PART FIVE: The Charrette New York Chronicles Synopsis

Part Five was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the Examiner.com on January 22, 2012

The frontage of the Flagship NYC Charrette Store on 33rd Street and Lex
The frontage of the Flagship NYC Charrette Store on 33rd Street and Lex

THE CHARETTE NEW YORK CHRONICLES

The articles previously published here about The Charrette Corporation in NY detailed its history starting with its humble beginnings by architectural graduate student, Lionel Spiro and later, with Blair Brown an under classman. It literally began in a supplies closet at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (HGSD). The inspiration behind its beginnings was one of necessity. At that time, there was no single store in the Boston area where a design student or design professional could acquire all the supplies needed for a project.

CHARRETTE HISTORY

Since it was the nature of design work projects to be done in ‘charrette’ (working until a last minute deadline), time was always of the essence. So the idea occurred to entrepreneurial Lionel, to gather the needed materials in bulk and sell them to the other students. To say that the idea caught on is an understatement.

Neither Lionel nor Blair had ever intended to become anything but architects. Lionel graduated ahead of Blair and got a taste of the life he thought was his calling. But time proved otherwise. So when his friend Blair graduated from HGSD, Lionel asked Blair if he wanted to go into business with him. Again, the idea was a natural since no single store still existed to serve the needs of designers.

Lionel found that he could be of greater service to his beloved field of architecture serving the designers themselves than potential architectural clients. It seemed like a good idea to Blair, as well. Thus Charrette came ‘out of a supply closet’ to become a full-fledged business.

OUT OF A CLOSET AND INTO A STORE

It started small but before long the founders realized how wide spread the need was that they had identified as students. What to call the company was a ‘no-brainer. ‘Charrette’ said it all to any design student or professional who needed a design supply or tool, right away. Their first retail destination was Boston.

After a short time, Lionel decided to take on the NY Design world. This covered graphics, architecture, interiors, fashion, theatre, etc. Any discipline that needed a straight edge, a drafting board, tape, markers, Letraset or any of the top quality supplies that could be found in the Charrette treasure chest.

CHARRETTE COMES TO NEW YORK

Charrette’s New York beginnings were humble architecturally, two consecutive stores in midtown on the East side. Neither was a show place but the clientele were the glitterati of New York. There was a constant stream of Broadway and film stars to add to the crème de la crème of the graphic design, architectural, interiors, fashion and other types of design firms in and out of their doors.

NEW YORK LOVES CHARRETTE

Such a clientele needed the right setting, backdrop, environment to reflect not only who they were but what Charrette represented and what there was to see and purchase. The store needed to be set up more like a Tiffany’s displaying Charrette’s tools like fine jewelry behind glass. Each customer would be greeted, often by name, by a sales person escorting him around and waiting on him or her from start to finish.

THE CHARRETTE NEW YORK CROWNING JEWEL

HGSD classmate and native New Yorker, David Paul Helpern, was chosen for the challenge of creating the NY Charrette Crowning Jewel, the ultimate NY Charrette store. Everything was custom made, the woodwork, the special cabinetry, the floors, the ceilings and the lighting. All were made from the finest materials and to exacting specifications. The store could be used for nothing else. Everything was retrofitted for the superior line of design tools that Charrette fashioned and sold. The entire store was designed like a ‘last’ for custom pairs of designer shoes.

THE CHARRETTE OPENING WAS GRAND

The Invitation to The Charrette 'Crowning Jewel' Store designed by Johanna Bohoy
The Invitation to The Charrette ‘Crowning Jewel’ Store designed by Johanna Bohoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The store had a catered affair for the Grand opening. Charrette’s NY Crowning Jewel was featured in several magazines. It is possible that the entire Charrette culture became a template for other chic boutique style stores that followed by selling things that would not normally be displayed this way or offer the kind of service that was offered for what others might have designed and considered mundane. But there was never anything mundane about Charrette.

THE FOUNDERS AND THE ARCHITECT

It is with extraordinary gratitude that this author has had the opportunity to interview primary sources for this entire series. My utmost thanks go out to both founders, Lionel Spiro and Blair Brown for their time, patience and even samples of Charrette supplies, materials and catalogs.

Also, a special thank you goes to fellow New Yorker and architect, David Paul Helpern for sharing his memories as the architect of the Charrette NY Crowning Jewel built at the corner of the East 30’s and Lexington Avenue in New York.

