Anna New York’s Luminous Accessories Will Last Forever
Fusing her passions for biomorphic design and natural materials, Anna Rabinowicz masterfully crafts long-lasting design objects using brilliant gemstones. Think of them as a glimmering antidote to fast-consumption.
Anna Rabinowicz wears many hats. Count design professor, trained product designer, and Stanford-educated engineer among them. Perhaps her most notable is running ANNA New York, a home accessories brand she founded nearly two decades ago. Fusing her passions for biomorphic design and enduring, natural materials, the brand has made an indelible stamp on the design sphere—and you may have spotted knock-offs of her beloved Agate coasters. With her rigorous and technical training, every piece is obsessed over. “Design is powerful,” says Rabinowicz. “It can cause people to look at an object and say, ‘this is so right, I must incorporate this into my life.’ Five millimeters off, they look at it and say, ‘I’m not interested.’”
Surface sat down (virtually) with Rabinowicz to discuss her obsession with nature, object permanence in a world of ephemera, and what exciting products are on the horizon.
How has the ANNA New York brand changed since you founded it in 2002?
The brand has evolved tremendously, especially in the past five years. For many years, we were using single or maybe dual materials, say a simple set of completely gemstone coasters. As we evolved, I became interested in doing deeper transformations of materials and seeing how shaping these stones while combining them with other materials could create more functional, innovative pieces. Our Dual collection, which is a combination of marble and metal, is now our top-selling line. I obsessed about the forms and the connection between the marble and metal, and in doing so, created pieces that took the company to the next level.
The pieces in the ANNA line are made of such rich, geological materials. What attracts you to these, especially when designing in the home goods space?
Glass, metal, and stone are our three primary materials. The idea is that they should last forever. Our pieces were initially an antidote to the consumer electronics I made early in my career. I was designing cell phones, webcams, and all kinds of pieces that had electronic insides. Now, by working with these intrinsically natural materials instead of plastics and electronics, I can create pieces that last a lifetime.
These stones were formed over millions of years, and they don’t change over time. Plastic yellows in less than ten years. I wanted to create pieces that look the same 100 and even 200 years from now. The use of those ancient natural materials persists over time. It’s this idea of longevity—creating pieces that don’t go into the landfill—because hopefully people love them and keep them around year after year, and maybe even pass them down.
But beyond the enduring qualities, there is a certain sparkle imbued in many of your most popular products. Agate coasters, gemstone cheese plates, crystal bookends…
My attraction to gemstones comes from childhood. My father, who was a pediatric ophthalmologist, collected fountain pens and all kinds of beautiful things. We both really liked stones, so on the weekends in Detroit we’d go to gem shows together and buy pieces of stones. I had a cabinet with all kinds of little drawers that contained gemstones. I rediscovered Agate on a trip to Yosemite many years later, and I went to my parents’ house afterwards and found the same stone in one of the drawers. There was an intrinsic connection to my past, my love of luminous gemstones, and the love of my father. Much of my work involves connections to my past, to people that I have loved, and to their interests.
Gemstones are so cool—there’s so much depth to them. Each stone’s rings and coloration depend on minerals that were deposited when the stones formed. Each one is entirely unique, and their formation is completely dependent on the environmental circumstances that occurred the day and the moment that the water rushed down.
How else do you turn to the natural world for inspiration in your design process?
I’m attracted to how nature works, and how designers can learn from nature to create pieces that grow, function, and behave in a natural fashion. The ANNA brand is about geodes and natural materials. I researched hexagonal crystals, which grow in Brazil and appear in much of our work, and studied their formation. I developed a categorization system of crystals to map out the way they grow, and then created a design that was essentially crystals growing up the sides of household objects like candlesticks and bowls. That was a super experimental collection.
We have a bowl that’s based on the sea fan—the molten metal pours in exactly the same way that the sea fan grows. There’s so much biomorphic inspiration in our pieces, which often look effortless but there’s a whole lot of research and thought that goes on behind them.
Do you have anything on the horizon that you can share?
This holiday season, we’re launching a piece for people’s desks as they work from home. It’s a highly functional alabaster tech stand made in Spain, and it’s cool because you can charge it too. As a designer, I’m obsessed with the usage of our objects. I hope that they’re beautiful, but also that people understand how much thought goes into making sure that they work well. The tech stand is an example of that—it’s full of tiny details that we obsess over.