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Black + Blum

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

By Sarah Handelman
Photography by Fiona Garden 

Daniel Black and Martin Blum may be responsible for that iconic, shelf-size fellow named James the Bookend, but they were never just designers. Their London-based product-design company Black+Blum also acts as its own client, which means the team not only reacts to briefs; they set them. But in the highly saturated field of homeware design, the pressure to innovate is high, and inspiration doesn’t simply happen. 

“I don’t actually think there’s ever a direct inspiration for a product,” says Swiss-born Martin Blum. “Inspiration is about living in an observant kind of way. In London you’re getting an overdose of impressions. Design happens without knowing what is inspiring you, but you have an awareness that you’re always being stimulated.”

With a Thames-facing office inside the historic OXO Tower—a converted industrial building on the Southbank where London’s creatives call home—Black and Blum seem to have a sixth sense for inspo-troves in the world’s “swinging city.” “When we first moved to the OXO Tower, we were just three people,” Blum says. “It’s amazing having all of these other creatives around you, whether they’re jewelry makers, fashion designers, graphic designers, silver- smiths, or artists. We were working on a piece using ceramics, and [working here] you can go and ask a ceramicist for advice. It’s a very nice launch pad. You can draw on all of the inspiration and expertise of these people while being a small company.” 

For these guys, no product is off limits: lunchboxes, water bottles, and even polar-bear-shaped ice-cube trays are fair game. “We have a better chance of creating fresh design because we have the freedom to design any kind of product we want, in any kind of area,” Blum says. “The Bento Box was clearly an inspiration from Japan. We wanted to find a way to celebrate lunch a little more like the Japanese do while applying our own kind of language to it.”

And whether it’s a lightbulb with legs climbing a wall or a wall hook “husband and wife” waiting to hang your towels, Black + Blum’s products bring a much needed sense of whimsy to the industry. “We often give our designs an element of humor and personality,” Black says. “This might be in the shape, or even just the name of the product.” 

But he’s quick to point out that this lack of seriousness doesn’t mean they sacrifice serious quality. “We never allow the fun element to override the actual functionality of the product. When function is secondary to humor, then a product becomes a ‘gadget,’ and we never want our designs to be considered like this.” 

The past couple of years have seen the duo make an international mark on the world of design, thanks to breakout products like the Eau Good water bottle and the High and Dry dishrack. But what’s ahead for the designers in 2014 is somewhat of a mystery. When asked, Black remains pretty tight lipped. “We are continuing to expand our lunchbox range, and we are also working with more recycled and natural materials, which is really exciting. Sorry that we can’t give away more. All I can say is... watch this space.” 

However, we can be assured that whatever their creative minds churn out next, it’s sure to have an element of their home base infused in the design. “London allows certain things to be a bit wackier. You can be offbeat. People will have time for that and appreciate it.” 

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