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Studio Visit: Black + Blum


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Martin Blum in front of the Black + Blum studio and shop in the OXO Tower in London. Portrait taken August 16th, 2013. © Rita Catinella Orrell

It was a bit ironic that my first visit to the London studio of Black + Blum was during the summer edition of the New York International Gift Fair. It was during that show several years ago where I first encountered the company’s quirky, functional gadgets. During a trip to London in August, I sat down with Martin Blum at the Black + Blum studio/shop located in the OXO Tower on the south bank of the Thames. Blum was holding down the fort at home while his business partner Dan Black introduced new products at the Javits Center in New York.

Blum and Black first met when they were design students at Newcastle University. After working well together on a few group projects, “we realized that we had something going,” says Blum. “It’s quite rare to find someone you can work well with.”  A few years after school the two got together and started a firm in 1998. After operating as a design consultancy for two years, they had a literal “lightbulb” moment after designing a light fixture for a client. “The lights were not manufactured, and it was a missed opportunity” he says. “So we did it ourselves.”

When the team launched the lights at London’s 100% Design show in 2000, everything changed. “We needed a reality check and it worked very well. We got 40 or 50 press write-ups and we supplied 30 or 35 prestigious retailers.  We took a position that we preferred doing that and restructured our business.”

Over the course of a year the two learned the ropes of distribution. “We felt the only way we could make a living was to do it ourselves, and that’s when we hired our first person in 2001.” They moved to the OXO Tower in London and set up in a warehouse in Cambridge. The studio now has 11 employees and their designs can be found in design and museum shops around the world. Which product has been the bestseller? Blum cites the lunchbox, which has sold 60,000 units a year since 2010.

New products this year include a lunchbox with a bamboo lid, the cork-lidded  “Leaning Tower of Pasta” container, and new versions of the classic lunchbox and Eau Water bottle designs. Does Blum feel that London is the design capital of the world? “I would say so,” he replies, “but that’s very subjective.”

Scroll down to see Blum’s favorite spots to hang out in London…

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The studio also has a retail component, which is a requirement in the OXO Tower.         © Rita Catinella Orrell

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An update of Black+Blum’s bestselling lunch box. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The updated version of the Eau Water bottle will feature a colorful silicone base for the stoppers. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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An update of Black + Blum’s bestselling lunch box. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The Leaning Tower of Pasta is made of ceramic and will feature cut-outs in the cork stopper to indicate portion size. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The company’s new bamboo-covered lunchbox is now in production.                                © Rita Catinella Orrell

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Martin Blum points out the plastic seal for the bamboo lunchbox. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The Dinner Loop candlestick holders in a new copper finish. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The incredibly soft iPad/book/laptop stand, which was launched at the gift show earlier this year. © Rita Catinella Orrell

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The On a Roll tape dispenser strips the product down to the bare minimum.                   © Rita Catinella Orrell

 

Designer Martin Blum’s favorite spots in London:

1. Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, East London. “Cool shops, restaurants, and boutiques of all kinds. It’s quite a cool little street. While there he suggests a visit to the Boundary Restaurant

2. “For a great view, go upstairs in the Waterstone’s bookstore on Piccadily”. 5th View and Bar and Food

3. Trafalgar Square Hilton , “Nice views on the terrace.”

 

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