THE CHARRETTE STAFF

There are also countless staff members who worked in the retail stores, at the headquarters in Massachusetts and in the field on the commercial side in numerous states. Art directors, who created the immaculate design materials and displays that always arrived at each store with very specific instructions on how they were to be assembled, shared their stories. Interviews have also been held with former customers whose memories and memorabilia, were lent, sent and photographed for this series.

THE FIRST CHARRETTE STORY LINK

Although I have not mentioned any of the staff by name for fear of leaving someone out accidently, each knows who he or she is, as my thanks continue to go out to each member for the joyful experience of sharing stories. But I must mention one person who, before this series could begin, was found on a Google search for Charrette. He is Stephen Dill, a former employee. I found him on LinkedIn. Charrette was on his resume as a job link. Thanks to him, every person in this story, including the founders, was able to be located. Thank you, Stephen.

THE LINKEDIN CHARRETTE ALUMNI GROUP

A LinkedIn group was set up by and for Charrette Alumni. It is open only to this group of former employees. My thanks also go out to Jack Skidmore and Mark Levitan, its founders, for allowing me to become an honorary member and for their fond memories as well.

AFTERWORD

It has been an honor and an experience of a lifetime to spend a period of many months compiling all the materials and interviews that have gone into these articles. May they in some small way pay tribute to an outstanding NY (graphic and other types of design) institution and be part of the legacy that Charrette contributes to the NY design scene.

LINKS TO THE CHARRETTE CORPORATION CHRONICLES: PART ONE THROUGH FIVE

PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART FOUR: The Charrette New York Creative Culture

Part Four was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the Examiner.com on February 21, 2011.

The first time the Charrette Catalog cover was printed in 4-color fluorescent inks instead of the usual 4-color process © Jim McClear 2011
The first time the Charrette Catalog cover was printed in 4-color fluorescent inks instead of the usual 4-color process
© Jim McClear 2011

THE CHARETTE NY CREATIVE CULTURE

The historical digs for the Charrette NY stores unearthed an abundance of artifacts and details. The process leading to the creation of their flagship store at 33rd & Lex, and the story since make it apparent that this chronicle needs and deserves to include every gem encountered along the way.

From interviewing several primary sources, a single article has evolved into a series with no sign of wanting to end. Unlike Charrette NY, which did conclude after 20 years as the premier place to purchase design supplies, its story is very much alive. There is even a Charrette Alumni Group on LinkedIn, with many members yet to be interviewed.

Stephen Dill was the first Charrette Alumnus discovered and interviewed. He arose from a ‘Charrette’ search on LinkedIn. He led the way to co-founder Lionel Spiro.

Mark Levitan started with Charrette straight out of school and rose through the ranks of almost every department over his 29-year tenure. NY architect, Rand Rosenbaum, AIA, worked in the NY stores in high school and then while at Pratt. He continued to order Charrette supplies from Cornell. Art Director, Johanna Bohoy, created award-winning graphics some of which are in the Cooper Hewitt Museum in NY and the Smithsonian in DC.

With each of these and interviews to come, Charrette NY jewels emerge. They provide a unique perspective adding color, charm, and even panache to the stores, staff and customers. A creative culture was born within the NY design scene that became a template for chic, boutique style stores that catered to a select group and are a NY signature.

The list of clientele was a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of NY architects, graphics and all kinds of designers. It included a cast of celebrities and glitterati that make the Charrette NY story sound more like a Broadway event than a retail business. (To this day, that list remains buried like other artifacts were. It may never be unearthed.)

There is no doubt that place, time and cast were intimately woven together to create a shimmering fabric. It was a cloth that stretched from Boston to NY and down the East Coast to DC, and out to the Midwest.

The Charrette NY family history and genealogy still ache to be documented until every detail of its glorious life has seen the light of day. This creative culture was home to thousands of people who all played a part in its magical, rich and on-going tale.

LINKS TO THE CHARRETTE CORPORATION CHRONICLES: PART ONE THROUGH FIVE

PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART THREE: Charrette Meets ‘Big Apple’ Graphic Standards

Part Three was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the Examiner.com on February 4, 2011.

