What we do is who we are. 

Designers design their lives and all the things that go into them.  The architect Eliel Saarinen said “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context” In other words, If you are designing a dinner plate, you have to think of the table, and then you have to think of the room where the table is, then the house where the room is, then the environment of the house.  LeVan Design is an outgrowth of that philosophy. Artists have a need to live with their work. In our case, our workplace is a home and studio, the next larger context of what we do, so we design buildings, kitchens and studio spaces as well as plates, knives, forks, chairs and tables.  People are always surprised at the various things artists and designers can do - corporate identity,  packaging,  product design,  graphic design, photography, architecture, furniture, interiors, trade show exhibits.  We are problem solvers.

“The industrial designer’s job is to introduce art into industries hitherto artless” Fortune 1934.  Both of us were educated in Art schools - Ken at Pratt, and Hope at the Philadelphia College of Art.  Rowena Reed’s industrial design program at Pratt was very much more art oriented than at most other schools.  You could be learning graphic design along with painters.  The Philadelphia College of Art also had fine arts and design programs side by side, and there was a “craft” orientation at both places.  Ken designed handmade glassware for a company in New York, was a medical illustrator and designed medical exhibits in the Army, and was Design Director for a chain of 88 retail stores that sold housewares and tabletop.  Hope studied painting and ceramics and graduated from PCA with highest honors.

In 1980,  Corning founded a subsidiary company called Corning Designs, which was to be geared towards different retail channels  and to create a distinctive grouping of products.  We were striving for “quintessence”.

There were 13 of us, Ken was the Design Director, and our headquarters was in Clinton NJ. The design studio was in Bucks County PA, in a whupped old barn we renovated into a workspace.

This became our meeting place, studio, and laboratory for design ideas. It was our way of always thinking of the next largest thing. It wound up on the cover of an influential book of the era written by Raymond Waites. It was a very interesting and colorful place. Country Living
Magazine did a big spread on it in around 1984. Bo Niles was the Editor at that time, and the article helped publicize what we were trying to do at Corning Designs. We had visitors from many places, including Finland and England.  At Corning Designs we produced a lot of innovative products, new ideas in packaging and graphics. We wanted to be “high touch” as much as we could.
Because we were a Corning subsidiary, we had access to new technology and some great resources.  We decided that we would not be limited to glass, but could explore any material, encompassing the whole cooking and dining universe, so we began working on ceramics, wood, textiles- anything we wanted to do. Our first product was called “Brimstone” and was made from a ceramic material developed by Alfred University that could withstand direct flame. We did it in tan and black in a series of friendly shapes. Because of the fact that you could put it in a broiler, we developed fireproof placemats and underliners for it. You could cook your steak in the oven and bring it to the table. 
Unfortunately, the material had to be fired at cone 11 which no American ceramic manufacturer wanted to do.  In an attempt to find someone to manufacture it, we talked with Arabia pottery in Finland, which had a product called “Kokki”, and Hornsea in England, which had a black clay body.  Arabia eventually bought the molds. Our goal was to make every product from whatever the best material for that particular product was.
We developed a concept in a
round 1982 called “dining on location”, which had to do with the fact that people don’t just eat in the dining room. Using what Sara Little
called a “permanent placemat”, we made a product called the “Table for One” which could be used for anything from a placemat to a bed table, to a writing desk.  We still use them today.  After Corning Designs was taken over by Crown Corning, we designed a very popular casual dinnerware line for Crown Corning called Prego.
We also designed a dinnerware line called Occasions, which was manufactured by Sango in Japan.
It was a high alumina ceramic material with a 24% shrinkage rate during firing, but it was extremely strong and could go in the oven. We  took advantage of the strength by making the shapes be very elegant and delicate, and the oven-proof characteristic allowed all the serving vessels to go directly from oven to table.

Form Follows Function The Bauhaus credo that form follows function needs to be qualified.  Designers have to understand how something works before they design it, but function alone does not make a good product (neither does fashion or fantasy). Ralph Caplan said “Engineers make things work - Designers make them workable”.  A product has to earn its place in your home and it won’t last if its “function” is merely fashion or a failure. One should enjoy the freedom of caring for only a few things that we love and really use.  We would feel really bad if someone threw something we had designed into the trash because it was no good.  Someone recently asked Hope if her paintings were “archival”.  She said that they are archival if someone loves them enough to take care of them - caring and using.  We either have limited space or we're decluttering - we enjoy the freedom of caring for only a few things that we love and really use.

