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Redesigns of Living

From headphones to whiskey bottles to bespoke furniture, Joe Doucet is reimagining our world—one object at a time

Published: Jun 19, 2014 06:53:04 AM IST
Updated: Jun 17, 2014 01:11:44 PM IST
Redesigns of Living
Image: Tim Pannell for Forbes
Sound Wisdom: “Some objects need to be reassuring,” says Doucet, with his One Sense headphones. “Others need to be reinvented.”

Joe Doucet is a living blueprint for the 21st-century designer. He has produced brand identities for BMW, packaging for Procter & Gamble and concept appliances for Whirlpool and Braun. A fixture of the Brooklyn design scene, he exhibits his work around the world and, in 2010, curated a one-night show of designer-personalised Munny toys at the Ace Hotel New York that drew thousands, including midcentury modernist Vladimir Kagan. The 43-year-old Houston native has also launched Whyte Label, a high-end line of home furnishings made to order through his Manhattan-based Joe Doucet Studio (joedoucet.com), and created AMU, the first mobile phone game that takes place on the screen and in the world around us. Now, Doucet would like to tweak the way you think about his profession.

“Design is not just engineering and styling, but a way of approaching problems,” declares the multidisciplinarian, who rarely begins at the drawing board. “I start by writing a sentence or two about the objective, what the product should make people think or feel or do.”

Redesigns of Living

He has applied this method to everything, from consumer electronics and fashion to wine chillers inspired by wind patterns and cold fronts. In the age of branding and microniches, Doucet casts himself as a polyglot, fluent in the languages of art, product design and marketing. “Design is a form of communication that uses aesthetics—form, colour and typography—to help craft the message of the object,” he says.

Doucet, who holds more than 50 patents for his inventions, is particularly adept at reimagining everyday objects. Inspired by a box of letters his grandmother showed him, he developed the BlackBox, a printer for text messages that allows “you to reconstruct a relationship on cash register receipt paper”. The designer’s One Sense noise-cancelling headphones employ what he calls “nature’s warning signals, big jagged spikes and the colour red” in an eye shield suitable for the love child of Star Trek’s Geordi La Forge and Lady Gaga. And the hip-hop oligarchy gave props to Fetish, Doucet’s Brancusi-esque 24-karat-gold-plated ashtray that sells for $3,300. “That really bounced around Twitter,” he says with a laugh.

Redesigns of Living

Though he descends from the tradition of 20th century industrial designers, including Walter Dorwin Teague (chief designer for Kodak and Texaco) and Raymond Loewy (creator of the Lucky Strike logo and the Studebaker Avanti design), Doucet grapples with contemporary consumerism. “I want to make products that are smarter and have less impact on the environment. I don’t want to follow the path of planned obsolescence, where you put a new colour and tech-y finish on products instead of making real improvements,” he says. His dream project: Redesigning the horrors of airline coach class to upgrade the experience without increasing the cost.

On weekend trips with his wife and two kids to their 1730s Dutch Colonial house in upstate New York, Doucet often ponders the future of design. “I was working on a stainless steel bar stool, and with rapid prototyping and on-demand manufacturing, I was able to have it made in one day,” he recalls. “Fairly soon, when you need a new silverware set, you will be able to download a pattern and print it out. Right now, the output of designers is things; soon it will be intellectual property.”


Redesigns of Living

Pocket Cool

The Panerai 3 Days Oro Rosso is off the wrist and ready for the big time

Panerai, the one-time watchmaker for the Italian navy, created this striking edition of 50 pocket watches ($71,800) for men who appreciate the functionality of clean design—and a clean wrist. But the 3 Days Oro Rosso is not just a pretty face: Turn the 50-mm timepiece over and swing the back cover open to observe the polished finish and workings of the watch’s movement, its bridges and skeletonised barrels. It’s also very cool at night, sharply lit via an internal luminous disc that beams through the hour apertures. And while you’re at it, sure: Jump in and swim away—it’s also waterproof to 50 metres.

Redesigns of Living

Supersize Sound
Light Harmonic’s DaVinci Dual Dac converts music libraries— and listeners

When it comes to downloading music, MP3s are cheap, convenient and play well on iPads and other mobile devices. But there’s just one thing: They leave out a lot of the musical information you’d get from a CD. And true high-resolution recordings—using either high bit-per-sample CD technology or Direct Stream Digital—bring you at least 128 times more sonic nuances than ordinary CDs.

