Exclusive Interview: Payam Sarabi of Sarabi Studio

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Today’s exclusive interview, Payam Sarabi of Sarabi Studio, is full of wonderful stories. Stories of how he got into this business. Stories about why he chooses the materials that he chooses. Stories about why he creates what he creates. Listen to his audio podcast interview to hear these stories for yourself.

One of our favorite things about doing these interview podcasts with modern designers working today is getting to hear the stories behind how these modern pieces of furniture (and art) get dreamed up and then made. You can tell when speaking with many of these creators that the story of who they are and why they create is really what’s important. We appreciate getting to hear the backgrounds because it makes these beautiful modern pieces that much richer and full of life. And you can tell Payam Sarabi of Sarabi Studio has a lot of life in him and his work:

Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use under
Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

If you’d like to download this great interview so you can listen to it on an iPod or something (you fancy, technology-minded genius, you), here it is available right here:

Payam Sarabi 2Modern Interview

Rather read Payam’s interview? We’ve got your words right here:

2M: We’re here with Payam Sarabi of Sarabi Studio, a furniture company in Austin, Texas that creates really sleek and modern metal and wood furniture. Thanks for being here!
Adrienne Thanks for having me.

2M: So let’s start with you describing your company and all the work that you do.
Well Sarabi studio is a furniture studio, our main focus on industrial and minimal furniture pieces that are handcrafted locally, but we’re also a design-build studio. We do a variety of different design projects like planters, architectural metalwork and railings. Basically any project where we can be creative and incorporate design, but we’re certainly not a job shop or a welding shop.

2M: Do you do more furniture design or do you do more of the design-build stuff, or does it change up?
I’d say the majority of our work is custom work and spec design, but we love to kind of reach out and do projects where we will have a big presence in furnishing the home but also involved in other spaces throughout the home. Our clients comes back and have us do more than just the furniture when they hear we are more diversified.

2M: Sounds like you do a good job then.
So far so good.

2M: What is your personal background like? How long have you been in the design business?
Well formally I haven’t been in the design business all that long at all, but if you ask anyone I’ve grown up with, ever since I was a kid I’ve always been a tinkerer, and always designing and building some little project. I’m probably the only 12-year-old I knew who had my own table saw and workshop area. So over the years I’ve always enjoyed designing and building little projects. My background was first in the pre-architecture program at the University of Oregon, that I lasted about a year and a half in that program—no offense to the program, it just wasn’t a good fit for me; I sort of just outgrew that direction. I then broke off and moved to Austin to do some construction work. I built some residential projects here that allowed me to be creative and work with other architects and incorporate some design, but really begin to become more involved in the physical process of creating. And really in that period of my life there was about 4 years where I was heavily involved in residential and commercial construction, I started to really fall in love with metal. Working with my welders and always asking all the questions like “how does that work?” “how are you fusing those two plates of steel?” You know I’d painted and done other projects but that was the turning point where I realized I wanted to create works of art furniture pieces. So in 2007 I began designing and building pieces for my own hobby. And then in 2009, after a few years of self-teaching design and fabrication techniques, I filed officially Sarabi Studio as a company and began marketing myself to furniture companies and clients. In a relatively short period I’ve been able to design and build some really unique projects that were funded by clients, meaning they had an idea in their head, and we worked together to capture that design and fabricate it. And also a lot of really unique projects that I did under my own motivations.

2M: Is that where you get the inspiration for your work is just the different materials you get to play with? Or do you look at other outside sources for inspiration?
You know I definitely had an appreciation…construction, even though it’s far less intricate or ornate as furniture making, was impressive to me in my early years because of how quickly so many materials came together to build these places we live and work. Most of my inspiration I would say comes from urban architecture more than anything. So no particular architect on his own, but just from my travels, and visiting a lot of the metropolitan cities that I frequent; I draw a lot of my inspiration from the finished urban centers and looking at the entire areas. The cities I really enjoy and go back to time and time again are Portland, Oregon, where I was born and raised. You know I love a variety of cities throughout Japan but Tokyo stands out; there’s some spectacular modern architecture. And I would say recently I’ve begun to take a lot of cues from natural materials themselves, and going out and selecting and purchasing materials before I had a design for that material. So I actually looking at the wood, the grain the colors, and actually building out of those materials.