Charrette meets the 'Big Apple'
Charrette meets the ‘Big Apple’

THE BIG APPLE

It was not long after its official birth in 1964 that the owners of the Charrette Corporation, a well-established New England design supply institution, realized the opportunity to spread its wings and expand. The need for their multi-dimensional approach to the sale of design supplies was not limited to architects or its Massachusetts borders. Between 1968 and 2002, Charrette opened a total of 26 locations in 16 states, as far west as Chicago and Detroit and as far south as Washington, DC. The need that co-founders, Lionel Spiro and Blair Brown, had identified as students and started in a Harvard Graduate School of Design closet, was not exclusive to architectural students but was viable for designers and students everywhere.

According to Lionel, who came to be in charge of the NY stores, “In 1967, the first NY store opened. It was located on the second and third floors of 139 East 47th Street. After a short time, the need for a better and larger location was apparent and the store moved to a brownstone building at 212 East 54th Street.

“Its showroom/store area was on the main floor and some storage was in the basement. By then, Charrette ran a truck from Boston to New York every night which enabled customer orders and store restocking to be done from its 125,000 square foot warehouse containing 36,000 different items. This enabled Charrette to accept telephone orders from customers in NYC up to 5:30 and deliver the orders with a 96% fill rate, the next morning.”

When the parcel of land containing the Charrette store on East 54th Street was demolished to make room for the ultra-modern ‘Lipstick Building’, the store had to move once again choosing a larger space at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street.

The establishment of Charrette’s permanent New York home necessitated the skills of an architect to design their very own showplace from a barebones office space in the design district. For this task, Lionel turned to one of his Harvard Graduate School of Design classmates, New York based architect, David Paul Helpern. Mr. Helpern is still practicing and it was possible to interview him to learn more about the design and building of the showplace that was Charrette’s home for 20 years. Upcoming articles in this series will include excerpts from that interview and more about Charrette’s NY graphic standards.

LINKS TO THE CHARRETTE CORPORATION CHRONICLES: PART ONE THROUGH FIVE

PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART TWO: The Baby Was Born In A Harvard Closet

Part Two was written by me, Alison D. Gilbert, The New York Graphic Design Examiner. It was published by the Examiner.com on January 14, 2011.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo
The Harvard Graduate School of Design Logo
BORN IN A HARVARD CLOSET

Charrette did not enter the New York scene until a few years after its birth. It was actually born (although not yet named) in a closet at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The idea was to house in one location all the supplies design students would need. This eliminated the need to take the time to travel to a dozen different locations to gather all the materials required for their projects.

As strange as the name Charrette sounds, anyone who has attended design school or has worked in a design office knows what a ‘charrette’ is. When students and professionals (particularly) in architecture stay up all night to meet a deadline, they say that they are “en charrette” or they are “charretting”.

The term came from the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, which in the 19th century was the leading school of architecture in the world. When deadlines arrived, a CHARRETTE, the French word for wagon, would be pushed through the building and students had to place their drawings on the “charrette” or they would not be accepted.

Many students would actually sit or straddle the wagon as they signed their work or put down the last few lines. Students came to study in Paris from all over the world. When they graduated and returned home, they used the term “en Charrette” to define the last effort to finish a design project. This description applies primarily to the architecture and planning fields.

According to Lionel Spiro, since he and Blair Brown, the founders of Charrette, only planned to supply architects, they chose the name that they felt had special significance to their targeted market. However within a short time, Charrette was discovered by a succession of design professionals who used many of the same products.

Eventually manufacturing companies such as Raytheon, Ford, GM, and Chrysler eventually turned to Charrette for the majority of their design and engineering drawing needs. In addition, Charrette was discovered by hundreds of relatively small design offices within much larger government agencies in Washington.

Also included were structural, mechanical and civil engineers and later other engineers including electrical and electronic engineers. Commercial (graphic) designers, product designers and other creative people working at ad agencies, media firms and even television shows like Saturday Night Live became regular users of Charrette products as regular New York customers.

LINKS TO THE CHARRETTE CORPORATION CHRONICLES: PART ONE THROUGH FIVE

PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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PART ONE: Invitation To A Graphic Memoir, The Charrette Corporation Chronicles

These chronicles of The Charrette Corporation first appeared on the Examiner.com, written by me, Alison D. Gilbert as the New York Graphic Design Examiner. This story includes primary research, most importantly interviews with the founders, Lionel Spiro and the late Blair Brown. In addition, many former corporate staff members, store employees and even customers all graciously gave their time to tell me their experiences and so many wonderful stories.

