Q&A with Alabama Designer Robert Rausch

Clio-award winning designer, art director and photographer Robert Rausch lived and worked in Paris, New York and Los Angeles before heading back home to The Shoals, in the northwest corner of Alabama, to open GAS – Design Center.  There he completes a sort of creative trifecta with fellow Shoals natives Natalie Chanin and Billy Reid.
A huge proponent of “Slow Design,” Rausch spoke with Southernist about his design philosophy, high design coming out of the south, and the challenges of working from Alabama.
What are some of the struggles you’ve had because you are based there vs. when you were based in New York or L.A.?
I think in a bigger city there is more work to be had and there is a trust that people have for you as a designer.

Working from a small town, the first question people wonder is “if you’re such a good designer why are you living in a small town in Alabama/” It’s not something they come out and ask but it’s an underlying thing they think until they work with you and then they realize it’s a lifestyle choice and not a setback. Most of our clients see it as an asset. They feel like we give them something fresh that the designers in the bigger cities can’t give them.

You talk a lot about “slow design.” Can you explain what that is?
Slow Design approaches design from a holistic (individuals, society, and environment) view, with consideration to the social factors as well as the short and long term impacts of the design and materials used. We use the Slow Design as a way to rethink not only the design but the needs of the client.

Traditionally Slow Design has these six components (defined by the slow lab project) 

1. Reveal:  Slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s existence or creation.

2. Expand: Slow design considers the real and potential “expressions” of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and lifespans.

3. Reflect: Slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and ‘reflective consumption.’ 

4. Engage: Slow design processes are “open source” and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future.

5. Participate: Slow design encourages people to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities.

6. Evolve: Slow design recognizes that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, Slow Design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation.

Who else in the south is doing notable design work and what is it about their work that you find unique or appealing:
From crafting to farming, Southern tradition cultivates beauty. Good design stimulates intellect and elevates the lives that exist around it. Here are a few examples of Southern High Design:

Belle Chevre: This goat cheese from rural Alabama is sold in Beverly Hills and Dean & Deluca in New York City. Tasia Malakasis is the face of this passionate company. Tasia has so much vision for her cheeses. Not only are the cheeses innovative (she has a whole line of breakfast cheeses) but the packaging is hip, with an appeal to a younger demographic. Her goal is to sell cheese back to the French and she will do it. For a small town Alabama Cheese she is already sold on the east and west coast of the U.S. 

Knobstoppers & Cake Vintage: Featuring paper goods and accessories for the table that are sold at retailers such as Anthropologie, West Elm, and Williams-Sonoma. They have a traditional classic stye and design. They have unique table papers for food. Classic designs used in contemporary ways. So their innovation is more with reuse than unique design.

Bella Cucina: The pleasures of dining with Bella Cucina’s foods as well as their ceramics, linens and home goods are a luxury you can take home with you- or enjoy at their shopping and dining location, Porta Via in Atlanta, GA. It’s hard to beat Italy when it comes to food. Smith has done a killer job with the design and his wife has done an incredible job with the food. Just look at the packaging and it evokes what is on the inside and what the whole company is about. Simple, detailed, chic.

Wesley Baker of Baker Binding: Based in Anniston, Alabama, Wesley Baker handcrafts books with quality practices and materials. It’s no wonder that his clients include the famous luxury brand Asprey in London.  The craftsmanship of Wes is amazing. I love working with him and on every project he puts so much time into the smallest detail. It’s nice to have that in today’s world where you have to go with the standard. When you work with Wes there are no standards. It’s all custom.

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Rausch’s photography can be seen in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Garden and Gun, Southern Living, Ladies Home Journal, and Veranda Magazine, just to name a few. His design work can be seen at Anthropologie, Hilton Hotels, Whole Foods, Ted Montana Grill, The Waldorf Astoria, and Billy Reid.
Robert’s devotion to Slow Design is evident in his work and the clients his work attracts.

He works out of a magnificently converted historic building in downtown Tuscumbia and he lives on a small farm with his wife and four children.

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