking at shelves of kitchenware the team noticed a tendency for bland, boring boxes in white and grey so decided to take the exact opposite approach to give their range some standout. The result is shelves crammed with bold, colourful boxes that hero the simplicity and elegance of their wares—and could compete on design styling with the best of the electronics industry.
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.