When elements of American industrial design combine with Scandinavian minimalism, the results are apparently quite spectacular. These two divergent design approaches are elegantly married in the Tribeca home of Soren Rose – a Danish-born, NYC-based product designer, interior architect and serial entrepreneur. We first learned of the designer through his Tribeca series – a lighting collection produced in collaboration with fellow Danish design studio Menu. Much like his home, the collection borrows influences from industrial American design, but is edited by a Scandinavian approach that celebrates essentialism and restraint.
Take a look inside Soren’s incredible, self-designed home, shop his Tribeca lighting collection and read our conversation regarding inspiration, minimalism and living with less.
What were you doing prior to starting your design studio in New York?
I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve started a bunch of different companies since I was twenty years old. I founded the oldest web agency in Denmark back in 1994. It’s called in2Media and I still run it with two partners. From there, I kind of branched into different things. In 2004, I founded a company called Trunk Archives, which licenses photography from some of the best photographers in the world. And in 2008, after being the CEO of Trunk for several years, I decided to start my own design studio. It had been a dream for a while, but I never had the courage to do it. So in 2008, I just started it from the ground up.
I’m self-taught in everything I’ve done. I went to high school and then I started to work in media. I didn’t really have patience to sit on a school bench anymore.
New York is important for me – it always has been. It’s just – I don’t know – the capital of the world for the best within every industry, no? It’s very inspiring. Thinking about how the city has influenced my work, the Tribeca series was actually the first product collection that we designed, back in 2011. We come with our traditional Danish view on products – our beautiful PH lamps and our Arne Jacobsen – and then suddenly you come over to New York and we’re sitting in this old building from the 1800s with exposed metal beams. It’s just so different from Copenhagen! This building was an old paper factory back in the day, and I think that was a huge inspiration for me. Thinking about how Tribeca was in the 1930s and then trying to come up with a take influenced by Scandinavian minimalism.
Did you have a background or education in design?
No. I’m self-taught in everything I’ve done. I went to high school and then I started to work in media. I didn’t really have patience to sit on a school bench anymore. So yeah – I started the studio and because I had a pretty vast network of people that I knew over here, I quickly landed an amazing project up on Park Avenue, which is the reason I moved to New York. So from 2008 to 2010, I just kept going back and forth between here and Denmark, until I finally moved here in 2011. I’ve been here for six years now, and a couple of years ago, I decided not to have my studio in Denmark and just run the company out of New York.
Named after Soren’s NYC neighborhood and inspired by its cobblestone streets, the Tribeca Series is the very first product collection designed by Soren Rose Studio.
The Harrison Chandelier$634-$749
Duane Pendant Lamp, $250
Reade Table Lamp,
Warren Wall Lamp,
How do you split your time between product design versus interiors?
I think probably half and half. Interior projects are important for us because we learn about needs through the process. Instead of just having a manufacturer that says, “Oh, we’d like a new chair, a new sofa,” with interiors, you’re looking at a little cove or a walk-in closet that needs a piece of furniture that doesn’t already exist, and then something comes out of that. I think its much more valuable than if we were just sitting and trying to invent new products.
One of our clients right now is – he’s American and she’s Japanese – and their design tastes are kind of opposite. He’s very traditional American and she’s much more of a minimalist, and they found their middle ground in Scandinavian modernism. And that’s why they approached the studio and asked if we wanted to do their apartment.
Why do you think those two, American and Japanese design philosophies, converge in Scandinavian principles?
That’s a good question. I think American interior design has a tendency of putting way too many things into the equation. If you count the pieces in this apartment there are really very few items. Statistically speaking, an American apartment would probably have three times as many things. But the Japanese can sometimes be the other extreme, right? They’re almost like, “We don’t need furniture. We can just sit on the floor.” Which I totally understand. When I first started figuring things out, probably twenty years ago, I bought an apartment, but I couldn’t afford nice furniture. So instead of moving all my furniture that I had at the time, I decided to just live with nothing – absolutely nothing. I’d rather save my money to buy just the right lamp or the right chair or the right art piece instead of just buying a whole bunch of crap. And I think that was my process for learning about interior design. I was living in this beautiful space, my mattress was on the floor, and I started to collect all the things that I wanted and built the interior design around that blank canvas.
I’d rather save my money to buy just the right lamp or the right chair or the right art piece instead of just buying a whole bunch of crap.
Do you have any tips for people on how to strike that balance? What’s your method for figuring out what to keep versus what to get rid of?
One idea is to think about pieces being multi-purpose, right? If you have a walk-in closet and you have a stool there, that stool can also serve as a side table for your sofa, or it can also be used in your entryway. You can actually move it around, and it’s not like you need three different pieces. I do the same thing here – I use the dining chair as a desk chair when I’m working at home. Another thing is, personally, I really like getting things off the ground. I like to be able to see the perimeter of the space – it makes it feel bigger. Especially in New York City, where you have all these narrow buildings and apartments.
I recently read about a guy who went to the extreme of deciding to only live with fifty products. It was fun to read about because he literally counted everything. After one year, he decided to have a hundred things, and he said it was an extreme luxury that he could now go out and prioritize to buy a potato peeler, because that had been such a luxury. So his process, I suppose, was understanding what really makes a difference.
Going back to the restraint, you have a lot of closed storage and everything is very well organized. Have you always been this way?
Yeah, I think so. If things are too crowded or if my desk is too messed up, I need to organize before I move on to anything else. It’s also part of my creative process. I think it’s fun to start fresh – with a blank canvas – and I do that best in a clean environment. My wife has also given me a challenge a couple of times since living in New York. She said, “Let’s try to not buy any clothes for a year.” But I also ended up throwing out a ton of clothes in the process, because I realized that I didn’t use them.
How do you spend most of your time at home? Do you entertain a lot, or is it primarily just you and your family?
I think a huge thing is cooking. I love cooking, as you can see. In a week, I’ll probably go out once or twice and the rest of the time I’ll cook.
Do the kids get involved?
Oh, yeah. They love cooking. All of them. Even the little guy. He’ll help out in the kitchen for an hour, easily. I think cooking is probably the one thing I do that doesn’t really relate to design or work – it’s just a pure moment of creation. When you design a new chair, it’s like painful! It’s back-and-forth, back-and-forth – prototype this-and-that. Then it changes, then it breaks – there’s always something wrong. But with food, it’s like two hours, all-in, you have an incredible experience and you’re super-satisfied. It’s very rewarding.