We want to give you an exclusive look inside the workspaces and minds of our uncommon artists. The very first designer’s studio tour features Anna Rabinowicz of RabLabs, the artist behind the Quadro Bottle Openers and Agate Cheese Spreaders. Anna has been in her Flatiron studio for more than two years, a space that she shares with her team and another artist. Always fascinated with stones, Anna was able to start her own business when an opportunity came up with a distributor in Brazil. In addition to running her own business, Anna teaches product design, sharing her deep knowledge of geology and agate formation, with students at the Parsons School of Design.
What is a typical day in the studio like?
In the morning I could be working on designs and Skyping with manufacturers across the world, and then heading to Parsons in the evening to conduct a lecture. In between, I may get a visit from my two young children (Izzy, 4 and Talia, 2), one of the benefits of keeping a studio close to home.
What are your most essential tools?
The Pilot Razor Point II pens are the world’s most amazing pens. I’m very particular about the pens that I use for drawings and their very precise line makes a big difference. I only draw in black pen because it forces me to make design decisions. I prefer to draw on typing paper; if I want to make revisions, I just put another piece of typing paper on top to create a trace over.
My other essential tool is my digital caliper. It helps me to measure things in a really accurate way. For example, I can check the parts that we receive from manufacturers, to make sure that the dimensions are correct. It was a gift from my father when I was in grad school and is one of my most prized possessions!
Where do you find inspiration within the studio?
I am very inspired by the artifacts that we keep sitting around, like the pieces of sea fan and rocks, and the prototypes that I have created. I learn so much about what the final product will look like from the models that I create….like a model made of clay molded around a tiny metal bowl, with natural crystals attached at interesting angles….this piece ultimately became a bowl based on the morphology of natural crystals, which will be produced in lead crystal.
What is your secret to time management?
I like to close my laptop so I can focus without the distraction of email. But sometimes there are a lot of immediate concerns that punctuate the rest of my work. That is the nature of design and being in New York, and that is OK too. The design process is really circular — an expectation that things will work in an orderly fashion is unrealistic. We turn back to original decisions over and over again.
Where does collaboration come into play in your work?
RabLabs is a small business and time is precious so I really enjoy collaboration. My distributor and I were sharing ideas earlier this week about the work flow when a shipment came in from Brazil. Clients have great suggestions about what they want to see. I collaborate with my photographer on photo shoots. All the relationships I have are intended to be in that fashion. There is a lot we can all learn from each other because everyone has different competencies and perspectives.
How do you recharge your creativity?
I love to watch Bollywood movies. I find them to be very over-the-top, visually spectacular and super absorbing. They’re also extremely romantic.
Design Inspiration: a collection of toothbrushes from around the world, Espera sea fan colander, rock samples
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer?
I’ve learned over the years that it is not always possible to produce everything that I dream about. I can draw something beautiful of something that you think should come to life, but it may be impossible to fabricate, or would take an unrealistic amount of time. Before I understood the intricacies of fabrication, I thought that all I had to do was be stubborn and tenacious in order to get things made.
How do you decide when it is time to celebrate a small victory?
What I get most excited about is when parts get back from the manufacturer. That is when I feel like I have accomplished something and I am creating. I get excited too when we are in magazines, that’s always fun.
Is there a quote that keeps you moving forward?
Being a designer means looking closely at the world around us for inspiration and realizing that the things around us are really magical. Using the inspiration that surrounds us, we have the ability to make magic with our designs.
What new skills are you learning at the moment?
I am learning a lot about crystal manufacturing for my newest designs. I’m learning a lot about the production parameters and how these pieces are made. Back to my biological inspiration for these pieces — if you understand how something forms in nature then you can understand how to fabricate something in a similar fashion, because it references the origin of the piece.
What advice would you have given yourself 5 years ago?
I would have gotten more help and hired people sooner. For many years it was just me and an excellent operations manager, Janelle, and a Brazilian manufacturing specialist, Renata, both of whom worked remotely, until I started hiring interns and a designer, Kevin. Support is very important, even back when I started the business in my 91-year-old grandma’s basement. In those years, she was in charge of all the UPS shipping and she and my mom even helped to assemble the products!
The advice I give my students is to take wild chances and not to play it safe with their ideas. School is a time for exploration and openness.