Gabriel Tan is one quarter of Outofstock Design, an accomplished design studio whose products we have featured before (Holm for the Home, Sea Creatures). He is also founder of his eponymous studio Gabriel Tan Studio that has recently been working on some interesting pieces of design for the ‘Furnishing Utopia: Shaker Design Project’. The project’s mission is, as the website states, “to provide designers with direct exposure to original Shaker artifacts and demonstrate how the group’s ideas still prove influential”. The eventual designs are tactile, stoic, functional and full of honest material beauty. It’s no surprise, looking at the crop of designers involved, such as Norm Architects (you would recognise their rustic homeware design for Menu, available at Grafunkt), Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, Jonah Takagi, who are some of the names today leading the design world with their fresh and original ideas.
Gabriel has designed several products for the project: the Stove chair, Domino coat rail, Handle stool, Brethren door stops and bench and Petal baskets. Simple in concept yet weighted in presence, each of these pieces are soulful additions to any space, full of character and lovingly crafted.
Aside from being designer dad, Gabriel is a very busy man, also because he’s recently become a father to Isaiah, who will turn six months old in June. His studio is housed in a charming one-storey semi-detached house, just next to his parents’ home where Isaiah goes to in the day sometimes. Vintage window cast-iron grilles, vintage floor and wall tiles…these original details are at one with the new additions, such as kitchen cabinets from an old Plain Vanilla store that Outofstock had designed. I walk through the space, eyes darting hungrily to absorb every detail both old and new, my hands fleeting across the textured walls and my feet happily shuffling across the colourful patterned mosaics.
So, let’s talk to Gabriel about his work and also his thoughts and experiences on being a new father. Fathers’ Day is it? Cheers to all the ones out there hard at work and filling our homes with both bread and love.
Can you share some of your favourite memories that were most important to you when you were growing up? What kind of childhood do you wish for your child?
I remember learning to draw and paint from my mom, and listening to my dad playing the guitar. That set the tone for the rest of my life, and [lay the foundation for my] appreciation for art and music. I wish that Isaiah will be able to experience mother nature and develop a strong bond with our natural environment.
How has your daily rituals changed since becoming a father? How do you and your wife ensure stability in the household while making sure you spend sufficient time with your son?
I head straight home after work on most days and I try to shorten my travels for work trips or bring my wife and son along if I can. I believe that my wife and I have good communication between us, and we try to solve problems or work around them together. She is a working mother and starts work at 8am so I need to be up early to take care of Isaiah in the mornings after she goes to work.
What are the biggest challenge, and also the most precious thing, about being a father for you?
The biggest challenge, which is also the most precious thing, is knowing that his well-being depends on me. A child is so vulnerable and helpless when they are so young, and a parent has almost total control over his or her health, safety and happiness. This relationship can be daunting but is also special.
Isaiah is still young, but what is aspect of the world that you would like to impress upon him when he is older?
I believe in letting the child understand that the world is not 100 per cent black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. I feel that if he can develop an awareness of this concept from an early age, he will have a deeper understanding of himself and also empathise with the people around him.
You are a designer—for both your own outfit Gabriel Tan Studio and with Outofstock that you founded with a group of friends. Can you share some interesting stories in your journey of design/design career that you feel had a big impact on you?
Well I think this career has led me to understand that there are many possibilities to shape one’s career and life, both with the body of work that a designer wishes to create, as well as with the people that he or she want to work for/with. My early experience with Outofstock—when we founded the collective as four friends from different countries who enjoyed each other’s company and views on design, and the subsequent experiences we had as a collective working on joint exhibitions and projects—showed me that many things were possible if we were determined enough.
My recent involvement with the ‘Furnishing Utopia: Shaker Design Project’, which started from a dinner conversation I had with my friends from Studio Gorm while I was teaching at the University of Oregon in 2012, showed me that collaboration doesn’t have to be within a closed group and that with good ideas and causes we can start a movement. The result was 11 designers from around the world (many of us barely knowing each other) collaborating and working really hard together to pull off a joint exhibition during the recent New York Design Week. [Our exhibition] was dubbed as one of the highlights of the event.
Tell me more about some of your latest projects (either for your own studio or with Outofstock or other brands).
At Outofstock we recently launched the Ahus lounge chair for Bla Station, a Swedish furniture company. They were so happy with our design that they made it their 30th Anniversary Chair, as the company is celebrating their 30th birthday this year. Personally I am working on some new designs for a Japanese furniture company and will be launching them in the coming months. I am also developing my own range of furniture and lighting for hospitality and restaurant projects.
What are some of your favourite pieces of design (yours or others’) and why?
I like the Handy series of cleaning tools and objects by Rhode Island- and New York-based designer Chris Specce, which was shown at the ‘Furnishing Utopia’ exhibition. They give respect and importance to activities such as cleaning and domestic chores through the products’ beautiful forms and use of materials.
Is there a toy or piece of furniture for children that you feel is very well designed? Please share and explain why.
Well I feel that one of the best toys out there is the ball—be it a rubber ball, tennis ball or football. Because as a child you learn so much about physics, motor skills, and reflexes through playing with a ball and there are so many different ways to play with it.
What are your passions and how do you wish to share them with your son?
My passions are music, design, as well as sports and I will expose him to all of them at a young age through joint activities we can do, which will include my wife.
Please continue this sentence: Play to me is:
Play to me is a way of approaching work and life. If we can introduce play into parts of our lives, we will be bored less quickly and find fulfillment more easily.
+ photo credit (portrait and studio): playground
+ photo credit (products with coloured background): Béton Brut; all other product images provided courtesy of Gabriel Tan.