Packaging & graphic design  Shortly after the Corning Design era, there was a long period in the tabletop industry where few companies were developing new products in the sense of an actually new product.  In the case of dinnerware, there were “shape designers” and “decoration designers”.  We were “shape designers”, and companies could take the same “shape” and redecorate it again and again, so we had to branch out beyond product design because we had kids to put through school.  Manufacturers usually had “in-house” staffs who did ”shape design” according to the preferences of the factory and we would often rock the boat by suggesting something “outside that box”. One of our clients, Wilton Armetale, told us in great honesty, that they didn’t need new design ideas, but they needed new packaging to sell the products they already had.

Fortunately for us,  we knew how to design packages, knew all about photography, graphic design, styling, could write copy and communicate, so we shifted into that new world of graphic design and packaging. 

We designed a series of packages for Wilton Armetale that won every packaging award imaginable, including the “President’s Award”. I remember hell-bent-for-leather drives into NYC to get big C-prints we needed for mock-ups, Hand made mechanicals, last minute trips to FEDEX at the Pliladelphia airport.

We then designed a series of “suitcase” packages for Pfaltzgraff which created a ”billboard” in stores, changing the way these products were displayed. In a McLuhanesque way, the packaging became the product in terms of marketing.  We did a lot of Pfaltzgraff packaging.                              This was a “golden
era” of full color wrap-around packaging design. It took a lot of skill to produce; large format film photography, Cibachromes and C-prints, mechanicals by hand, buying type from typographers, rubylith, Kodalith, wax machines, transfer type and X-acto knives. Graphic design was still an art. We had the very first computers, and the Apple 2e had a 28k harddrive, if you can imagine that. We have had Macs, Illustrator, and Photoshop ever since they existed. The tools change but it’s still an art if you challenge yourself to think of it that way.
 

Corning Glass is a very large corporation, and was a powerful influence in the housewares industry ever since the introduction of Pyrex. Practically everyone has some Corning product in their kitchen.  Many of their products are “classic” in the sense that they are timeless.  A Pyrex pie plate hasn’t changed since it was first introduced 100 years ago.  A simple Pyrex juice jug Ken designed in 1973 looks as if it might have been designed yesterday. Simple as it is, it involved human engineering and working within some very unyielding manufacturing constraints.  It would be interesting to know how many people have used these in their homes. Designers have to think about who is using the things they design, because design is inescapable.

The Mill In the 80s, we moved from the farm in Bucks County and bought a property with an old gristmill near Bethlehem
PA, that served as our home and Studio This was an amazing place -the mill was originally built in 1744 and we made a studio in part of the mill, working as we renovated the buildings.  The kitchen in the old miller’s house was in the cellar and had a dirt floor.  We made it into an “unfitted kitchen” which Hope was instrumental in doing. It was very unusual, as was the house and the mill. Country Living magazine did a large spread on this place as well, which they called “Down by the old Mill Stream”. 
This article and the kitchen in particular was very popular, and we got a lot of letters from various designers asking questions.  Virtually everything in the kitchen from the cabinets and utensils was something we had designed or built.  We were contacted by a TV show in Burbank called “the Home show”, a precursor to the HG channel, wanting to film the house and interview us on the show, which they did. While all this was going on, we were waging a legal battle against the local township, which wanted to tear down a historic
bridge on our property  next to the mill, build a new bigger one,and widen Old Mill Road for through traffic. We stopped them by getting the entire property listed on the National Register as a historic district, but by stopping the new bridge, we made enemies of the local political powers that be.  Also, we had just had a child, so life wasn’t boring.


At the mill, we created an identity for Polder, which hasn’t been changed for 25 years. 
We designed a line of cookware for Wilton Armetale, and did all the packaging for it,
did a lot of catalogs and advertising for Baldwin Brass, and retail store interiors.
We continued working with Pfaltzgraff and Wilton Armetale.  We bought a Deardorff 8x10 camera, a Hasselblad, big strobes and began doing our own catalog and packaging photography
. Part of the mill became a photo studio.