Examiner.com ceases to exist this month, July of 2016, five and a half years after I started writing for them. The Charrette Chronicles and other posts would perish without transferring them to my own blog. The Charrette Chronicles appears here as a series of five posts. This introduction, Part One, was originally published on December 10, 2010.

The red Charrette van made overnight deliveries of much needed supplies long before the existence of FedEX and all the overnight deliverers.
The red Charrette van made overnight deliveries of much needed supplies from the warehouse in Woburn, Massachusetts to clients in New York City. This was long before the existence of FedEX and all the other overnight delivery services even existed.

INTRODUCTION

No story about Graphic Design in NY would be complete without at least mention of the establishments, new, old, and gone that have supplied the design industry with the many, unique tools it required primarily BC (before computers) and through the transition to AD (age of digital). In compiling a list of them, one store stood out so distinctly that it deserves an entire article, if not series of articles about it, Charrette.

So much research for this designer supplies institution has been accumulated that there is an entire ‘back story’ to this examiner.com series. It details the process of using the Internet to unearth materials and people. Many of them have been extremely generous in coming forward to share their experience and memories about this wonderful but extinct designers supply company that was founded in Cambridge Mass in the mid 1960’s.

This story is an attempt to go back in time and capture the years of glory Charrette held in the industry, in general, and in NY, in particular. It will include facts about its lifespan of several decades and some of the key players involved. It is a very moving story and one that any author can only hope to be worthy of writing.

Since the materials that have been so generously donated, lent and found on-line are still accumulating, this piece will serve simply as an invitation to the graphic memoir of Charrette, It had stores at three NYC locations. First it was on 47th Street, then on East 54th Street (before the brownstone building it was housed in was torn down to make room for the ‘Lipstick’ Building, Finally it was relocated to its homage to modern design, a frontage of glass and red metal in the design district, the East 30rds. How fitting a stage upon which to continue this story.

 
LINKS TO THE CHARRETTE CORPORATION CHRONICLES: PART ONE THROUGH FIVE

PART ONE: Invitation to a graphic memoir, the Charrette Corporation
PART TWO: The baby was born in a Harvard closet
PART THREE: Charrette meets ‘Big Apple’ graphic standards
PART FOUR: The Charrette New York creative culture
PART FIVE: The Charrette Chronicles Synopsis
The Charrette Alumni Group on Linked

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KNOLLING Part Four: From Chaos To Creativity

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

I first heard the term ‘knolling’ around a month ago. I was fascinated by the term and started to research everything I could about it. I became somewhat confused because I could not discern if it was a systematic method of organization or an artistic technique also called flat lay photography or flatlays.

It seems to have started as the former and morphed into the latter over time. ‘Flatlays’ or ‘flat lay photography’ has nothing to do with knolling as a systematic method of organization. But from the way I understand these terms, they can be used as a record of knolling a set of objects. It can also be an art form of pleasantly laid out objects. It is presently and widely used on Instagram, tumblr and Pinterest. The purpose of using these social media applications is a popular means of graphic design layout or brand marketing as shown below. Instagram photos used in an article on Business Insider called, Everyone’s obsessed with ‘knolling’ their stuff and putting the photos on Instagram

I have written three previous blog posts about knolling to get as clear an understanding of it as possible. These blog posts represent my process with this goal in mind.
KNOLLING: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?
KNOLLING: Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection?
KNOLLING: Social Media Gives Knolling New Meaning

The focus of this fourth blog post is to analyse the original process of ‘knolling’ used as an organizational tool. Specifically, it is about the process which I believe that Andrew Kromelow used to ‘bring order out of chaos’ in Frank Gehry‘s furniture fabrication factory where Kromelow worked. That resulting order prepared the staff for the continuation of a project or the starting of a new project.

I am finding that knolling is also a catalyst for creativity. This is my experience and what I would like to share. Just to clarify, the following video is not what I am writing about. My focus is not on flatlays or flat lay photography. But for information sake, this video, Making a Flat Lay Collage for a Campaign, Brochure or Magazine from StyleShoots by Matt Brasier, explains those terms and their current use.

