The idea for BALANCED DESIGN was formed as I walked the streets of Paris two weeks after 9/11. At that time, in that city, I noticed that people weren’t just environmentally aware, they lived a more environmentally sensitive existence than most of the people that I knew. Their cars were much smaller. They brought their own bags to carry home groceries from the market. It was a very emotional time to be an American, and looking back I realize it was a rare gift to be in a foreign land feeling the outpouring of support. Growing up my grandmother was the crazy recycle lady. There wasn’t a box or bag that she didn’t save and turn into something magical. We grew our own vegetables way back when regular folks were living the concept of farm to table. So, in that emotional time sitting on a park bench in France, I thought “I’ll go home and build a business that stands for something.” I had no way of knowing that my own country would adapt these green ideals—I only knew that I was ready to change.
Back then it’s as if there was a law that said that eco-friendly products had to be spartan or boring. It seemed like we bought those painfully beige goods secretly wishing to be punished for harming our environment for so long. As a designer, I see the world in simple shapes and powerful colors. I call myself a "minimalist" designer, which is pretty funny when you think about it. A minimalist pattern designer. I don't like any visual clutter. Trained only in graphic design and with no understanding of textiles or sewing, I set about designing pillows that were eco-friendly and colorful. I had absolutely no idea how to be in business. The design piece seemed easy. Everything else, not so much. But, I have a very strong spirit and a curious mind, so how hard could it be? Right?
Often described as modern, graphic, and whimsical, the designs have been also been called “happy” and are purposely colorful as well as eco-friendly. Color is exciting and can help us use our buying power to make more eco-friendly choices. Because I wanted the option to use vibrant color, I understood that I was going to have to strike a balance between the green-est possible solution and good design. I use the word “green-er” to describe the company. There are no pure products. We are all striking this "balanced design".
I’m often asked what inspires me. The truth is, EVERYTHING. Any simple shape like a bird’s foot imprinted in the sand or the geometric grid of a Sean Scully painting, I start by hand sketching in the Pawtucket studio. Many patterns have been inspired by mid-century artists like Morris Louis and Alexander Calder and are named after them. The BIG BLOCK Rug is an interpretation of Mark Rothko. Color is inspired by the combinations that pop up in nature.
For fabrics, the sketches are put into repeat for printing at a New England textile mill that has been in operation for 80 years. Using traditional hand printing methods, dye is squeezed through a 54" wide screen that requires two people to move together down the 50 yard long table. Each color on the fabric uses its own screen. While the hand printed process is time consuming, the quality is worth the effort. Colors and textures may vary slightly and are characteristic of hand printed textiles.
Part of being green-er is working as locally as possible. When you are in the textile business in Southeastern New England, you can still work within a fairly small radius. All our sewing is done in the mills of Fall River, Massachusetts, once the center of textiles for the USA, and just 15 minutes down the road from us. I am honored to be a small part of continuing the tradition of American made crafts.
our line today
Today, BALANCED DESIGN offers a line of hand printed fabrics on organic cotton, 100% New Zealand wool tufted area rugs, pillows made from wool felt appliquéd onto organic cotton flannel, and hand printed designs on linen using water based inks. Our pillow inserts are regenerated fiber made from recycled plastic bottles.
Along the journey, I've been fortunate to have some incredible support. In 2007, I was pleased to be one of several designers included on the panel discussion for the landmark exhibition of green home decor “hauteGREEN” in NYC and called by Inhabitat.com a showcase of the “75 emerging stars of green design”. Also in 2007 and 2008 we were included in the curated exhibition “SUSTAINABILITY: DESIGN FOR A BETTER WORLD”at the Jacob Javits Center. Since then, our products have appeared in numerous national and international publications, including books, the New York Times, Metropolis Magazine, the “GREEN” lounge at the Academy Awards, in numerous blogs, on “DESIGN STAR” on HGTV, and on ABC “World News with Diane Sawyer”.
I'm truly grateful to have found a way to do what I love and for the opportunity to work in the exciting, changing world of design.
— Melinda Cox, Designer
Pawtucket, Rhode Island