Eventually, because of political problems with the Township because of the bridge, we sold the mill to a New York actress, moved to Berks County and bought an old Ironmaster’s mansion built in 1750, that had a large outbuilding which became our studio. This had a really good photo space, and in the old house there was a vaulted cellar that Hope used as a pottery.

The 1750 kitchen was still intact in the house, so as not to compromise the historic fabric of the house, we built a historically accurate kitchen “ell” to house a modern kitchen, so the house had three kitchens; an original 18th century one with a cooking fireplace and a modern one which had oak and poplar woodwork that matched the old house, and an outdoor bakeoven. The new kitchen was divided into three separate areas - preparation, cooking, and cleanup, each having different surfaces, an idea we have always embraced. We are not “matchy-matchy”.
The refrigerator was also concealed as in the mill house.

We were involved with a startup company called Buzz,and began doing more glassware design, as well as packaging and graphics.


Starting ar
ound 2000, we worked with Burpee and HenFeathers in the graphic end, and began doing more product design again. We did a tremendous amount of work with iSi, starting with packaging, and eventually going into product design. We moved to Lewisburg PA, which is a college town, bought a 1916 house on Market Street, had our studio right on the main street of town with a photo studio in a carriage house in the alley in back.

The kitchen in the house had been “modernized” several times and we bought a lot of House & Garden magazines from 1916 on eBay. This was the first time we ever had a house where you could actually do that! - 1750 - 1812, 1856, no way, so this was great - we had a house that actually had an original indoor bathroom and a “modern” kitchen. By reading these magazines, we discovered that they never talked about the kitchen in those days. It was the province of servants or those who wished they had them. We found some books from the period, and understood what a 1916 kitchen was all about, so we bought a vintage 6-burner gas stove from the midwest and made a lot of furniture, including a huge work table with walnut legs and a maple top and a rolling cart, which was apparently the thing to have in the kitchen in 1916.

This kitchen was very workable, and the idea of a large work table, a little higher than “table height” was the precursor of today’s kitchen island. The difference is you sit down while you are working.


During this period, we designed products, catalogs, trade show graphics and did a lot of photography. We worked on design products with Pfaltzgraff, Waterford Wedgwood, Lenox, Dansk and iSi.

We worked on catalogs with Burpee, and HenFeathers using large format photography

 
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Pfaltzgraff is America’s oldest Pottery, and any genuine vintage Pfaltzgraff  mixing bowl, pitcher, etc, is a sought after collector’s item, some items as yet unidentified. We had a great project designing traditional American housewares of a historically based conjectural nature which could have been made by Pfaltzgraff 150 years earlier “what if?”  Hope wrote a researched story about three generations of Pfaltzgraff women which established the historical backstory for the products. They were sold by Longaberger.

In 2008, we built a new studio in northern PA, not far from Corning. We incorporated a large painting and design area, a pottery, and a good model shop.

This enabled us to do 3-dimensional work, as we did with Dansk and iSi as well as many other things.


The kitchen space in this studio is particularly significant, as it uses many of our human engineering ideas as well as general design aesthetic ideas.

It incorporates four different counter heights (33”, 35”, 36”, 37 1/2”), three different cooktops (high BTU gas, induction, and teppan), and has a normal oven and a commercial bread/pizza oven. It has counters made from marble, concrete and wood.

Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic.  Charles Eames.

The way we approach product design, as mentioned before, often requires working in three dimensions. Here you can see developmental models (process) and a finished product.

In terms of the iSi Flex~it products, we designed the products, and did all the packaging and catalogs, often using hand- mock-ups for photography, in anticipation of finished products:

We also did dinnerware shapes for Lenox / Dansk that came to market in a number of stripe patterns, so here you have a juxtaposition of design ideas that are 150 years apart in some ways, but classic in others

Our studio space is a laboratory for design exploration and we continue to work on it and within it - it’s a work in progress.

We are hands-on design generalists in an age of specialists, and like the parable of the blind men with the elephant, many of our clients have thought of us “being” what we did for them; product designers, graphic designers, package designers, architectural historians, interior designers, copywriters, photographers, In fact, we are all of those things.