2M: How many people are working for your studio?
We’re not really a large production furniture shop. I’m more of an independent designer. There was a time about a year and a hald back, about six months into this commercial venture, where I had to make the decision between opening a full-on production facility or collaborating with other craftsmen in Austin and putting them to work to produce my designs. And I made the decision just for my own sanity and because I like to be unencumbered and flexible, to not open up our own production facility and bring on full-time fabricators. But rather seek out the best job shops and craftsmen around Austin. So right now, full time, it’s only myself as a designer and limited fabricator at the company. And I do quite a lot—almost every design is prototyped by myself first right here in my own design studio. At one point I will get to a step where I feel like we have to internalize. But we’ve assembled a big portfolio of work because I still have time left to do design work.

2M: That sounds really smart. I know talking with a lot of other furniture companies they don’t get to spend a lot of time designing because a lot of it is spent doing business stuff. Does that mean you’re maybe like 80/20 design versus business? Or what’s that balance for you?
I think I’m headed there. I’m still probably 60/40 because some of our newer lines involve production methods and shops that we don’t have long relationships with—these are maybe three-month-old relationships with some of the woodworkers and other shops that we’ve started collaborating with. As things smooth out and they’re used to seeing my drawings come in and they’re used to seeing the photos of my prototype and they’re used to meeting the standard I have, I think I’ll be able to get back to designing more. But yeah it’s a constant struggle. On one end you do need to sell your work and you need to get paid in order to survive and grow your company, but a lot of times I feel like the commercial aspect of my work is the only thing distracting me from my work.

2M: So what do you think sets you apart from other modern designers?
Well it’s an impressive field, to try and compare myself against, all the great designers of our time and of course of the previous decade, but I think my work is more, I’d say, a minimalist state of design than a lot of the “modern” designers. Modern’s become this word that’s a little bit lost on the average user. If you ask someone what modern is, they’re going to point at just about anything that has somewhat clean lines and call it modern. So if you look at most of my work, it’s almost simple to the point of being complex. We try very hard to minimalize the number of components and the number of joints. A lot of our work that has joinery or welding, most of that welding has been removed and polished out to such a degree that it’s virtually invisible from the surrounding materials. So I guess it’s more less is more in the number of components, but in the whole design philosophy I think that’s something that makes us stand out. And that’s the direction I’ve always headed. And I think our newest design direction is the focus on even smaller and simpler spaces, trying to adopt that urban living lifestyle. So, doing more with less footprint.

2M: So what do you like working in more? Do you like the metal? Do you like the wood? Do you like when you combine the metal and the wood?
When you look at my portfolio laid out on a desk, you know, left to right, start to finish…there’s almost no wood work in my early years because I really liked the almost cold and industrial feel of working with steel. But once I started breaking into woodwork, I really started to appreciate the contrast between the warmth of unique woods, the grains and the true warmth of these dark hardwoods against the more basic kind of cold feeling of the steels, the stainless and the carbon, and the various finishes that we use. So, today my focus has been on finding that balance between those two materials, and a lot of our new work incorporates both materials, and I think that’s how things will likely stay for awhile as I experiment with different species and different methods of incorporating the new materials and the different varieties of wood that are available are just spectacular.

2M: What are the new projects that are on the horizon for you, what’s coming up? What are you excited about? Where’s your business moving toward?
PS: I’m hoping 2011 is going to be a great year. We’re going to be releasing what I call a new commercial line, and that’s such a bad description, but so much of our work is very limited production: one of’s, two of’s, and we have very few items that we actually offer to the broader market. And we’re excited to bring a few of our designs to a broader marketplace, where anyone can hop on the web through one of our retailers and place an order and within a matter of a few weeks and have one of our handcrafted pieces in their own; to me that’s very exciting. Recently we just realized a whole line of handcrafted walnut and steel bedroom pieces, and we’re really excited to have that come to market and see how that’s received. In the future we’re hoping to just broaden and keep on adding to our portfolio of projects. One design project that we hadn’t done to date is any full size chairs. We’ve done lots of benches and tables and very simple and modern forms, and we have some designs on the drawing board so to speak of a line of dining and outdoor chairs which will probably be coming out here in early 2011 and we’re really excited to share that. And lastly we have a couple of designs for some really unique LED lighting pieces that are going to combine steel, hardwood and LED lighting to create some really unique lighting accents for the home that we’re really excited to get into production on those here in just a few weeks.

2M: Well thank you so much Payam, this was a lot of fun.
PS: Thank you so much for your time, loved chatting with you.

2M: For more information about Sarabi Studio, you can visit sarabistudio.com, that’s s-a-r-a-b-I studio.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

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