Most attorneys can’t lay claim to multiple international product design awards, but Tina Nicole is not your average lawyer. As the lead designer and co-founder of Nathan Anthony Furniture, nor is she your average furniture designer. When the vivacious American of Italian descent studied abroad at Stratford-Upon-Avon, England with UCLA and at Bologna University, Italy, and then spent the summers of her young adulthood touring Italian cities, she was exposed not only to beautiful fabric, but also to the distinctly European design sensibility that informs her work today. Tina had always yearned to express herself in creative terms – before pursuing her professional goals she completed the fashion merchandise, marketing and textiles program at FIDM and was a window dresser for iconic retail brands Colors de Benetton and Polo Ralph Lauren. So perhaps it was kismet, after all, marrying furniture and mattress factory owner Khai Mai. In 2004, having cut her teeth in the esteemed chambers of United States Federal District Court Chief Judge, Terry J. Hatter Jr. and Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, she left the office and courtroom commute for good, to start the couple’s custom furniture design business, which is named for their son. Finally, surrounded by beautiful upholstery covers, she gets to dress up the sofas, chairs, and other furnishings in the modern and contemporary styles she likes best.
Recognition: Tina Nicole has been recognized for design excellence by the Design Society in the U.K. with two International Product Design Awards 2016 & 2015 by design et al’s International Design & Architecture Awards, by Interior Design Magazine with three Best of Year Award nominations 2016, and by the American Society of Furniture Designers (ASFD) with 2016 and 2012 Pinnacle Award nominations. Her award winning furniture products for Nathan Anthony have been featured in top interior design projects and media outlets, including Architectural Digest, Interior Design, Design et al and Milieu magazines.
Awards: Winner, 2016 International Product Design Award, London, Chair Category; Winner, 2015 International Product Design Award, London, Sofa Category; Finalist, Sofa Category, 2016 International Product Design Award, London Finalist, Chair Category 2015 International Product Design Award, London; Finalist, 2016 Pinnacle Awards, Bed Category, North Carolina; Finalist 2012 Pinnacle Awards, Sofa Category, North Carolina; Finalist 2016 Best of Year Award Sofa Category; Finalist 2016 Best of Year Award, Chair Category.
“You have to constantly observe and study everything around you. In the fields of furniture, home décor, fashion, architecture, fine art, graphic art, music, movies, theater and technology – ideas are everywhere. Designing works best when not heeding convention or rules. Look at things upside down, sideways and out of order. Focus on the parts that make up the whole. Look at the shadows a light casts. When you look at things outside of context, you get a glimpse of something new. Being inspired to create is when you feel truly alive. Just start drawing a line or write a sentence or slap paint on a canvas and let it compose.” – Tina Nicole
Life is an ever-changing canvas. There are many aspects of life that inform Tina’s work – travel, art, design, architecture, fashion, music, literature, photography, fine art, history and many more. Some of the designers, artists and writers from whom Tina finds inspiration are:
Patricia Urquiola – for feminine and soft modern shapes, materials, colors and color applications. Hella Jongerius – for mixing of colors, textiles, materials and shapes. Mario Bellini – for use of forms, shapes, lighting. Miuccia Prada – for unpredictability and nonconformist approach to style. Coco Chanel – for sporty but classic styling. Missoni – for textiles and color. Sally Coates – for exploring photography, color, light, mixed media, voice. Gucci – for style. Martin Durazo – for exploring mixed media, materials and edge. Iris Apfel – just because. Kelly Wearstler – for shapes and materials and edge. Jimmy Choo – for mixing textile and color applications. Louis Vuitton – for simplicity in design, materials, shapes. Fendi – for style. John Keats – for vivid imagery and sensual expressions. Shakespeare – for expression and thought.
design et al
An Associate of Arts Degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, a Bachelor’s Degree from UCLA and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School. Always a lover of textiles, forms and fashion, I worked in sales and then as a window dresser for iconic retail brands Colours de Benetton and Polo Ralph Lauren. This gave me a feel for combining the right fabrics to the right frame, and for learning the art of merchandising. I use all of my education and experience at Nathan Anthony Furniture whether it’s building the administrative infrastructure, designing product or marketing. My diverse education and experience has been invaluable.
How would you describe your personal interior design style?
Currently, it’s Hollywood Regency meets Italian contemporary (it’s always evolving!). I love wide open spaces with tall architectural ceilings and minimalist forms. Every piece should have a purpose. Art and furniture must have dialog. White with black are my go-to palette with pops of either soothing pastels or crisp primary colours. I like to emphasize a 360-degree view of our products using unique sewing techniques, materials and shapes that bring visual interest.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
I am drawn to beautiful things and have an unyielding curiosity. Traveling abroad or around the U.S. four times a year, I indulge in all that is around me – architecture, street art, window shop, museums, art openings, cafes, theatre and concerts. Because design is art and artists push societal norms, this broadens my view of what design is and how it’s evolving…It’s best to see all kinds of expressions of art in so many different genres.
In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?
With today’s large, open spaces in living areas, you can expect ingress and egress from different parts of the room. This architectural trend has prompted space planning and interior designers to bring furnishings away from walls and into the center of rooms. It’s imperative to establish visual interest from every vantage point in contemporary spaces. The backs and sides of furnishings are as now as much the focal point of the room as the nexus of the seating area is. That’s a welcome challenge for furniture designers like me because it’s a license to get creative.
Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in the future:
1. Organic shapes
2. Artisnal connection
3. Tactile textures
5. Comfortable Luxury
If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to product design, what would it be?
A diverse education balanced by apprenticeships is a really good balance for creative people. This way you learn the history and conventions of your discipline while using the tools of today in the practical environment. Study abroad is valuable too because it expands your ideas. Lastly, study art and artists, both new and old… they are society’s challengers.
How important are The International Design & Architecture Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?
Extremely. Being recognized by your peers for excellence for something you designed is the ultimate compliment and greatest encouragement for more greatness.
What projects are you currently working on?
Expanding our product offering into new categories.
What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
To create more awareness and get people talking about the beautiful hand made products we make with love and care in sunny Southern California.
Final thoughts – tell us a little more about yourself…(click here)
If he’s listening to the roar of an exotic engine and Billy Idol songs blaring through the twisting roads of Angeles Crest National forest, then it must be Sunday. That’s when Nathan Anthony co-founder Khai Mai takes a break from the business he’s been passionate about since age 18, when he and his father together first owned and operated a furniture retail store in Los Angeles. By 23, the multi-talented entrepreneur was elbow deep in his next venture – a factory with the wood frames, foam filling, and fabric needed for building mattresses and sofas. Every new product was an engineering challenge then, a problem to be solved with a sharp mind and a straight ruler. Khai still utilizes that hands-on approach today, as he works side by side with his wife and business partner, Tina Nicole, making beautiful concepts come to life on their factory floor. From the design specifications phase through construction, and even capturing the final product images with his camera, he’s a study in motion wearing many hats. And if it’s too loud to hear a tree fall in the forest, then it’s probably Khai sneaking off for a little dancing with his sel-elf.
“Good design should inspire and be reproducible.”
The automotive industry with its inspiring designs and efficient processes is intriguing. There are so many components that have to come together at the same time, accountable down to the milli-second, and when they all meet up and create something as beautiful as a Porsche, and that process is repeatable at a swift daily pace… this is brilliance in engineering.