Looking to the Past for New Product Inspiration – Interview with John Kaloustian

Hear what industrial designer, John Kaloustian, has to say about his latest seating collection for Grand Rapids Chair.

By GR Chair

Collection of Reece Chairs.

In preparation for NeoCon, I got the chance to talk with industrial designer, John Kaloustian, about his latest seating collection for Grand Rapids Chair, called Reece.

Kaloustian, an accomplished industrial designer from Detroit, designed Reece for commercial dining spaces. Reece features a separate wood seat and back, steel frame, and exposed mechanisms like bolts and fasteners.

One look at Reece and you’ll notice a distinct sense of nostalgia. Kaloustian warmly describes Reece as “honest,” and we couldn’t agree more. Take a look at the rest of the interview to learn the story behind Reece.

Collection of Reese chairs.

AR: Reece is quite different than the contract office furniture you’ve designed. Was your approach any different to designing this chair?

JK: It is important to consider where a chair is used. In a restaurant or dining setting, the chair scale is often smaller and the weight should be on the lighter side to easily slide a chair in and out from a table. The appearance of strength is important so that a user feels there is a quality of support without any compromise.

AR: I like how most of your furniture designs feature playful shapes, yet you have such a pragmatic and diligent approach to design. Would you agree and expand on that interesting juxtaposition?

JK: I believe it is necessary that a chair should first be comfortable for its designated use. We must consider whether it is for short or long term use, and whether it needs to be cleaned frequently. Next, it should offer a sense of personality that will enhance the environment where it is used, and give a dining space a more memorable experience.

Back of Reese Stool/
Reece Chair with natural wood and yellow frame.

AR: You previously said that Reece was inspired by the factory and education chairs of the past. Are there any specific chairs, designers, or things that inspired you?

JK: In the past, I rented space in a printing shop and I remember liking the simplicity and comfort of the factory chairs around the facility. While these chairs were not modern darlings of design, this type of seating was honest in appearance, durable, comfortable, and simple to fabricate.

AR: There’s no doubt that Reece has a nostalgic quality about it—what about the factory/industrial design do you like?

JK: Factory seating often has a separate seat and back, along with more exposed mechanisms. That’s why Reece uses a simple back bracket and rubber disks to add back flex while a modern chair may try to hide a spring.

Collection of Reece bar stools with natural wood and red frame.

AR: There’s a large demand for industrial-inspired design in every kind of interior—from restaurants to residential. Why do you think this style has become so popular? And do you think it will endure?

JK: I think many of us like the style of old homes and refurbished lofts, since there is a nostalgia for the past, as architects and builders used quality materials. New spaces are striving to convey this same affection. I live in a Tudor revival home from the 1920’s which shows influence back to the middle ages of English architecture. Today, new homes gain inspiration from Tudor revivals of the 1920’s. Architecture, fashion, products, and color often look to the past to help evolve the future. Fabrication and materials are more interesting when they display a quality of craft in appearance.

AR: The handle is a fun aspect to the Reece Collection. Did the original concept have this feature?

JK: Based on how the chair is used, a handle is a big benefit to move the chair in and out from a table. As the back attachment evolved, I found that extending the back bracket out more created a solution that integrated a handle.

Reece Chair with blue upholstered seat.