A SitOnIt Seating Q&A with Designers, Ken Gruskin and Michelle Pinkerton
May 05, 2014
Ken Gruskin (AIA, PP, CID) is the Principal and Michelle Pinkerton is the Manager of Interior Design at Gruskin Group™ (Gruskin Architecture + Design, P.C.) located in Springfield, New Jersey.
Is there a certain philosophy/approach you take to design?
Michelle Pinkerton: I approach design by, first, creating wonderful relationships. Learning about our client’s vision and goals for each project helps us to begin the story. Supporting our clients with our vision and experience provides the groundwork for a successful experience. Collaboration is key; establishing trust is key. You build a relationship based on learning about each other.
Ken Gruskin: One of the ways we approach projects is by imagining the customer experience. It can mean so many things. It depends on how we experience things. We want to align the client’s or user’s experience with their philosophy and goals. It’s less about a “solution” itself, and more about what experience is desired, and then working to create it.
How did you get into design? Did you always want to be a designer?
Michelle Pinkerton: When I was five years old I was fishing with my Dad and saw a beautiful piece of silver driftwood floating in the water. I told him how beautiful I thought it was. My Dad said that one of the things he loved most about me was that I could always see beauty where others might not. I still believe that it is always possible to create beauty and comfort with any kind of budget. You just have to see beyond basic limitations.
Ken Gruskin: In the crib, I would finger paint – on the walls, everywhere; with whatever I could find. Later on, when I was 6, my mother recognized that I was creative and interested in drawing houses. So she would give me her Good Housekeeping magazines, and I would cut out what I liked and put the images in a scrapbook. Then, in 7th grade, I figured out that architects had opportunities to design lots of things – not just build buildings and houses, but furniture and all sorts of products and graphic designs.
How do you balance the ideal and the practical in your design? Does SOI or IDEON help with this?
Ken Gruskin: I have experience in educational and collaborative environments. Education is a place where we want to create learning environments that promote collaboration. SitOnIt and IDEON facilitate this kind of experience. The seating is natural and comfortable, communicating to the students that, “You’re welcome here. Stay for a while. Collaborate, study or just be with your friends and classmates.”
Michelle Pinkerton: In design, it’s essential to marry the practical, the durable, and the comfortable. And SitOnIt Seating is all of those things. Add responsive and responsible and short lead time into the mix, and the combination is always on track. The replaceable parts are ideal too. Very practical – you can just replace the arm.
Ken Gruskin: We were able to select their products with confidence, knowing that they had been tested and met CAL 133; we did not have to worry that furniture we presented to the client would not work and would have to be changed out.
Can you comment on how you’ve used SOI or IDEON?
Michelle Pinkerton: We’ve used SitOnIt and IDEON in student study areas. We were able to use the same fabric in different areas and also mix and match the furniture types to create different end user experiences. Everyone sits differently!
Ken Gruskin: We used the same fabrics to support the narrative of the building. The message was “collaboration.” And the fabrics incorporated a visual metaphor that subtly reinforced the theme of collaboration.
What are the biggest challenges in your work?
Ken Gruskin: Challenges create opportunities. They force you out of your comfort zone. Clients often like to do what’s been done before to play it safe. That’s human nature. It’s often hard to get clients to try something they haven’t previously seen or experienced.
Michelle Pinkerton: Protecting your client. Once the project needs are met, you protect the outcome by making sure you’re responsible even after the project is complete.
Ken Gruskin: Sometimes it’s a challenge to get clients to see the possibilities. SitOnIt’s practical qualities allow clients to make a better choice, to move beyond their preconceptions. They can’t use “practical” as an excuse to not consider the unorthodox.
Was there a defining moment in your career and how did that affect you as a designer?
Michelle Pinkerton: Every day is a defining moment. Every day brings new challenges, and I continue to learn from them.
Ken Gruskin: In college, during my second year of architecture school, a professor took us to a building courtyard where there was a sidewalk that went along the perimeter of the courtyard. Across the courtyard, in big diagonal swaths, was dead grass. It was clear that this was the result of students taking the path of least resistance and not staying on the sidewalk!
The lesson: You have to design with the end user in mind. If you don’t, they will change it.
What inspires you in your design?
Michelle Pinkerton: The idea that people will be in the spaces you are designing long after you are gone. It teaches you about why you do what you do and the importance of different environments.
Ken Gruskin: To try to balance beauty and practicality. One place that inspires me is nature’s systems and designs - biomimicry. Nature has made ways to make beauty and function balance.
What trend are you most excited about?
Michelle Pinkerton: Adaptive re-use. We can use what we have. We don’t have to change everything. The goal is to minimize end user costs without sacrificing the success of the project.
Ken Gruskin: Collaboration. Society is accepting that the team, not the Howard Roark or lone ranger, is today’s hero; and now we need to create environments that reflect this shift in thinking and attitude.
What trend are you least excited about?
Michelle Pinkerton: I recently read a story about a company that shuffles people’s workplaces around each day. Employees bring personal items and leave them in lockers at the end of each day. I am not sure I agree with this approach. Everyone needs a sense of place; they need their own personal real estate. Let’s face it, we all work a lot. Shouldn’t we be comfortable in our own sense of place?
Ken Gruskin: I think the design part of being “green just to be green” movement. As though being green is an end in itself. I do believe in creating a sustainable project, but being green should support the larger idea. Just like a building or space must meet ADA, be safe, and conform to all codes and life safety. These are all critical, but in and of themselves, do not typically create great design or architecture, even though they may inform and support the “big idea” or concept.