Guest Blog from Paul Pettigrew: My Life Before I Discovered Rakks

by Rakks | June 29th, 2011

Paul Pettigrew Shelving Journey to Rakks
Rakks is pleased to introduce guest blogger Paul Pettigrew in a several part post series, talking about his design life before he discovered Rakks shelving and the evolution of his shelving project with Rakk’s help.

Receiving his Architecture BS from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and his MARCH from MIT in1988, Paul has worked for high profile architecture and design firm Perkins & Will, Crate & Barrel and in private practice. For over twenty years, Paul has been designing and fabricating architecturally specific furniture, many of which have been highlighted in numerous publications.

“Tuesday night I reorganize my record collection; I often do this at periods of emotional stress. There are some people who would find this a pretty dull way to spend an evening, but I’m not one of them. This is my life, and it’s nice to be able to wade in it, immerse your arms in it, touch it.” Rob Gordon (Nick Hornby), High Fidelity

Then there are those of us who deal with periods of emotional stress by designing and ultimately building the shelves upon which emotional reorganizations, such as Rob Gordon’s, take place. In college, an architecture friend of mine wore a button reading, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping”, I think my button should read “when the going gets tough, the tough start over-designing, obsessing, organizing and building.”

Describing a design process is difficult. My design process is overly complex, multi directional, non-linear, confused, inefficient and often misdirected enough to make it a rough read. I’d feel guilty about my process except for the fact that George Nelson once said “total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything.”

I was in need of functional shelving system in my Mies Van Der Rohe’s-designed condominium. With the structural limitations of the interior walls of the building, my only choice was to find a shelving option that could anchor to the floor and/or ceiling and would not rely on the support of the walls. Inspired by storage systems designed by George Nelson and the modern aesthetic vs. practicality and the desire for comfort from artist Holt Quentel, I set about on my task.

At that time, I was working in the architecture department of Crate & Barrel. One of my daily duties was maintaining our materials library. As “librarian in residence,” I met and corresponded with product vendors daily. I discovered Kee Klamp while researching adjustable shelving systems for both the first CB2 store and a Crate & Barrel trade show booth that I was designing. We didn’t use Kee Klamp in either of these two locations, but I remembered the company and the basic premise of their system.
Kee Klamp System
Deciding which fittings to use and how many vertical pipes was both a matter of plumbing pipe practicality and album, book, and computer proportion. The shelves were designed to be both bookshelf and bookend. The structure of the system consisted of Kee Klamp fittings and plumbing pipe threaded top and bottom, capped with threaded flanges on both ends.

In the world of custom and production furniture, the spray booth or “finish” is the “over” in every project that is over budget. Often the finish on a shelving system can cost as much as the materials and labor spent fabricating the unit. I selected 1” plywood without a finish veneer. Raw sheets of plywood were surfaced with a solid white laminate before they were cut & routed. This process minimized costs by eliminating the finishing process. The exposed plywood edges and white surfaces were both a practical/economic decision and an aesthetic one. The unfinished edges of the plywood were meant to be visually compatible with the raw galvanized finish of the Kee Klamp and plumbing components and the warmth of the wood edge was intended to balance the coolness of the galvanized pipe and fittings.
Completed Shelving Unit Before Rakks
Although, at the time, the project was momentarily complete, the now twelve year old system, continued to evolve from then on. For seven months it was part of my home office. Over the next ten years it housed the necessities of a nursery, terrorized a toddler, concerned a curious child and puzzled my pre-teen when I told her it couldn’t be removed.

This year, after many heated exchanges between architect and 11 year old client, the plan was to paint the exposed plywood ends turquoise or a combination of colors specified after my client’s encounter with too many color swatches at the local paint store.

Little did she know that after studying the paintings of Piet Mondrian, the shelving systems of my Italian heroes Gio Ponti and Osvaldo Borsani, re-interpreting the famous De-Stijl inspired bus driven by the Partridge Family and many other inspirations, I pursued my shelving system’s re-birth with my overly complex, multi directional, non-linear, confused, inefficient and often misdirected design process.

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk” – Thomas A. Edison

In Paul’s upcoming post, he’ll discusses how Rakks helped him take the next step in the shelving system evolution.

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