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Designed to leave gaps shaped like curvy and winding roadways, Whitmarsh created this wall mosaic with asphalt salvaged from demolished roadways. The piece is large — 6 feet by 10 feet — and was installed in an architecture and engineering company in Phoenix, Ariz.
Q: How did you get started in product design? What makes you excited about this particular area of design?
A: I really got interested in sculpture after college. I wanted to work with every material I could get my hands on — plaster, fiberglass, ceramic, metal, wood, etc. It’s the process that I enjoy the most, not just the end result.
Creating dimensional wall sculpture is great because the imagination can really run wild with all the possibilities for different textures and patterns. It isn’t restrained by needing to be functional like a table or lamp — its purpose is to inspire and encourage discussion.
Whitmarsh built this sculpture out of salvaged construction wood and steel pipes. The piece is 9 feet high, but is 50 feet wide, stretching out along an entire length of the building.
Q: Where do you see product design going in the next 5 years? What sort of themes and directions do you think will bubble up?
A: A lot of it seems to be driven by material innovations. As materials are made stronger, thinner, more translucent, more flexible, etc. they create new design possibilities. Consumers will say, "I didn’t know a dining room table could be that thin," or "I didn’t know a concrete wall could let in that much light," or "I didn’t know fabric be that strong."
For this year's Dining By Design event in San Francisco, Whitmarsh surrounded his tablescape with an 8-foot-tall fence of charred wood. Whitmarsh burned the wood himself, and then connected all the pieces to create the wall.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing for designers to keep in mind?
A: The thing I try to keep in mind is to be honest and make things that I like personally. Overthinking something or thinking in terms of what other people might like is a recipe for disaster. I make drawings and samples, then get feedback to narrow down what’s working and what’s not. If my ideas get shot down, I know I can come up with something else. I try to stay as egoless as possible.
Whitmarsh built 2 of these custom salvaged wood walls in an office building in San Francisco. Each wall is 11 feet by 15 feet, and is made entirely out of salvaged shipping palette wood.
Q: How do you balance your artistic needs with the needs of consumers?
A: It’s challenging because paid projects aren’t always the kinds of things you’d do for yourself in the studio. But I think differences in approach between designer and client can create good synergies. Working under time and budget constraints almost always yields good results, however unpleasant it may be at the time.
This colorful piece of wall art — inspired by the boats in the San Francisco Bay — is made entirely out of real shipping containers, cut into small tiles. Rust, scratches and lettering from the original containers were left intact.
Q: What are you trying to say with your designs? Where do you see your own line going in the next five years?
A: I want to create work that’s visually engaging on an emotional level — something that you can’t take your eyes off of but aren’t quite sure why. I like to take materials out of context to make the viewer question what it’s made of and how it was built.
Whitmarsh has always loved the look of woven materials, especially when a weaving is made with materials that aren't particularly pliable. This wall sculpture is made out of luan doorskin, wrapped around steel studs. The installation is in a microfinance office in San Francisco.
Q: What are some of your favorite new design trends?
A: I really like the visual contrast of rough, unrefined elements brought together with polished, sophisticated environments. The restaurant 25 Lusk in San Francisco is a good example, with its high-polished surfaces built into a rough brick building.
Same idea is true with mixing technology together with antiques, like having a flat-screen monitor framed on a centuries-old wooden frame.
Q: What are some of your new favorite product lines?
A: I really like the cast gypsum panels by Modular Arts, especially the Wade design for its organic symmetry that appears so effortless. Also, Viro Fiber’s woven wall panels. I love the Italian porcelain tiles that look like linen or wood.
Q: What designers (both past and present) inspire you?
A: Steve Tobin, Anish Kapoor, Roxy Paine for their freestyle riffs on organic forms. I really love Andy Goldsworthy’s work (who doesn’t?). I’ve happened upon some buildings in San Francisco that are really inspiring – the Oriental Warehouse by Fisher-Friedman Associates, 355 11th St. by Aidlin Darling, Kokoris Residence by Jensen Architects.
Jared Rusten | Daniel Schofield | Asaf Weinbroom