Exclusive Interview: Michael Iannone of Iannone Design
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If you pay any attention to the design world, you no doubt remember when one of Michael Iannone’s most popular pieces first debuted. His Dandelion Graphic Console is a long wood credenza with striking striated wood and a graphic and bold white finish that shows a dandelion image in negative. Design lovers were in love with the look—and everyone was bowled over that something so beautiful could be so great for the earth, too.
Featuring fabulous modern furniture with a very heavy eco-friendly spin, Philadelphia’s Michael Iannone, of Iannone Design, is one of our favorite modern furniture makers out there today (and definitely one of the best ones creating eco-friendly styles). Here what he has to say:
Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use under
Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
And you better believe you can buy some of Iannone Designs’ amazing furniture pieces through 2Modern.
Rather read Michael’s interview? How about a transcript:
2M: We’re here with Michael Iannone, the founder of Iannone design, who not only makes furniture that is gorgeous looking, but also very eco-friendly. Thanks for talking with us today.
MI: Thanks a lot Adrienne.
2M: Yeah! Just tell us what your furniture is all about.
MI: Alright, we’re based in Philadelphia and we focus on eco-friendly, green modern furniture, so all of our furniture, the materials, have some sort of eco-friendly aspect to them, whether it be a sustainable material, or maybe a certification showing that they’re a green material—we use green finishes—so we’re really focused on meeting that criteria for furniture. And we do a wide range of things—we do credenzas and tables and dressers, and pretty much if it can be made out of wood or something like that we can make it.
2M: How did you get started in the business of furniture, what’s your background like?
MI: I went to school for art, four years at University over here, and through my sculpture class I started working with wood. I started out just making abstract sculptures and things out of wood, eventually that progressed into more functional objects like clocks and things like that. And eventually it grew into building furniture, so my senior year there I switched from an illustration major to a fine art or studio art major and started concentrating on woodworking. So that was kind of my progression through sculpture class and getting involved in woodworking.
2M: When did the idea for the furniture company now start?
MI: I was working at a furniture company here in Philadelphia and it kind of honestly seemed like that company wasn’t going to last much longer. So I was kind of planning for the future, “what am I gonna do next?” A fellow coworker there and I started talking one day and decided to start designing some furniture ourselves. We had been doing it on the side, both of us, so we said “let’s get together and collaborate and design some furniture and we’ll go to the ICFF show, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York and let’s just go with our furniture and see what happens.” And so that was the start of our company, and eventually my business partner decided he wanted to pursue his architecture career so he left the furniture side of things. So I’ve been doing it on my own for quite a few years now.
2M: Do you have people working under you in terms of the business side of it or design side of it?
MI: I pretty much handle all of the business side of it and creative side of it. I do have one employee that works as a craftsman, so he works with the actual building and fabrication of pieces.
2M: It sounds like you are doing most it, right?
MI: Yeah yeah, definitely.
2M: Why did you decide to do furniture that was so eco-friendly heavy?
MI: I think there were two reasons. One was, from a business stand point, it seemed to be a way to make our furniture stand out. We kind of started doing it just as green was starting to become a major issue in the design world, so we kind of caught that wave in the beginning. And when you do a big trade show and you are surrounded by hundreds of other furniture makers, you want to stand out and set yourself apart. So I think that was definitely a part of it. The other part of it was, just as the green materials started to become more readily available, we started to realize that they have a lot of beautiful unique qualities to them. So there were a lot of aesthetic things that a lot of these green materials had that other materials didn’t. And so then it became a search for, let’s try to increase our palette of green materials that are available, and let’s see what we can do with them that maybe is different or unique. So I think availability of materials definitely helped us focus even more on making green furniture. Now it’s to the point where even materials that are green, they may look like very similar materials that aren’t green. It’s become that mainstream. You can get maple plywood that’s FSC certified, it’s formaldehyde free, but if you place it next to maple plywood that doesn’t have those qualities, you can’t tell the difference. But those materials are available, so we always look for those materials that have those green aspects.
2M: Is that the main inspiration for how your furniture looks?
