Office tour: Karim Rashid

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  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Whether or not you're familiar with industrial designer Karim Rashid (karimrashid.com), chances are you own one of his creations: The prolific creative powerhouse has designed more than 3,000 items, ranging from furniture and lighting to cosmetics packaging and household appliances. Since 1991, this open Chelsea studio has served as the birthplace for his unique conceptions (the 17,000-square-foot space was originally a carriage house and has been renovated twice since Rashid took it over). "Karim actually used to live in an apartment upstairs, so he had a really short commute," says Jessica Pearson, who handles public relations for the company. "Now it's a little bit longer because he moved two blocks away." Though Rashid has a smaller satellite office in Amsterdam, he spends most of his time overseeing a tight-knit staff of 17 employees in his New York headquarters. "It's like a little family," reflects Pearson. "He calls us his kids, and his designs are his other children."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    This fishbowllike conference room is the first thing you'll notice about the office from the street, thanks to its outward-facing floor-to-ceiling glass wall. "You get nice natural daylight, obviously," explains architectural designer Evan McCullough. "But it's also a great way to showcase all of the projects that we have going on. It's definitely not the traditional way of doing things." The highly transparent setup is also not without its drawbacks. "We get a lot of people who think this is a door," says Pearson. She also recalls a recent meeting with a high-profile client that drew a large crowd of school children gawking at the proceedings. "Karim was like, 'Shut the front gate!'" she laughs.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Sleek glass shelves support a sampling of Rashid's products, including fragrance bottles for Prada, YSL, Kenzo and Issey Miyake; Method household cleaners (Rashid was a creative director for the brand from 2002 to 2007); and Post-it and Scotch tape dispensers that are part of a brand-new collaboration with 3M.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Don't be deceived by the light weight of this Poly chair, which Rashid designed for Italian furniture company Bonaldo (bonaldo.it): Though it checks in at 13 pounds, it can support more than 300. "It's made out of one big block of plastic and has all of these facets, so it's as strong a chair as you can get," enthuses Pearson. "Most people think of Karim for these blobs and soft curves, but he does a lot of faceting too."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    This Sensual hair-styling chair was part of the Nutopia collection Rashid created for salon equipment firm Gamma & Bross (gammabross.com), but its name isn't nearly as suggestive as the furniture it now replaces. "For a while, a lot of our studio space was dedicated to sex furniture," recalls Pearson. The conference room in particular was dominated by a large vinyl couch that Rashid designed for the Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Ave at 27th St; 212-689-6337, museumofsex.com). Its wavy shape was intended to help accommodate all of the different positions in the Kama Sutra.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    In lieu of a waiting area, this bench Rashid designed for Egypt Exporters provides visitors with a place to rest before their appointments. The wavelike design at its center is Alexandria, one of Rashid's many icons that he incorporates into his work. A Links mirror Rashid created for home furnishings company BDI (bdiusa.com) is equal parts form and function.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    One of the most striking features of the office is the trippy patterned Parador (parador.de) laminate flooring. "We were hesitant putting it down because we thought everyone would get vertigo, but it's actually quite easy to live with," admits Pearson. Though the ground surface has been through many iterations---initially, it was a solid sheet of concrete that was painted over after it cracked, and then replaced entirely with silver Lonseal (lonseal.com) vinyl flooring once the paint began to chip---the walls have more or less remained blank canvases. "I like to treat the space more neutral and make the products strong, colorful and textural, rather than the other way around," explains Rashid.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    This Chakra chair behind the reception desk is a collaboration with ergonomic-seating company Raynor Contract (raynorgroup.com) and is designed to hit the body's main pressure points. "It's big," concedes Karim, who has a gray one in his personal office. "But it's big because Americans are big."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    A Bokka pendant light that Rashid designed for Italian lighting firm Kundalini (kundalini.it) illuminates the reception area. The glass fixture is mouth-blown and then dipped into a water bath, where it's laser-cut. "It has a really beautiful glow," says Pearson.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Part of Rashid's Hellraiser tabletop collection for Alessi (alessi.com), this fruit basket has been repurposed as a flower pot for the office's orchid plant.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Rather than rely on the constricting cubicles that are typically found in the workplace, Rashid places employees side by side at communal desks. "It's all about having open communication," says McCullough of the unobstructed layout. Seconds Pearson: "The work would not happen as easily [if there were cubicles]." The basic white Office Planner (o-planner.com) table, surrounded by fuchsia Umbra Oh chairs, is used to hold staff meetings, celebrate birthdays and kick back with a few beers.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    This piece of wall art was one of two hand-painted by the studio in 2002 for an exhibition at the Sandra Gering Gallery, but now hangs on the west side of the office. "We took it back and reclaimed it for our own," says Pearson.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Every desk in the office is equipped with an Umbra (umbra.com) Garbino trash can---Rashid's most famous design. Employees also receive Garbini cans, or miniature desktop models, in which to store pens and pencils.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    A recent project for Italian furniture firm Casamania (casamania.it), this icon-patterned Kouch two-seater sofa debuted at the Salone del Mobile in Milan last year, but now serves as a place for employees to hang out and relax.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    "[Karim] likes to have things organized but still show them off," says Pearson of this window display. "He just has more stuff than he knows what to do with." Among the items that made the cut: a teardrop-shaped award he created for GQ's Men of the Year, a totem of icons from Italian ceramics manufacturer Bitossi (bitossiceramiche.it) and an orange ceramic 5 Senses vase that was a limited-edition piece.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    We did a double take when we discovered that this psychedelic piece of wall art is actually a radiator cover, part of a line that Rashid designed for Caleido (caleido.bs.it). "Karim is really into marginalized design and working on the technical things, like radiators, that don't really get that same touch that everything else does," explains Pearson. In fact, Rashid is so passionate about imbuing high design into mundane objects that in 2009, he curated an exhibit dedicated to innovative radiators called "Totally Rad" at the Museum of Arts & Design (2 Columbus Circle at Broadway; 212-299-7777, madmuseum.org).

