Winner of the Editors’ Award for Best Lighting at 2016’s ICFF in New York City, Rob Zinn is the founder of blankblank, an acclaimed California-based design firm known for their innovative furniture, lighting and décor. We find out a little bit more about him, the story behind blankblank and what sets it apart.
Q. What is your design background?
Rob Zinn (RZ). I received a Bachelor of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I spent ten years in NYC working for some great firms including Anderson Design and with Ayse Birsel, Mark Goetz and Tim Richartz as well as teaching for three years in Pratt’s Industrial Design Department. But I never felt at home in New York City, so I moved to California to start blankblank. It was a great decision. I met my wife, Anna, and found a lifestyle that feels natural to me. I’m much more connected to the natural environment and my designs for blankblank have reflected that.
Q. What inspired you to start blankblank and how has it changed over time?
RZ. I wanted to develop a collection of objects that, purely through a designer-driven process, replaced marketing department-created design briefs and manufacturing constraints with artistic intent. It was an experiment to see what designers could create without criteria or constraints. blankblank was a gallery that figured out how to get things made without compromise. More recently, we’ve shifted our process to start with the needs of the user and the core strengths of our local suppliers. We continue to support each of our designs, sustainably, so they may be used and enjoyed for a lifetime.
Q. Whose work most inspires you?
RZ. I like innovators like Elon Musk, Paul Hawken and Yvon Chouinard who are changing the way we think about business and resources. I’m really inspired by the work of surfer Kelly Slater, artist Mark Rothko, designer Patricia Urquiola and the band Neutral Milk Hotel.
Q. What is it that most excites you about the work you do?
RZ. The act of sculpting forms in real materials is probably when I feel the most in tune with what I’m creating. I also like recognizing the potential in mistakes and problems because that is when I’m truly thinking differently and on the brink of discovering something good. I’m always most excited about what’s next.
Q. What is your ethos of design?
RZ. I’m ultimately after a purity of form and function that speaks for itself, and on different levels.
Q. Are there any trends in design that you’re into right now?
RZ. I’m pretty removed from the trendy side of design and what other companies are doing. I feel that the strongest designs are those that are distilled to their essence or those that come from working directly with materials. Hopefully we are all trending toward dematerialization—buying less but better.
Q. How do you approach giving back to your community?
RZ. blankblank is a springboard for supporting our values in our community, whether our artistic community, local community or global community. My wife, also my partner in the business, and I give back as much as we can to support arts education (I used to lecture at the University of California, Davis and at Pratt) and environmental and societal causes. We primarily volunteer in our rural community supporting local non-profits, the school and local library but this year she was also able to volunteer in the Doctors Without Borders refugee camp at Dunkirk while on a business trip to France. The more successful blankblank is, the more we can give back.
Q. Where is your sanctuary and what do you do recharge?
RZ. I live in the country so I’m fortunate to be surrounded by nature on a daily basis. But when I travel I seek out the ocean to surf. I think of it as a very sculptural act. I always feel so refreshed and grounded after being near, and in, the sea. And every evening I’m home in the country I step out of my studio and spend a little time outside.
Q. Much of your work is really colorful, do you have a favorite color?
RZ. Orange and light blue are my favorite combination. On their own they’re pretty great, too.
Q. OK, so why the name blankblank?
RZ. It’s a placeholder for the designer’s first and last name. But I also really liked the connotations of a blank slate as a new beginning or a fresh approach…
BlankBlank is a California-based lighting and furniture design firm with a quality and social mission. Each timeless piece by their award-winning designers is fabricated in California in heirloom quality and is supported over its lifespan