The following video, Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs, does focus on knolling in great detail.

In my second blog post, I asked the question, KNOLLING: Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection? In a word, YES. It can and it is helping a great deal. I am in the process of creating four boards so far:
• a board for my bracelets that holds 48 bracelets laid out in color order as an additional organizational system
• a board for about 2 dozen necklaces, again using color order as an additional organizational system
• a board for earrings
• a board for pins
I am also working on layouts for my hat collection and my purse collection.

knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition system
Knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition organizational system

The next things that happened was a spontaneous inspiration. Once I had created order out of chaos and could see my things neatly laid out in front of me, I experienced an epiphany. I felt the desire to commence making jewelry. I am not ever sure what the thought process was or if there even was one. I do have lots of broken pieces of jewelry which I hoped to repair some day. I also have a new piece that was missing some stones that needed regluing. The next thing I knew, I had retrieved my jewelry storage boxes from my shelves. I got out my glue and I started creating. I have already created two pieces of jewelry out of one piece and have plans for quite a few other pieces.

knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional system
Knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional organizational system
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KNOLLING Part Three: Social Media Adds Another Perspective to Knolling

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs
What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs Posted on the CreativeMarket.com Blog, August 19,2015
BLOG POSTS REVIEW

My first blog post about knolling was entitled, KNOLLING: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?

My second blog post on this topic was about exploring knolling as a practical organizing solution. I sought to answer the question KNOLLING: Can It Help Organize My Vintage Jewelry Collection? The second blog post essential showed that it could.

 

REFLECTION

In reflecting on the points which are detailed in my second blog post and summarized below, I concluded that I had a grasp on knolling and that I had created organizational templates using materials at hand to knoll. My solutions are working very well for my bracelets, decorative pins, earrings, purses and shoe box collections. Where it has not worked as well is due to a lack of space and the proper materials to lay out all my hats. But the system of knolling itself has held up to every one of my challenges. In retrospect, ‘Always Be Knolling’ is a great approach to facing my challenges of organizing my favorite personal items for quick, methodical access.
 

THE CHALLENGE AND THE SOLUTION

To summarize, my challenge had been to see if knolling, as coined by Andrew Kromelow and defined by Wikipedia, worked. The steps I took worked. They were:
• to design templates with materials on hand that could organize my vintage accessories collections
• to determine if knolling using these templates could solve my fashion accessories challenge by making my collections easily accessible to select what to wear

I feel it is safe to say that it worked. What do you think from observing the photos, or ‘flat lay photographs’ I took to share the results?

 
KNOLLING, SOCIAL MEDIA AND FLAT LAY PHOTOGRAPHY aka FLAT LAYS
One question remained. Where did ‘flat lay photography’ which came to be known as ‘flatlays’ in the social media world fit into knolling? My next step was:
• to confirm what Andrew Kromelow’s meaning was when he coined the term knolling
• to determine if knolling had other practical uses pre or post Andrew Kromelow’s coining the phrase and to ‘Always Be Knolling’ (ABK), as Tom Sachs suggested
• to find out if ‘flat lay photography’ which came to be known as ‘flat lays’ enhanced knolling the way I had come to understand and use it

ANDREW KROMELOW’S DEFINITION
Andrew confirmed that his coining of the term, knolling was directly attributed to the clean, simple parallel and perpendicular designs of Florence Knoll’s furniture designs. But he added that knolling was a system used for years, as an example, in a medical operating room and other areas where the lay out of tools could make a difference between life and death.

Before moving onto social media and knolling, I would like to provide a few samples of both present day and historical uses of what knolling was coined as, an organizational system. To emphasize, it could even mean the difference between life and death. This concept was emphasized by Andrew Kromelow.

SOCIAL MEDIA TAKES ON KNOLLING
Let’s examine what social media has done with knolling by examining the following samples.
 
