Images courtesy of Earnest Studio
Text by Alec Coiro
Rachel Griffin is the designer behind Earnest Studio. She’s an American abroad in Rotterdam where she creates products that are pleasingly geometric, often modular and tend to mix material in unexpected ways. The “Earnest” in the name communicates the sincerity of Griffin’s approach to her work. “What I liked about the name is that it to some degree describes my approach. That I try to take a forthright approach to material and to construction, and I take it kind of seriously.”
The geometry and neatness of Griffin’s designs lend them to modularity. “I originally became interested in modularity because I thought it was a great way to deal with repair. When I was in school, I did some work with bioplastics and tape; I was trying to find ways to breakdown an object into small pieces that could be individually replaced, be it a molecular level with bioplastics or replacing one furniture component with another furniture component. I found modularity to be a really interesting way to not discard a whole object if you want to change it or if it’s broken. And now I like it because it’s dynamic; it allows you to be able to change something. It’s not something that’s designed and then has to stay the same for the ages.”
So I decided the most effective thing would be to mill them and to leave this beautiful rough shape: let the shape and colors determine what I made out of them
“It’s not something that’s designed and then has to stay the same for the ages”
In addition to her interest in modular products,Griffin also puts a great deal of thought into her materials. Her “Fragment” bowls, for example, are unique marble pieces individually created from shards of leftover marble. “I’d already been doing a lot of work with stone. In working with these companies I was seeing a lot of the waste; every time I’d go into the company, I’d walk by these huge dumpsters full of these pieces of stone that were super nice, and I started to collect them because the textures and the colors were really beautiful, and at a certain moment my studio was too full, and I needed to decide what I wanted to do with them. So I decided the most effective thing would be to mill them and to leave this beautiful rough shape: let the shape and colors determine what I made out of them.” The consistent aspect of the Fragment designs is the juxtaposition of the pure geometry of the circle with the rough edge of the raw marble.
Originally New York-based graphic artist, Griffin, moved to The Netherlands to study product design and stayed on in Rotterdam. According to Griffin, the city is 50% international. I asked if that makes it a classic port town. She agreed that it does, “except instead of sailors, they are architects.” Rotterdam’s focus on architecture goes back to the majority of the buildings being bombed to smithereens during the second world war. As a consequence, there’s much more of a tabula rasa on which to experiment. “They put up crazy buildings here.” This creates a fitting atmosphere for a designer such as Griffin with an interest in innovation. “It’s always nice to see something new; it’s really had to make something new. There’s a lot of stuff that looks contemporary, but not that much of it is really new. A lot of it, including some of my own work, is riffing on existing stuff.” Griffin shies away from claiming that Earnest Studio is radically different from anything seen before, but she does claim that a certain amount of newness is necessary for successful design. “I don’t think everything you’re working on needs to be new, but if you innovate in just a small way I think that’s good. There should be something new. Even craftspeople who do the same work over and over again innovate as they continue to do their work: one small change in each iteration and it evolves, and without those small changes you’re just a production facility.”