Want to hear it? Unfortunately, the converters built into typical CD and MP3 players can’t handle high-res sound’s bit torrents. That’s where the DaVinci DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) comes in: It not only handles the torrent, but has a duet mode to smoothly clarify the sound of ordinary discs, as well.

Most of the DaVinci’s $31,000 price goes

into its circuitry, but Light Harmonic took pains with the design, too—you can rotate the upper deck to cantilever out or stack neatly on top of the lower one. Standard colours are black or silver, but they’ll work with you on that, in a wide array of custom shades. (lightharmonic.com )

Photographs: DaviD Arky
Style director: Joseph Deacetis
Stylist: MeguMi eMoto for anDerson hopkins Photo assistant: Bryant carMona

Redesigns of Living
Green Lightning
Energica’s Ego electric superbike delivers a world-class charge

Listen up: The 2015 Energica Ego motorcycle won’t produce that throaty, viscera-jumbling rumble you hear when you fire up a Harley. And it won’t let you feather the clutch as you cruise through town or downshift around a bend. Nor will it let you be the neighbourhood cool guy tuning the transmission in the driveway (for one thing, it doesn’t have any gears). But maybe you’re a different kind of cool guy.

This stunner—the first-ever Italian superbike to run exclusively on electricity—will travel about 100 miles on a full charge. And get you there in a blink: Top speed is 150 miles per hour, and it will jump to 60 mph in just over two seconds. It looks—and corners—the way any proper motorcycle should (brakes by Brembo, ABS by Bosch). But even at $28,000, direct from the factory in Modena, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to judging the fervour behind Italian motorsport. After all, they do go fast.

Redesigns of Living

A Fashionable Fortress
The safe you won’t want to hide

Since 1919, four generations of Döttlings have engineered locks and vaults that have evolved into today’s luxurious line of home safes. The hardened German steel is combined with multicomponent fillings that include bulletproof fibres, corundum stones to blunt drilling tools and plastic compounds to withstand detonations. And the locks, electronic or biometric, can be wired with any number of ingenious alarm systems.

Döttling also dressed up its safes to meet company. Karl Lagerfeld designed the limited edition Narcissus, which features reflective chrome-plated aluminum; another comes adorned in pop art colours (Beyoncé owns one). Then there’s the Liberty Barcelona ($88,000 and up; doettling.com ), a masculine, tufted-leather homage to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s classic 1929 chair. Döttling produces this showpiece in various sizes and with customised internal configurations. Want to secure that fine watch collection? It won’t just watch over your timepieces—it will wind them, too.

Redesigns of Living

The Well-Heeled Traveller
Shuffle off to a vacation with a trunk just for shoes

The suit has always been worthy of its own case, so why not your shoes? After all, wrinkles can be steamed away, but crushed loafers and broken heels will cause agony for the feet. This T Anthony shoe trunk ($3,200; tanthony.com ) can hold 12 pairs inside its canvas-covered wooden case with leather trim and will help start off any journey on the right foot. Or left.

Redesigns of Living

Meet the Muscle Cart
Pony up on the 18th hole in the Ford Mustang golf car

Has it already been 50 years? 2014 marks half a century since the invention of the world’s most famous muscle car, and Ford is understandably determined to celebrate. But while you’re waiting for the official debut of the much anticipated 2015 Mustang GT350, how about something a little more off-road? For example, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Golf Car ($18,795). Constructed from hand-laid fibreglass with an independent front suspension and an aluminum frame, it’ll hit 20 miles an hour and comes with flashers, head- and tail lights, turn signals and a locking front trunk, all of which make it street-legal for going after those occasionally errant balls.

Redesigns of Living

A Different Stroke
Beyond Ping-Pong

Killerspin revolution tables raise your game. Found the ceiling to your table tennis game? It could be your equipment. Killerspin’s lightning-fast surfaces are the real thing—frequently used in extreme tournaments and endorsed by the sport’s reigning goddess, Biba Golić. They are also striking sculptural objects, which explains why a Killerspin Revolution SVR table ($2,600; killerspin.com ) was used in the Super Bowl ad with Arnold Schwarzenegger and why they are found in the homes of celebrities, including golfer Phil Mickelson.

(This story appears in the May-June 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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