PINTERESTKnolling on Pinterest

Knolling On Pinterest
Knolling On Pinterest

 

TUMBLRTumblr: Things Organized Neatly

Things Organized Neatly
Tom Sachs—”Always Be Knolling.“ from Ten Bullets on Tumblr, “Things Organized Neatly”

INSTAGRAMFlatlays

Flatlays on Instagram @flatlays
Flatlays on Instagram @flatlays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG POSTS ABOUT KNOLLING
What Is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained

What is 'knolling' and why is everyone doing it on social media? By Komando Staff
What is ‘knolling’ and why is everyone doing it on social media?
By Komando Staff

How To Become A Pro At Knolling

mattiasinks:  Sketchbook motherboard  Just discovered Mattias Adolfsson’s incredibly detailed illustrations. Magical worlds herein.
mattiasinks:
Sketchbook motherboard
Just discovered Mattias Adolfsson’s incredibly detailed illustrations. Magical worlds herein.

CONCLUSION
Knolling is a technical, even scientific systemization that has a specific dynamic function. On the other hand, unless they are a record of a knolled exercise, flatlays are a static, artistic event that is meant to be pleasing to the eye usually as a commercial tool. These kind of flat lay photos have become very popular in the design layout and products marketing world. Such is the evolution of things.

What started out as a scientific system for ordering tools evolved into something pretty and commercial, in other words, an advertising/marketing tool. That is the nature of invention. It is not bad. One has the choice of using knolling for either or both purposes. In my opinion, the essential element is to remember knolling’s origins and its inventor. Then one can truly enjoy its metamorphosis without forgetting the inventor or limiting the invention.

RESOURCES AND SOURCES

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KNOLLING Part Two: Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection?

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

Vintage bracelets and lots of rings
Vintage bracelets, lots of rings. Can knolling help to keep them organized?
INTRODUCTION

Now that I have a fair understanding of Knolling, I wondered if it might be the answer to this 21st Century woman’s fashion accessories challenge. Could it help organize my costume jewelry collection? Collecting and wearing vintage accessories is my passion and hobby.

I have so many bracelets, pins, necklaces, earrings, purses and rings. I store them in the closet, protect them in fancy boxes and display some of them on my dresser where they just collect dust. That is not why I got them. I love them. I want to enjoy them. This means, wear them to enhance my outfits and show them off to everyone else to enjoy, too.

 

bracelets before knolling
This system makes it hard to quickly reach the bracelet I want to wear and sometimes I am not sure where I even put it
CHALLENGE

It’s very time consuming to find what I want to wear to accessorize my outfits for both daily attire and special occasions. I always forget pieces I have because I don’t see them. In addition, there are so many accessories stored in so many places, I can’t remember where I put them. I also have a problem with my shoes collection.

 
MY INITIAL KNOLLING BLOG POST

After hearing about knolling, I wrote an initial blog post about it, KNOLLING: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System? I decided to see if knolling was an organizing system or just a design/branding technique. Could it be a solution to my fashion accessorizing challenge or just a pretty way of photographing my collections? The rest of this post and the following posts about Knolling explore the various aspects of knolling and its metamorphosis into flat lay photography and flatlays.

 

WHAT’S NEXT

By Wikipedia definition, Knolling is the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90-degree angles as a method of organization. Therefore if I could use knolling as an organizational system, my next steps would have to be:

• to design a template that could organize my vintage jewelry collections
• to display them to see if the process of knolling could solve my fashion accessories challenge
• to determine if knolling had other practical uses and ‘Always Be Knolling’ (ABK), as Tom Sachs suggested
• to discern if ‘flat lay photography’ and social media ‘flatlays’ are actually knolling
• to confirm what Andrew Kromelow’s meaning was when he coined the term knolling

 
ONE CHALLENGE AT A TIME: KNOLLING BRACELETS

I decided to tackle one challenge at a time. The first challenge and priority was to see if I could knoll my bracelets. Here is what I did. I took a 24″x18″ office cork board and divided it into three” squares. That gave me 48 squares or 24″ divided by 3 = 8 and 18″ divided by 3 = 6. Since 8 x 6 = 48 that is how I determined the number of squares that would result from this division. I marked off each 3″ box with ribbons both vertically and horizontally. Then I began to add my bracelets unsure that I would even have 48 of them. I still have plenty more to include. But at least the 48 knolled bracelets are easily and quickly accessible.

There is an additional reason I can find them so easily. I employed another element to my jewelry knolling, a color order system. I started with the red ones and variations of red. Then I went through the rainbow adding solid colors and then variations on that color. I can now find any bracelet I want to wear in record time as long as it is included in this set up.

knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition system
knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition system

MY DECORATIVE PINS COLLECTION

At first, I had trouble with my decorative pins. I thought that the grip template I used for my bracelets would carry over well for my pins. It did not. Once I realized that I should lay them out in rows, I found the solution to this part of my knolling challenge.

