How has the award-winning industrial designer Karim Rashid been handling quarantine? “Hanging in there,” he told Editor in Chief Cindy Allen during an Instagram Live chat on Tuesday night. Broadcasting from his Manhattan apartment and backdropped by his signature pink, the Interior Design Hall of Famer kicked off the conversation with a recap of his daily routine.
“Every morning after breakfast, I do a 70-minute hardcore workout,” he shared. “I’ve been doing it since COVID started, and I haven’t missed a day.” Later in the day, every day, Rashid walks around New York for an hour, always in a new direction and at a fast pace. Much of the city is still largely shut down, a phenomenon that Rashid said reminds him of Providence, Rhode Island, where he lived in 1991 while teaching at RISD. At that time, he recalled, “Every store was boarded up and abandoned—it frightened me.”
Eerie as it is, Rashid predicted, New York will recover—probably. “The city will always have the verve, the tenacity, and the magnitude of globalism and internationalism, so it will find its way, I think. The downside of it is that New York has never been a creative enough city,” he said, adding that he’d like to see New York make clever use of its abandoned spaces, an idea he once observed in Switzerland, where empty shops were turned into art installations. “On Sunday, when everything was closed, the whole town became an exhibition of perpetual creativity,” he recalled.
When he’s not on the move, Rashid turns to another daily commitment: drawing. Sketching he said, is one of the secrets to his productivity. “The fastest way to get an idea out is by hand,” he says. “That’s the most immediate way to go from thought to manifestation. I’m most creative when I’ve just gotten off the phone or out of a meeting with a potential client. If I don’t sketch my ideas, I forget many of them.” Added the prolific draftsman, “Sitting beside my computer are 45 pages I did just today.”
Back when he was a student, Rashid’s penchant for art mystified some of his mentors. “When I was at university, I had a teacher who was famous for designing many automobiles in the late 1960s and 1970s,” Rashid said. “He really disliked me—he called me ‘Chagall’ because he thought I was too painterly.”
Later, Rashid recalled, while training with the design great Ettore Sottsass in Naples, “Sottsass said to me, ‘You know, Karim, you’re not a designer. You will never be a designer. You’re an artist.’ I heard this four times by people I respected in my youth. I was determined to show everybody that I’m a designer, not an artist.”
The profession is one that Rashid doesn’t take lightly. “I’ve had 42 years in design, and I’ve realized that I don’t put anything on the market unless I feel like I’ve done something somewhat original. I have no interest in doing design for design’s sake or as a reiteration of history,” he said. “It’s like Maslow’s triangle. I’ve always wanted to be at the self-actualized part, and it just takes years to get there. I always tell young designers the beauty of design is that it’s not about being famous tomorrow. Just keep plugging away and make the next project better than the last.”