Andrew Stone | March 06, 2012
L.A.-based dynamic duo Stanley Felderman and Nancy Keatinge always have their hands full—cutting-edge residential projects, tech-forward work spaces, product design for renowned brands and manufacturers, award-winning restaurants, and lectures at top design schools. Their trendsetting thinking has earned them recognition by MoMA, the Whitney, and the Newport Harbor Art Museum. Here, they share their early influences, approach to creative problem solving, and ways of creating a legacy.
ID: How did your upbringing influence your aesthetic?
NK: I grew up in a very modernist town, Pasadena. My father was very much a modernist, and we lived in a house built by Arthur Elrod. People were like, “What is it?”
SF: I was captivated by cars from the 50's. 1957 was a big year, and cars started looking really aerodynamic. They were pink, turquoise, ivory… Think about it: who’s going to drive around in a pink car today? Buckminster Fuller was a big influence, creating the maximum out of the minimum. Then there was “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” [curated by Emilio Ambasz in 1972 at MoMA in New York], which introduced Italian modern design to America.
ID: Who are your ideal clients, and how do you approach that initial “comfort zone” challenge that’s inherent in new relationships?
SF: Open-minded! We like to take potential clients on a tour of some of our work and have them talk to past clients. That creates a safety net. We create vision boards for them to show a different way. As a result, more than half of our clients are repeat clients. An ideal client understands that a space is an extension of who they are—be it a restaurant or a residence.
NK: On a recent courthouse project, this conservative client was very open to discovery and enjoyed the journey with us. They were very hands on and very engaged, which took us in an interesting direction.
ID: What are some interesting projects keeping you busy these days?
SF: We’re very interested in product design, and are currently creating seating designs for Haworth.
NK: We’re also working on bringing back a jet plane and re-branding it for a corporation. We’re doing a restaurant for a celebrity chef, a space for a forward-thinking Internet company...
SF: …not to mention a forward-thinking accounting firm. This company’s now redoing all their branches to be in sync with the space we created for them in L.A.
ID: It must be gratifying to know your work can affect so many people.
SF: Absolutely. As in the case of this Internet company. It’s a firm that works with kids who may not get the best education, to elevate their grades and SAT scores. They’re national but don’t yet have a sense of how big they are. We’re creating a space that makes everyone excited, and we’re getting vendors to work with us to really maximize what they’re getting for their budget.
ID: How do you go about infusing creativity in the projects that come your way?
SF: Since I was a kid, this has always been something I’ve wanted to do. I’ve always loved art and wanted to be an artist. There are very few disciplines where you can truly bring art and function together. Whatever our goals, the foundation has to be in creativity.
NK: That’s one of the things we have in common. We’re always reinventing, and looking at things with a fresh eye. We always try to bring that to our clients, and share our experience with them. For me, it’s about really listening to our clients, taking that vision, and innovating in a direction that’s appropriate for them.
ID: What are some of the biggest considerations at the start of a corporate project?
SF: Our designs have to address the requirements of technology, communication, and interaction. We want people to be able to work anywhere, without having the technology be the focal point. We create spaces that look visually non-tech driven but things are available when needed—push a button and a monitor pops out.
ID: You’re known for some really great restaurant design. With what mindset do you approach such a space?
SF: Our strength is in our planning. Customers come into the restaurants and love them, but we’ve been told by restaurateurs that we design the best functioning restaurants. My father owned a restaurant in the Bronx, so it’s in my blood, and even if it’s a high-end spot I want it to be a “must-go” restaurant, not “let’s just go once.” We like to do the art, menus, architecture, and help brainstorm the name and branding, as well.
NK: Time and time again, a key element of all of it is the flow of the space. We strive to create options, lots of opportunities for private parties and such.
ID: Southern California must be a particularly interesting place to work in the field, yes?
SF: Well, number one, you have less density and the weather has a lot to do with it. There’s certainly a positive outlook when there’s beautiful weather almost every day, and there are more opportunities to bring the outside in. I’m an ex-New Yorker, so I bring an East Coast sensibility to the West Coast… “Build things that last a long time and use space efficiently.”
NK: In California, we have entertainment companies that are willing to innovate. When we did MTV networks, we were able to bring in interesting materials. The same thing is true with Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach. We’re always pushed to look at things differently.
ID: How do you ensure that your designs will stand the test of time?
NK: It’s always about strong design and color. Often, we find we’re at the beginning of a trend.
SF: It’s just something that you either have, or you don’t. Most of our projects are certainly relevant today. I don’t look to what the current trends are, but I’m very observant, always photographing and doing art. We create spaces that push the envelope, but don’t go for frivolous solutions.
ID: Do you feel a particular responsibility as trendsetters in the industry?
NK: I feel that designers are innovators with unique talents, and are sometimes treated as a commodity. It’s important for us to impress upon our clients our value, because there is one.