My decorative pins collection knolled and easy to find
My decorative pins collection knolled and easy to identify

 
NEXT CHALLENGE: EARRINGS

The next knolling challenges included my earrings, then my necklaces, pins, purses and shoes. Here is the progress I have made so far. How do you think these work?

Earrings Pre-Knolling
Earrings Pre-Knolling System Works Well
Knolling Earring Collection
Knolling Earring Collection Needs Solid Background

The earring knolling project is ineffective. The background on the right should be a solid color so that the earrings stand out better. Also, I still have a lot more earrings that need to be added. I came up with a great solution totally by happenstance. This lampshade is a ‘street find’ and an excellent solution to earring knolling.

EARING PHOTO TO COME

 
NECKLACES

I am finding it difficult to knoll my necklaces because hanging them vertically takes up a lot of room and is not optimal. But it is better than no system at all.

Pre-knolling: Using Necklaces for Decoration
Pre-knolling: Using Necklaces for Decoration
Necklaces Semi-knolled
Necklaces Semi-knolled, Colored backgournd is distracting

Finally I figure out the best way to knoll my necklaces for the time being. It is working okay.

knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional system
knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional system

 
PURSES

I decided that the best place to position my purses is near the door since they are one of the last things I grab before I leave the house. Here is my knolled board of them.

IMAGE FOR PURSES

MY ‘FAMOUS’ HAT COLLECTION
I am known for my hats. I love hats and I am almost never seen without one. It’s funny. My mother hated hats; she never wore them. But my grandmother and great-grandmother adored them. In fact, the greater the grandmother the more outrageous the hat.

Knolling hats posed a problem for me. I was able to organized them to some degree. Some are on a plant stand. Some are on vintage hat trees that I found. Some are balancing on my bed frame. I can’t really say that I have knolled my hats. But I can find them easily so that I don’t end up wearing the same one every day.

IMAGES OF HATS

SHOES

Shoes hold a particular challenge for me. I insist upon keeping them in their original boxes. In fact, I even keep the receipt in the box. That way I can refer to when I bought them and how much they cost. The boxes are actually easier to knoll. The shoes are harder to remove from the box every time I want to wear them. Here are the results.

Knolled Shoe Boxes
Knolled Shoe Boxes

To be continued with . . . Part Three, link below.

RESOURCES AND LINKS

KNOLLING Part One: Organizational Or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?

KNOLLING Part Three: Social Media Adds Another Perspective To Knolling

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KNOLLING Part One: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs
What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs Posted on the CreativeMarket.com Blog, August 19,2015
INTRODUCTION

Knolling is defined in Wikipedia as “the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90-degree angles as a method of organization”. The original phrase, knolling, was coined in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor in the furniture fabrication shop of Frank Gehry. Gehry was designing chairs for the legendary, Knoll Furniture Company. Kromelow was particularly impressed with the furniture designed by Florence Knoll.

 

 

HISTORY OF KNOLL FURNITURE

Florence Knoll furniture
Florence Knoll furniture designs which Andrew Kromelow admired for their clean, angular lines.
From http://www.knoll.com/designer/Florence-Knoll

 
ANDREW KROMELOW

Andrew Kromelow especially liked the clean, angular lines of Florence Knoll’s designs which can be seen above. As a result, at the end of the workday, Kromelow would collect all the tools that had been left out in the work studio and organized them in a similar geometric manner then photograph them from the top. No photographs of Kromelow’s work seem to have survived, publically.

Things Organized Neatly
Tom Sachs—”Always Be Knolling.“ from Ten Bullets on Tumblr, “Things Organized Neatly”

The above image from Tom Sach’s, Ten Bullets, #8: “ALWAYS BE KNOLLING’ suggests what a Kromelow ‘flat lay-overhead photo’ might have looked like.”The result was an organized surface that allowed the user to see all objects at once”. Kromelow referred to this as ‘knolling’ due to the idea’s inspiration from Florence Knoll’s design sensibility. The term, the concept and the ‘flat lay photography’ Kromelow made of his arrangements caught on thanks to another person in Gehry’s employment.

