Gregory DiPaolo is the founder of the San Francisco firm StudioDiPaolo. Founded in 2015, the studio specializes in furniture design, residential architecture and interior design projects in the Bay Area. DiPaolo began to create project specific furniture and a new line of wood furniture that responds to a minimalist modern aesthetic that informs the architecture he creates. We sat down with Greg to discuss to discuss how StudioDiPaolo was formed, his process and advice he’d give to his younger-self.
Can you tell us how StudioDiPaolo was conceived?
After three decades of working on large scale architectural projects, and subsequent to that a number of residential projects in the SF Bay Area, I began to be more interested in changing the scale of the design problem, and chose to focus on furniture design. I created StudioDiPaolo five years ago to pursue residential architecture and to create a line of wood furniture that explores a clean modern aesthetic that complements the architecture I’ve been interested in and have created throughout my career. I found a studio space in Oakland, and fortunately it was both large enough and enhanced by great natural light such that it was an ideal workspace as a design studio for a new business, a space in which to experiment with form and with assembly processes and new techniques, and finally, large enough to build full scale prototypes and to build a new furniture line from assembly to the final finishing of the pieces.
“I have always gravitated toward a minimalist modern aesthetic.”
What word(s) would you use to describe your aesthetic, and how is it integrated into your products?
I have always gravitated toward a minimalist modern aesthetic. Simple elegant concepts informed by the nature of the design problem can be executed with a focus on understanding and expressing the “big idea” of the piece, an understanding of the wood we select, and a desire to create the detailing of the materials to enhance the design intent in the collection. The color and grain character of each wood species we consider is evaluated and chosen to respond to the type of piece we are designing, and the spatial characteristics of each piece. An effort to select wood with consistent color and grain enables us to compose the entire appearance of the completed piece, and careful grain matching is a further opportunity to enhance visual continuity in each design.
How does environmental sustainability factor into your furniture?
We select and work with only FSC certified wood materials, in both solid stock and in veneer panels, and they are sourced as locally as possible, through vendors that share our interest in certified wood materials and a verifiable chain of production and transportation to the US. The materials we use to assemble and finish the tables are either zero-VOC or low-VOC materials in a water resistant clear satin finish, or are oil based penetrating finishes. And finally, we repurpose wood materials left over from completed table projects into the creation of smaller accessory pieces
What would you consider to be the biggest change(s) in the field of product design since you opened your studio?
One of the single biggest changes in the field of furniture design and production has been the introduction of the CNC router to the creative process of designing and building furniture in any material and particularly in wood. A 5-axis router can handle the production of everything from full scale prototypes of individual components of furniture pieces, to the final production of wood parts for immediate assembly. The speed and accuracy of the CNC router is remarkable and both enhances and accelerates the creative process of designing furniture, exploring alternate options easily, producing component pieces quickly, and helping to resolve details at full scale. These are fundamental parts to the process of designing almost any object, and the creative and iterative process of designing and producing new furniture will continue to be enhanced by the addition and evolution of the CNC router to the process.
Can you explain your process when beginning a new project?
The process begins with understanding the nature of the design challenge, the size and function of the piece of furniture, the desired materials, and the factors that will affect its appearance and its functional performance. However, as always for me, the process still begins with a pencil. The ease of sketching with a pencil during the initial contemplation of both form and scale enables the creative process to remain fluid and without constraint, and it is an easy transition to further exploration of the form and structure and the details of the piece, as necessary.
How do you predict furniture design will evolve over the next couple of decades?
Furniture design in the next few decades will continue to be based on the same fundamental principles that inform every design problem, analysis and understanding of the problem as the first step, followed by the creative inspiration in the mind and the hand of the designer to respond to the challenge. New materials and assembly techniques will continue to appear and to evolve, and the introduction of new and ever more sophisticated equipment will continue to enhance and speed up the creative process as well. And further, I imagine that interactive communication between designers, producers and end users will enable the detailed customization of furniture to occur in all marketplaces. New materials and production techniques will appear, and fine furniture design will become more personalized, and able to reach people in every region of the world.
If you were to give your younger self advice in regards to a career in product design, what would it be?
Choose a respected design school with an interactive and hands-on curriculum, taught by design professionals, so that you can experience all aspects of the product design process, from initial concept sketches to the process of building concept models and full scale prototypes. Engage enthusiastically in the benefits of interactive design critiques such that you are immersed in the process from beginning to end. And then join a product design firm whose work you admire, and that will enable you to participate on the development of products at a variety of scales, and to ultimately lead the effort on the development of a new product.