Q&A: blankblank

In 2004, Jon Dennis and Rob Zinn co-founded blankblank, a modern design and manufacturing company in Sacramento, California. Their professional careers had intersected a few years earlier when Dennis, then working on opening new stores for Fleet Feet Sports, hired Zinn, a freelance designer and industrial design instructor at the Pratt Institute in New York, to design fixtures for the interiors. blankblank’s high-quality, high-design products and furniture are manufactured (except one piece) all within 15 miles of midtown Sacramento and built with the goal of eventually being passed down as family heirlooms. We spoke with Dennis and Ziinn about setting up shop in California’s capital city.

suttercoffeetable blankblank1

What inspired you to found blankblank?
JD: I saw artwork of Rob’s that could be turned into a product. We started to talk about how conventionally designers create something for a manufacturer and the manufacturer produces the goods and then turned to asking what if the designer was the manufacturer and the designer produced and marketed the products.

Why did you name the company blankblank?
RZ: The name has multiple meanings. One is that it acts as a placeholder for the name of the designers we work with, but it’s also a play on “blank canvas” and “blank slate” and the idea of having room for creativity.

juxtaposed blankblank11

How have you seen that creative freedom realized in the designs you manufacture?
JD: Mark Goetz approached us; we had a friendship with him and Rob once worked for him. He was interested in showing his artistic side more fully and saw us as an opportunity to do that. He is fairly prolific in contract furniture but we gave him the freedom to express himself. What’s great is the pieces, like the Stir stool, are very artistic but also very contract-like because of his background; they have the potential to be some of our best-selling items.

How do you go about choosing whom to work with?
JD: We don’t go out and look for designers; the designers have been approaching us thus far. It’s a collaborative decision-making process between Rob and I. Rob looks at their body of work from an editing perspective to make sure he sees the talent and how it will fit our design collection, and I look at the work from a marketability perspective to see if it’s a unique idea we can fabricate and that will appeal to the audience.

Burnt Credenza 07 by Rob Zinn
Burnt Credenza 07 by Rob Zinn

Why did you set up the company in Sacramento?
RZ: I always wanted to end up in Northern California and one big thing with starting a business is the start-up costs. In Sacramento it’s relatively cheaper than starting in a larger metropolis.
JD: And as the company’s evolved and we launched the interiors line we’ve found that locally there’s not a lot of interior design studios in the area doing what we’re doing so it’s a good opportunity for growth.

Suspension 01 by Tim Richartz
Suspension 01 by Tim Richartz

All except one of your products is made within 15 miles of midtown Sacramento (the other is made just south of San Francisco). How is that possible?
RZ: We found some really great, capable people here in Sacramento but there are probably places like our city all over the country that have good fabricators and manufacturers.
JD: The key is that over time we’ve built a relationship with the local people here and now there is an understanding that quality is essential in our products and we have super-high expectations.

What is the importance of branding the company as “American Made Modern”?
RZ: It speaks to the point of Sacramento not being necessarily a hotbed for manufacturing but the idea of taking what’s nearest and available, working with that, and bringing out the best of it. There’s something very powerful about doing it yourself and supporting your community.

Lead image: Sutter Coffee Table by Rob Zinn

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