 
“ALWAYS BE KNOLLING”

Tom Sachs, an artist and sculptor who also worked in Gehry’s studio, popularized Kromelow’s knolling and his ‘flat lay photography’ process. According to the blog post in CreativeDesignMagazine.com, Sachs created a piece about knolling and adopted the phrase, “Always be Knolling” (or ABK for short) as a motto for his work. By 1987, knolling had officially become a trend. But what transpired between 1987 and 2009?

One wonders because nothing more seems to be available about it again until the 2009 blog post on CreativeMarket.com, ‘What Is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained’. Supposedly, this style of organizational layout has been used for over three decades to shape brands and sell products. No examples were available. Instead, decades before the social media venue, Instagram, had the popular account, ‘The Flat Lays’, before the existence of social media at all, and separate from Kromelow’s organizing technique, knolling existed as a graphic design layout and branding inspiration. But it was not known as knolling and it was before 1987.

Pencil sharpeners
Mechanical pencil sharpener boxes pinned to Pinterest. This image is from a series of the blog posts, the Charrette Chronicles on Examiner.com. The image is courtesy of the Charrette Corporation and former art director, designer Johanna Bohoy

 
 WHEN ‘KNOLLING’ WAS JUST A CHARRETTE CORPORATION LAYOUT AND BRANDING TECHNIQUE

The process of ‘knolling’ existed independent of Knoll and apparently previous to Andrew Kromelow’s coining a phrase for it. It was a prominent style designing with type, graphic design layout, architectural presentation and products branding including overhead or flat lay photography. One company that prominently exemplified this pre-knolling sensibility was the Charrette Corporation. The architect  David Paul Helpern, designer of the NYC Charrette Corporation flagship store and the graphic design/branding designer, Johanna Bohoy, the Art Director at Charette’s Headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts were responsible for its conception. This can be traced back to the early 1980’s rather than the late 1980’s when the term knolling was coined.

There is a series of articles about the Charrette Corporation written by me, the NY Graphic Design Examiner on examiner.com. Many samples of their forward-thinking graphic design and branding style are included. Suffice to say, whether it is called knolling or attributed to the earlier Charrette Corporation methodology, the result is very calming on the brain to observe objects in an orderly rather than chaotic manner. This seems to be especially true for artistic, creative brain dominant people.


 
TECHNOLOGY TAKES ON KNOLLING

To add to this, technology has taken leaps, specifically with the creation of social media venues which facilitates present day knolling. But according to my research, history clearly illustrates that the clean, perpendicular and parallel lined style of graphic design layout, now known as knolling, was not a revolutionary idea and did not begin with Florence Knoll or Andrew Kromelow in 1987. This is not to deny that the advent of social media has allowed knolling to become very practical, even pedestrian in its incarnation as ‘flat lay photography’. Layout and branding are now easily and attractively showcased by Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, pictured directly above and below.

Coffee Stationery / Branding Mock-Up By forgraphic™ in Graphics
What is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained
Looking for an easy way to incorporate some knolling into your next project? We’ve got you covered. From CreativeMarket.com

 
CONCLUSION

Life has a way of providing what is needed at a particular time in history. Credit it to The Charrette Corporation, Florence Knoll, Andrew Kromelow or Tom Sachs. They have all played a part in transforming the disciplines of design layout and branding forward to another level of usefulness and appeal in the world of product marketing. But is there more to it than that?!

My next blog post will attempt to answer that question and this one specifically:
Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection?

Knolling Orange
From luisamaria.ac on Instagram. Photo from CreativeMarket.com
Another simple but great knolling photo on Instagram comes from luisamaria.ac. Rather than group items by category or type, she created a photograph that was themed by color. This knolling photograph is predominantly orange and features a toy moose, a notebook, flowers and more.

 
SOURCES AND RESOURCES

KNOLLING Part Two: Can Knolling Help Organize My Vintage Jewelry Collection?
What Is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained
Knoll
Florence Knoll
Frank Gehry
Andrew Kromelow
Tom Sachs
Ten Bullets Website aka Tom Sachs Working To Code
Things Organized Neatly
Flat Lay Photography
Charrette Corporation Layout and Branding Technology
Alison Gilbert, NY Graphic Design Examiner

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