Photograph: Dane Tashima
Christopher (left) and Daniel Streng
In the Garfield Park warehouse studio of Streng Design (http://www.strengdesign.net/), a team of young designers envision new landscapes, personal care products, modular buildings, furniture-you name it, they’ll redesign it. The team’s leaders, brothers Christopher, 34, and Daniel Streng, 37, have built an international reputation as style makers and product rethinkers. Their clients include Capellini, an Italian furniture maker; appliance giant Whirlpool; Kohler, the plumbing fixtures firm; and a few clients they can’t yet talk about. Educated at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, the brothers have a Midwestern pragmatism that enhances a form-follows-function ethos. We sat down with them recently to talk about the vision thing.
What areas in contemporary homes should be rethought?
Christopher: Kitchens are now so large that caring for them can be a full-time job. People lily-gild with ornamentation that interrupts the usability of the area. There’s not enough consideration for the process.
Daniel: Kitchens tend to be smaller in apartments, so there is a lot of innovation that needs to happen there. The Japanese have been very successful at this. In the Japanese market they have in-sink dishwashers, where you lift the lid, put in one meal’s worth of dishes, and wash them, rather than letting a whole lot of dishes pile up.
The ultrasimple Cup chairs are made with felt-laminated aluminum sheets.
The Laminar spout on the Purist sink pushes air out of the water so it flows smoothly and doesn’t splash.
This portable washer/dryer combo can handle about three-quarters of a normal load.
Christopher: Whirlpool makes one for the United States called the Briva. We didn’t work on the original design but it’s a project we have an affinity for. We’re looking at function. We always ask the question: Why do we need this product? What does it actually do? A lot of people walk into a store and say, "I want a pencil." They don’t want a pencil. What they want is a line on a piece of paper. But marketers get people to want the pencil. Instead of wanting portable music, they’ve got to have the iPod.
If it’s all about function, what’s the excuse for the Sok tub you did for Kohler? A huge spa tub that fills to the rim, then overflows into an outer tub-do I need that? Don’t I just need to get clean?
Christopher: But do you really feel like you are escaping? Forget everything you know about the claw-foot tub. Think about what the water experience can be. We created a bath within a bath, like an infinity pool. You’re soaking and it’s really nice and quiet; the water is sheeting over into the second tub, so smooth that it looks like a curtain. You can run your fingers through it and it’s really soft and clean water.
Next you’ll tell me I need a new sink.
Christopher: The Purist sink we did for Kohler is a flat marble square. The water shoots out of the mirror, and the water sheets out across the surface in all directions and runs into a moat. You can wash your hands or face in it, and if you want a reservoir, there’s a bowl with an open bottom. You set the bowl down on the surface under the flow and it fills up. If you want to empty it, you just pick up the bowl and water runs out the bottom. It’s thinking about the sink in a different way. It’s a sink without a sink.
What area of our homes will you tackle next?
Christopher: We’ve been working on the idea of a small modular room that you could install on a rooftop. Something easy to assemble that you could lift to the top of a building in eight or ten pieces. Then you use some of the roof area for a lawn. You make it into a summer cottage.
Is it hard to be so ahead of your time?
Daniel: One of the difficulties we have is that there are a lot of people out there who are traditional. I respect and appreciate that. I catch myself antiquing from time to time.