Interview: The Founders of TOKEN

Modern Decor

We’ve got yet another awesome new company to talk about that’s recently joined us at 2Modern, and that’s the brilliant designs coming out of Brooklyn-based TOKEN. Founded by designers Will Kavesh and Emrys Berkower, the furniture they create is certainly lovely and attractive, but they do more than just build furniture that looks nice. These are some darn fine good-looking pieces of modern furniture!

To Will and Emrys, it’s about making furniture that is functional, comfortable, isn’t ironic for irony’s sake, is honest and true and modern because of the engineering and design, not because it looks “cool.” They take a very academic approach to how they tackle design problems and are clearly two very thoughtful, intelligent guys. It’s not all seriousness, though; they add in plenty of details that are fun and whimsical, meaning that though this is smartly designed furniture, it can be enjoyed by everyone. Listen or read on to hear more about how they come up with designs, how they work together and what it is about their furniture designs that makes them so awesome:

Check out TOKEN on 2Modern. (We’ll have a transcript up in a few…some technical difficulties had us running late with this interview so we wanted to put it up as soon as we can! Stay tuned for some words if you’d rather read it!)

2Modern: We are speaking with Will Kavesh and Emrys Berkower, the lead designers of TOKEN, a furniture design company out of Brooklyn, New York. Thanks for talking with me!
Will and Emrys: Hi there.

2Modern: How do you guys describe what it is that you guys do? Will let’s start with you.
Will: I would describe TOKEN as a combination of an industrial design studio and an artist’s studio practice.

Emrys: You know under one roof we try to combine sort of an academic practice and an industrial engineering practice, which I don’t think is a new mixture but it’s something we’re trying to uphold. We think in some ways it’s not forgotten, but not as prevalent.

2Modern: Well what about your individual backgrounds? Where do you guys come from? Do you have similar ones or different ones? How do they complement how do they contrast?
Will: We met in line at freshmen registration at Alfred University in 1992. We spent four years in the same school working pretty closely, so I think at the end of that experience we both, Emerys and myself, had a good idea of each other’s sensibilities. We both went out and worked, sort of took different paths until about 2005, when we started working together again in New York.

2Modern: Do you guys work on individual pieces together? Do you guys have your own pieces that just seem to work together as a line? How do the custom pieces work? How do you guys divvy the work up?
Will: Individual work starts with individuals. And we kind of take on say a chair. That chair gets 70% there, and that usually takes on some sort of physical form. And then we go through a very rigorous design selection process, where we slug it out where we have something that really represents what TOKEN is, that embodies our kind of goals that involve its formal characteristics. The use of materials is very important to us and needs to communicate a certain honesty about what the thing is.

Emrys: What it does and how it’s built and how those things interact with one another and that sort of visual coherence that the structure and the physical engineering all have and how they all work together.

Will: I think that no matter what the context is in the future, I would have a very hard time engaging injection molded plastics as a material to work with. Granted, there are sort of responsible versions of injection molded plastics, but it also kind of comes down to the vernacular of that medium and I don’t know if I’m on that page. I’m not on that page.

Emrys: I was just gonna say to go back, there is a rigorous editing process that things go through from the designs that start in Will’s head and his computer and proportionately and visually we just sort of duke it out until we edit it right for everyone. It’s an interesting process because as much as two people can get along and have the same vision we obviously have two different sets of tastes and sensibilities and so I think it’s a really challenging and rewarding process, honestly, to work with someone doing it. It takes a good deal of engineering and a good deal of pie-in-the-sky maybe this is not possible and trying to figure out what is through the engineering process.

2Modern: So is there a style and aesthetic you guys kind of adhere to now? Is there anything that you guys discard because it doesn’t fit that TOKEN aesthetic?
Emrys: Coherence with how something looks and how something works is very important to us. Of how functional a joint may be. Or how a connection between a piece of wood, a piece of steel and a fastener. We make a really big issue about how something is put together, we sort of champion it. We don’t try to hide it; we try to show it off. And I think we understand what we’re doing enough to really push how it looks and make it simple and beautiful and play with proportions. No—a half inch material is too thick there. And Will says ‘it’s not gonna work in 3/8ths’ and I say ‘really, because it’s too big.’ And he says ‘ugh’ and I say ‘so take off 100 grams instead’ and he’ll say ‘alright’ so he takes it off and it’s still too big. And I fight him until he’s right and we’ve come in between 3/8th and ½ inch, and that’s why it looks the way it does.

Will: There’s a standard sort of accepted look of modernist proportions. It’s very different from what’s actually functional, surprisingly so. If you find a chair and it looks proportionally beautiful, and then you put a body in it, and the body is very uncomfortable, usually, because the back is too low, or the seat is too narrow, but proportionally it just looks right. So the battle to make it functional is where it really gets interesting. You want to sort of hold to these sort of specifics about form and proportion and simplicity but sometimes it’s just made difficult by making something that  is comfortable.

Emrys: And Will really seems to like to push how far a material can go before a material doesn’t go anymore. Like our barstool has a seemingly very spindly set of legs that how could it actually hold something up? You know we worked really hard at finding what dimensions the material could be to achieve that. In our copy we talk a little bit about the structural mystery that happens with what we’re trying to convey with people.

Will: Both of us have art backgrounds, so making sculpture is all about inspiring that reaction in the viewer, right? And, in my opinion I think industrial design should be the same thing but sometimes it’s not.

Emrys: Yeah and I think to really answer your question, and again, maybe I’m just repeating myself, but it looks the way it does because of these kinds of considerations that we’re making. It’s not by accident. And I think that that’s really, really indicative of a sort of practice that I don’t want to say doesn’t exist but isn’t so much about being cool and hip. Isn’t so much about how it’s put together but how cool or how kind of ironic it might be. Our irony isn’t in some sort of post modern sort of way, it’s a real honest use of the word modern, which I think is a very way way over-used word.

Will:Part of contemporary art is a post studio art practice. Honestly it makes me puke a little bit. I really really don’t understand it. I feel like what we do in the studio really works to bring studio practice as it existed in contemporary art prior to post studio movement to industrial design. So it’s really about rigorous practice.

Emrys: And I’m also looking around and I’m looking at a chair of ours and Will and I aren’t always so academic and so serious. And I think also seen in our pieces—we try to add a little sophisticated whimsy, again without being ironic or kind of being like cheap. It’s about putting in a little bit of color where it’s right. Where it fits. Where it’s tasteful. A little tiny structural detail that we paint gold or blue is a way of saying this isn’t totally serious. You can live with this or put this in your kid’s room. It is a business and we do have to make money. But at the end of the day, neither Will nor myself want to put a product out there that we can’t really talk to you or a client or showroom about without passion. I would not be able to sleep at night if I put something out I didn’t like.


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  1. master blogger

    Sep 16, 2011 at 2:45 am

    The cabinet is really good, looks like very strong in built and can last for years!

  2. Cindy Watson Design

    Sep 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Love this stuff…great interview. They remind me of an unknown rock band that’s about to blow up!

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