Designers and Foodies Debate the Primacy of the Handmade and the Locally Sourced

A recent panel discussion at Nucraft explored the intersection between artisan design and food.

We live in an increasingly global and commoditized age where everything—from the clothes we wear to food we eat—is mass produced and shipped from the other side of the world. Yet, there is an increasing trend toward producing and using local, artisan goods as more people explore and understand the role of handmade design in an interconnected world.

This was the focus of a recent panel discussion held at Nucraft Furniture’s New York City showroom on October 2. There, panelists Shaw Lash, culinary producer and chef, along with James Klein and David Reid of the porcelain design studio KleinReid, joined Metropolis’s publisher and editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy in a conversation about her new book Szenasy, Design Advocate.

Released last April, the book is a compilation of published writings and talks from throughout Szenasy’s 30-plus years of advocating for “ethical, sustainable, human-centered design.” This position helped guide the hour-long discussion where panelists and the audience exchanged their views on the big industrial design versus the entrepreneurial craftsman.

Metropolis editor in chief/publisher Susan S. Szenasy speaking to panelist artist/porcelain designer David Reid

“The landscape has evolved so much over the past 20 years,” Klein noted at the outset of the event. “There’s a huge movement of people making things because people are hungry to see their humanity reflected in their everyday lives.”

This “humanity”—according to the panelists—is often lost in mass-produced products, as they lack a connection to a place or a story. “If you ask me about every piece of fabric and ceramic or any kind of textile in my crowded apartment, I can tell you exactly who were the people that made it,” Szenasy said. “Think of my Moroccan rugs, I went to a shop where women have been making these rugs for generations and I supported this craft and ability because keeping those origins intact is really important.”

Some of the locally sourced treats prepared by chef Shaw Lash for the event.

Lash, a chef who spent years in Mexico running her own personal chef and catering business, echoed this point. “There’s been this whole return to the tradition of fathers teaching their sons how to make mezcal in Mexico,” she said. The benefit of supporting this tradition on a global scale, Lash went on, is that “preparing this one hundred percent artisan product creates local jobs where people can make a very lucrative living.”

In keeping with this theme, attendees noshed on locally sourced cuisine—including blue fish from Montauk fisherman, fruits and veggies from Union Square’s farmer’s market, and cider from Grand Rapids, Michigan—all complements of Lash.

For more viewpoints on human-centered, sustainable design, pick up a copy of Szenasy, Design Advocate and the September issue of Metropolis, which highlighted the top restaurant designers working today.

Recent Viewpoints