A Creative Drought Comes to an End

Lawrence Laske

I moved to Paris and after living there for almost a year, I ran out of money and had to return to the United States. In December of 1991, I found myself without a design rush, without a new adventure to keep my creative wheels turning. I was 29 years old and living in my parent’s basement in the suburbs of Chicago.

In an effort to get some design work, I called Knoll’s creative director, Carl Magnusson, to request a meeting to present myself and my work. Carl agreed to meet and immediately purchased my ticket to New York. At our meeting I presented my work, travels and experiences, although he probably expected me to present specific ideas. In follow up, I wrote Carl a thank you and included a prototype of the Niki ashtray that I designed for Starck.

On November 10th of 1992 I received a call from Carl. He was sending me a product brief and contract for a series of tables to be presented the following June at Neocon in Chicago. The timing was perfect as I was headed to Martinique for holiday in December and planned to use the time to sketch for Knoll. Upon my return, I met with Carl to review my sketches. Carl went through each page one by one, not saying a thing until he was finished. Then he quickly picked two pages and said, “These are my favorites. Which are yours?” Thinking on my feet, I replied “those are also my favorites.”

Initial drawing for the Saguaro table taken from Laske's sketchbook no. 6.

Initial drawing for the Toothpick table taken from Laske's sketchbook no. 6.

The project had a quick turnaround and I set to work producing full-scale pen and colored pencil renderings for several table variations and their details. I recalled a beautiful full-scale rendering Ettore Sottsass had completed for Knoll and aimed to make my mentor proud. On January 6th, 1993 I sent thirty-six full-scale drawings along with eight models to Knoll. From my work, Carl selected eight tables and immediately started prototyping. I flew to New York on February 11th to see the first prototypes and returned again on March 30th to see the second generation of prototypes.

The Cactus Collection was introduced in June 1993 at Neocon as planned.

“I remember when I first met Carl. I was drawn to his wit, instinct and eye for detail. Carl did a magnificent job editing my sketchbook – he was absolutely right with his two choices.”

—Lawrence Laske