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    A fiberglass Della Rovere (dellarovere.it) Uno desk of his own design takes center stage in Rashid's personal office, but it's a transparent lounge chair in the far corner that is perhaps Rashid's greatest design feat. "A lot of people think it's plastic, but it's made out of one piece of glass," notes Rashid. "I wanted to do this for 13 years, and everybody said no way; it's very complex to make." Eventually, Italian furniture company Domodinamica (domodinamica.com) took him up on his passion project, creating a special tool in order to produce the curved Kleer chair. "They've probably sold one to date," ventures Rashid.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    These United Nude (25 Bond St between Bowery and Lafayette St; 212-420-6000, unitednude.com) Mbius wedges are some of the few items in the office that Rashid didn't design (they are the creation of Dutch architect Rem D. Koolhaas, who founded the footwear brand). "That was the first shoe he put out eight years ago, and they still sell it," marvels Rashid. "I love when something in the fashion industry can become constant like that, because fashion is not about that at all---it's completely about disposability. And it shouldn't be, because people put so much work into some of this stuff."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    On the opposite side of the display shelf rests this plastic pair of wedges Rashid did for Brazilian shoe company Melissa (melissa.com.br/en). "The sad part is they only released this for two seasons, and everybody wants them," he laments. "They sold them all."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Contrary to what you'd believe, Rashid did not commission this Pop Arty painting of himself---it was an unsolicited gift from Israeli fan Natan Elkanovich (natanelkanovich.com). "There are a ton more in the basement just sitting there," Rashid says of his highly personalized fan mail.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Rashid calls this mod minidress, which bears the same optical-illusion pattern seen on the conference-room table, "the pregnancy dress, because when you put it on, it makes you have a little belly," he says. Both items were used for a photo shoot of Rashid, who wore only black and white at the time (instead of his now-signature pink and white), for a Wolf Gordon (wolf-gordon.com) advertisement promoting Rashid's laminate design for the company in 2000.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Every year, the staff makes a personalized birthday card for Rashid; to complement the iPad the office gifted him last year, they created this tablet-themed one featuring icons that represent each employee.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Rashid received this customized bobblehead doll as a birthday gift from former senior designer Steve Cozzolino in 2004. "We were at a restaurant when he gave it to me, and I'll never forget it, because it was so embarrassing," recalls Rashid. "I opened up the package and I was wearing the exact same outfit as the doll, right down to the silver glasses. It took me about two months to finally put it on the shelf because it kind of freaked me out."

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    This colorful structure is a set of children's building blocks Rashid created for now-defunct toy company Bozart, which produced artist-designed playthings. He also collaborated with the group on a chess set featuring molded plastic pieces.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

     If you look closely at these glasses, you'll notice that each of them serves a dual purpose. "I took a famous drink from 24 countries in the world---raki from Turkey, champagne from France---and then combined the traditional glasses they are served in," explains Rashid. It was made for Turkish decor manufacturer Gaia & Gino (gaiagino.com) and dubbed the Happy People collection for its harmonious inspiration.

  • Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

    Though Rashid has garnered a jaw-dropping 300 awards, he only dedicates a single shelf behind his desk for displaying a select few. "I never liked the idea of putting them out," he shrugs. "I'd rather display the work than the trophies. My true awards are walking into someone's home and seeing the Garbino [trash can]---especially with people who say they don't really know design. That for me is the greatest accolade."

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    Handisleeve, $5, at Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway at 12th St (212-473-1452)

  • Photograph: Bob Hiemstra

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    Petite Pinched Vase, $14, at Anthropologie, 50 Rockefeller Plaza at 50th St (212-246-0386, anthropologie.com)

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Whether or not you're familiar with industrial designer Karim Rashid (karimrashid.com), chances are you own one of his creations: The prolific creative powerhouse has designed more than 3,000 items, ranging from furniture and lighting to cosmetics packaging and household appliances. Since 1991, this open Chelsea studio has served as the birthplace for his unique conceptions (the 17,000-square-foot space was originally a carriage house and has been renovated twice since Rashid took it over). "Karim actually used to live in an apartment upstairs, so he had a really short commute," says Jessica Pearson, who handles public relations for the company. "Now it's a little bit longer because he moved two blocks away." Though Rashid has a smaller satellite office in Amsterdam, he spends most of his time overseeing a tight-knit staff of 17 employees in his New York headquarters. "It's like a little family," reflects Pearson. "He calls us his kids, and his designs are his other children."

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