Cleveland is no New York or Milan, so it may not seem to be the most ideal city in which to launch a design studio. But Objeti, Joseph Ribic's design/manufacturing firm based in Ohio, is proving modern designers can flourish in America's heartland. Objeti's designs—stools, lighting, and tables—won accolades at this year's ICFF. Ribic recently chatted about his inspiration, what it's like working with his brother and father, and the challenges of being an upstart furniture manufacturer. Here he takes Dwell through some images of his shop, and gives us an insider's look at the processes used to create Objeti's pieces.
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What's your background?
I graduated with a degree in Architecture from The Ohio State University in 2001. In 2003 I went on to study Industrial Design in Italy for a year. I worked in an architecture firm after returning, though, I kept on working on furniture designs. In 2009 I left my position in Los Angeles, moved back to Cleveland and began to design and build the products I took to ICFF.
Does being based in Cleveland provide you with an advantage or disadvantage within the design industry?
My family owns a machine shop here - giving me access to amazing production and prototyping capabilities. This, in conjunction with the fact that Cleveland has a lot of manufacturing, allows me to work locally to accomplish all of my production needs.
How was Objeti formed?
When I turned 30 I decided it was time to fulfill my dream and turn my designs into reality. I got into the shop and quickly realized I would have to design new pieces which would utilize the manufacturing processes I had available to me. I had been thinking about a name, and while I started making the new products I kept with this theme of investigation through interaction. This lead me to Objeti, the Slovenian word for embrace, which resembles the word object and reflects my Slovenian heritage.
Speaking of heritage, what's it like working with your father and brother?
It's been a really great experience and without them I would not be where I am now. My father plays an important role helping me turn ideas into real, functional objects. We work closely together in the prototyping stage, taking my initial drawings and editing them in real-time to create our finished products. He is not only a machinist but an inventor, which is sometimes what I feel like when we are coming up with design solutions. My brother helped me get started - teaching me a lot about business and the production process. He came to help me at the ICFF, even though we had no idea how people would react to our work. Both my brother and father have been extremely supportive, having faith in my ideas.
What was the first piece in the collection you designed?
The first pieces were the Aerialist Tables - which took about 5 months from prototyping to production and were a great introduction for me on the many tools I had available.
The Aerialist tables are multipurpose, as they go from table to seating instantly. What made you decide to combine seating with a table?
I have always been interested in multi-use objects. I came up with this concept a few years ago while living in my apartment in LA. It was obvious to me that the coffee table had a lot more potential than just a static surface. I explored many options which would enable this surface to transform into seating/ottoman and settled on the design which would allow the user to easily and quickly convert it without having to pick up or move any pieces.
You won an Editor Award at ICFF. Has that distinction helped your business?
Yes, before we had left the convention center we had our first retailer, The Future Perfect. Since then we have been getting great press and building new relationships with retailers and galleries across the US.
Besides The Future Perfect, where can your line be purchased?
All lamps are available at The Future Perfect. Soon, we will be featured at Specific in LA, Matthew Izzo in Philadelphia, and a new store in Columbus called Grid Furnishings. Our website, objeti.com, will sell direct while we expand our retailers.
There is something very simple, yet undeniably playful in Objeti's objects. Is this humor intentional?
Yes, though I think of it more as a fun exploration of the objects. I want people to approach each piece and put their hands on them, investigate a bit, start a conversation about them, and simply enjoy the functionality or materiality.
I see a kinship with Blu Dot, another American design house. What designers and manufacturers do you admire?
There are a lot - I am inspired everyday. My earliest inspirations were Eames’ and Pierre Paulin for their ability to create iconic forms. Jean Prouve for his aesthetic combination of industrial design and engineering. Now I look to companies like Moooi which, to me, represents furniture as intelligent, functional, theory based objects.
What are the challenges to launching a furniture brand?
The most challenging aspect is repetition. Being a new company, I do not have a large budget for advertising and I believe a big part of sales comes from recognizing a company, seeing it multiple times in multiple locations. I have been very fortunate to win the Editor's Award which is bringing me great press and acknowledgment. All in all, I love the challenges of growing Objeti as a brand and look forward to what the future brings!