Raine, a third year interior design student at The Ohio State University and a BHDP co-op in our Columbus office, describes the process for a recent school project that culminated in the making of a uniquely fashioned plant stand. In the interview below, Raine provides an outline of her vision, the challenges she encountered and the ultimate success of creating a piece that speaks to user and material interaction.
We understand this project was a school assignment. Can you outline any specific requirements of the design and sources of inspiration?
One of my classes this past semester was Intermediate Interior Design; for the final project, we were asked to design and construct a table using the conceptual motivation of intimacy. Part of the goal was to explore the relationship between concept and materials, and the technological decisions we elect during the making phase. It was also important to study the materials connected with one another as well as ways in which they are affected by joinery.
How did you arrive at the direction you ultimately took?
My plan was to build a table that would incorporate plants into the home. Because I lack a green thumb to keep plants alive, I wanted to make something that would help people like me enjoy the process of growing plants and herbs. I also wanted to facilitate an experience that brings awareness to all five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. I thought this could be achieved through a lab-like experience, where the user works with the plants and herbs to concoct the right formula for growing.
That sounds really interesting! Can you explain what you mean by “lab-like” experience?
Sure! I saw this idea as a way for someone to integrate a type of “science experiment” within their living space by providing a tool through which they could test different soils, waters, seeds, etc. all in one piece of equipment (i.e. the table). Functionally speaking, when someone waters the plants on top, the water runs down through plastic tubes into the herbs below. This water flow is controlled by bronze valves, so you have the option to water some herbs more or less than others. There can be soil in one and rocks in another. This enables the user to experiment with different levels of water and what works best with each herb.
This sounds like a challenging concept. Did you encounter and difficulties when trying to bring your vision to life?
The challenges that went into this table were tenfold. Prior to this project, I had experience refurbishing furniture and upholstery, working with many types of tools and even building homes with Habit for Humanity; I really thought that building the table would come more naturally. As it turned out, I ran into several problems, mostly due to my desire to design outside my realm of knowledge. For example, the angles proved to be particularly challenging. I refused to have a plain old box with shelves positioned at perfectly right angles; I wanted something that grew from the ground up, much like plants do. However, non-perfect angles are not friendly for the table saw and my lack of knowledge of how to fashion different angles presented a roadblock. Several jigs and many pieces of scrap wood went into figuring out the exact angles on each side that would properly meet with the corners at the base of the table.
A second challenge was finding valves through which water would pass to the herbs below. I scoured several hardware stores in search of valves that would not only function properly but would coordinate with the aesthetic intentions of my design. I never was able to find the perfect valve so I ultimately resorted to making them myself. Using small, antique brass tubes I had acquired while working at a furniture store (it’s amazing what stores will throw away!) and a tap and die kit, I made valves that connected with matching nozzles. The result was perfectly appointed valves that worked great, both aesthetically and functionally, with my table design.
There were plenty of other issues that presented themselves through the fabrication phase…nails stuck in the wood, spray paint mishaps, ill-fitting test tubes, glass breakage, cuts, scrapes…all of it! Mostly, I learned that duct tape makes a great temporary Band-Aid and to not overestimate my building capabilities.
In spite of all those challenges, were you pleased with the final result?
Oh my, yes! I’m super proud of how the table turned out and absolutely love how it defines interactivity—not only with the materials (the glass threaded through the wood shelves; plants moving around glass as they grow; and wood intersecting each other at odd angles), but also human interactivity with furniture. Moreover, this design helped me I was able to achieve my goal of engaging a user’s five senses: touching the plants and tubes as they move them around to accommodate growth; site as they watch the growth of the plants and herbs; sound as the user listens to the water trickle down the tubes into the plants; and, best of all, taste as the herbs are harvested and prepared for eating.
What would your advice be for a designer trying a similar project?
I would definitely recommend that anyone trying a similar project spend lots of time researching. The extra time I spent discovering how different irrigation systems work really informed my own design and helped it be successful. I would also strongly encourage any designer to challenge themselves and design outside their knowledge. I was scared to do so, at first, but once I had the tools and people resources available to help me realize my vision, I realized that anything is possible.
Thank you for sharing your process and inspiration with us, Raine! It’s certainly a fantastic project that offers a great study on interactivity with space and objects.
BHDP, an award-winning international architectural firm with offices in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio and Raleigh, North Carolina, provides architecture, planning, interior design, project management and strategic consulting services in five core markets: Workplace, Retail, Higher Education, Science and Integrated Industrial Design.
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