Design Experts

Inside design: Kevin Karst

Inside design: Kevin Karst Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: Kevin Karst

An industrial designer with more than a decade of experience, Kevin Karst has rescued disorganized, disordered and discombobulated homes with both his Karst closet systems (exclusive to Neat Storage Essentials in Toronto) and custom-made cabinetry. We asked the Toronto-based designer to help us make sense of the chaos.

S@H: Organizing is a very popular word these days. Why do you think that is?
KK:
The densification of downtown cores means storage has become more important. Many of us live in much smaller homes -- condos and lofts, for example -- where space is an issue. And as baby boomers age and downsize their accommodations, organization is only going to be a bigger buzzword. Ultimately, it's a good thing. Environmentally, we just can't afford to live in vast spaces; we can't sustain the resources required to build them -- not to mention the energy they use for heating and cooling, and the pollution they create.

S@H: What role does sustainability play?
KK:
It's huge. We industrial designers work with constraints and limitations all the time -- that's called being creative. A green ethic limits materials, which requires inventive design solutions. I prefer sustainable, domestic woods -- maple, cherry, white oak, walnut; they're local, involve less transport, and thus create less pollution. I'd also choose veneers over solid wood because there's a better conversion rate from tree to material (veneers are sliced, not sawed, so more of the tree is utilized). I only use water-based finishes and adhesives; they're healthier for me and for my staff, and no solvents means volatile chemicals aren't emitted into the atmosphere. Being green isn't just an ethical decision -- it's smart business. People will choose the green option, if it's available, even if it costs a little more.

S@H: Why is customization important to you?
KK:
Customization and organization are inherently connected. A person's living space reflects his or her personality and idiosyncrasies. For example, not a lot of standard products will accommodate hundreds of shoes or spices. The custom route is more practical because it allows a designer to make use of every square inch. One big issue is ceiling height. In downtown areas, there's a great deal of variation. For instance, old Victorian houses and loft conversions have higher ceilings than postwar bungalows. And particularly in closets and kitchens, vertical space is very important. Sometimes standard widths don't work, either. You get the best aesthetic effect if, for instance, each drawer front or door is the same width. Midpriced, off-the-shelf cabinetry often allows for three sets of standard drawers, plus a filler, which is just dead space. Custom cabinets can accommodate four sets of standard drawers or three wider ones.

Image courtesy of Brian Summers.

S@H: Working through an organizational process with a client is an act of intimacy. Do you make new friends?
KK: Absolutely. Typically, reorganizing and creating custom solutions happens during renovations, which are already stressful. You have to work well with people to help them survive that. Clients need to feel they can trust you with their secrets, their intimate possessions. Before they even look at my work, they're looking for that connection. Working through a variety of complex ideas during a stressful period means that, inevitably, deep relationships are forged.


S@H: How do you keep organizational designs from being the same old, same old?
KK: I try to travel a lot and attend trade shows. I read and am a news junkie. I'm interested in the artistic and design culture in Toronto, from galleries and readings to films and the performing arts. I work at the Toronto International Film Festival; I treat it as a holiday because it's so interesting. It's essential for designers to be adventurers -- you can't live in a cave and expect to stay relevant.

Organizing 911
Industrial designer Kevin Karst's tips for planning a project.

Research. Visit shops, showrooms and galleries, and train your eye to recognize and appreciate beautiful, elegant solutions. And remember, good advice may be valuable, but you know your needs best.

Consider all available space. Find solutions for those irregular quirky areas over doors, above cabinets or in corners. Besides being functional, these spaces can add unique character.

Insist on high-quality materials, fittings and hardware. By choosing the best resources, your organizational systems (cabinets, drawers or closet systems) will last longer.

Image courtesy of Brian Summers.

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Design Experts

Inside design: Kevin Karst