MI: Definitely have other inspirations. I tend to not think of myself as a green furniture builder first; I think I’m more interested in the design first and the aesthetics, but when it comes to building the piece, it’s almost like the green part is the restrictions or the criteria that has to be met. So that may inform some of the materials we do use, but as far as design influences, I’m definitely into looking at the entire range of furniture history, and drawing from many different periods and styles. I probably lean a lot towards Mid-Century Modern, or Danish Modern, and things like that; that’s definitely my favorite style of furniture. But definitely I look at Shaker furniture or other modern design and just a wide range and just sort of pull things from there. But whatever we do design or are gonna build, has to be green, as well, and so that may eliminate some materials. Certainly I haven’t built a piece of furniture using wood from a rain forest in a very long time. So those are the kind of things—you know I’m not going to use Rosewood, it’s kind of out of the question, so I’ve got to use something else for this piece. Well how about locally-source walnut? You know, I’m getting this local, I know where it’s coming from, that’ll meet the criteria. And it’s a dark wood and it’s very beautiful, so let’s go with that. So it’s those kind of decisions that come into play when it comes time to actually build the piece.
2M: It sounds like you are very in touch with what’s going on in the design world, do you check in with other designers or what’s going on with other companies, or do you kind of keep to your own?
MI: You know in Philly there are a lot woodworkers; there’s a very tight woodworker community, so I’m constantly exposed to that aspect of things. Now I can’t say that the majority of those woodworkers are also interested in green design. Some of them are. The Internet of course is a huge resource, with blogs and websites that I do check on a daily basis to see what’s going on and what other people are doing in green design and maybe design that isn’t green. I like looking at a lot of architectural design and houses and seeing what’s going on with that.
2M: Since you do what sounds like almost everything for your company, what does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
MI: No, I wouldn’t say there’s probably a typical day…I don’t build as much as I used to, which is both a good and a bad thing. Sometimes I really miss just being able to go into the wood shop and not have to answer emails or quote out custom jobs, or handle all of that business end. Sometimes it’s nice to just go into the shop and build all day, or do actual woodworking all day, and it’s rare that I get to do that anymore. So we have our retail line and we do custom projects here in Philly, so we have a pretty varied workload from week to week.
2M: Like how many custom projects would you say you do a month? Is there an average? Do you do a lot more custom jobs than working on retail?
MI: You know it’s changed over the years over the course of our business, as the economy has fluctuated so has both aspects, the custom and the retail work. This year custom work has probably been more of what we’ve been doing opposed to retail. And usually our custom work, say here in Philadelphia, are much larger projects, like doing all the cabinets for a kitchen or doing the kitchen cabinets and the master bathroom and some other things in a single residence here in the city. Those projects are obviously a lot more involved and take a lot more time than some of the furniture orders that we have. So currently I would say, yeah, we are doing more custom work; we work with interior designers, with architects from all over the country. Sometimes they have designs pretty polished for us; sometimes they just have a basic function that they need and some dimensions and so we’ll work with them and develop that project from start to finish.
2M: What new and exciting things are on the horizon for your company?
MI: Yeah I’m starting to get a jump on my debut of new products, so I’m really looking forward to doing something that’s very heavily based on traditional Shaker furniture, and of course making it contemporary, and putting our own spin on it and keeping it green as well. So that’s one thing I’m kind of excited about. Right now I’m also prototyping a table using some of our scrap, waste wood that we make at the shop. We have a lot of scraps of plywood lying around that have been accumulating over a couple of years, and I was like, you know, I need to do something with these—this scrap wood, and make it useful and re-purpose it. And then I’m kind of hoping to do some smaller accessory things, some home office things. We do some stuff with laser cut cork designs so I’m thinking about adapting that.
2M: Well thank you so much for being here today, Michael.
MI: Thanks a lot.
2M: For more information about Michael Iannone, you can visit his website at iannonedesign.com. You’ve been listening to a 2modern designer interview, for more fun podcasts, inspiring design posts and design advice, check out the blog at 2modern.com.
Download an MP3 of Michael’s interview right here:
Michael Iannone 2modern Interview