Thirteen Questions: Rob Zinn

You might think that this small design company in California’s central valley would make an odd addition to Gwyneth Paltrow’s living room, but that is the essence of their outsider ethos. The cream rises to the top.

In collaborating with the famed design team Mike and Maikke, blankblank created a striking bookshelf that came complete with required reading on subjects like “Religion” and “Power” by luminaries like Plato, Hobbes, Marx, and the bible. (“Religion ended up in Paltrow’s home.) So who is the genie in the bottle?

Questions by NWBLK Creative Director Steven Miller (SM)
Answers by Rob Zinn (RZ) of blankblank, September 29th, 2014

SM: What is your (or the firms partners) background(s)?
RZ: I grew up in near Clearwater, FL, migrated up the east coast and received a Bachelor of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I spent 10 years in NYC working for some great designers including Ayse Birsel, Mark Goetz and Tim Richartz as well as teaching for three years in Pratt’s Industrial Design Department. Exhausted with life in NYC, I moved to a loft space in Sacramento and formed blankblank together with Jon Dennis.
SM: How did you come to found blankblank?
RZ: I designed some retail fixtures for Jon’s former company while I was still in Brooklyn. We both wanted to try something new and over the course of a few months, we had formed the genesis of blankblank. Jon moved back to England in 2009. I always thought Anna would be a great addition and in March of 2014 she left her job and joined me in the company.
SM: What is it that most excites you about the work you do? What part of your process is most exhilarating?
RZ: When I am sculpting ideas in real materials and recognizing the potential of mistakes and problems.
SM: What do you do to “re-fuel” your creativity?
RZ: Surf. I leave everything behind me while I’m in the water.
SM: We at the NWBLK believe that most people interested in architecture and design are also interested in other pursuits like food, fashion, music and technology. How do these things weigh in to the way that you think about your creative endeavors?
RZ: I’m surrounded by all that to some extent with what Anna’s always into so I’m exposed through osmosis but I don’t actively seek them out. I’m not a big fan of pop culture and tend to gravitate towards the simple things in life. I think exploring that simplicity and reducing “noise” is how I work best.
SM: Whose work most fascinates, inspires or repels you and motivates you to action?
RZ: I’m inspired by Paul Hawken and Yvon Chouinard. I’m motivated to action by abuse to animals and our natural environment. Honestly, I’m much more likely to help a pigeon than a person.
SM: In what ways do you give back to your greater community? Do you teach or are you involved in sponsored events or fundraising? Do you have a charitable cause that you like to contribute to financially or otherwise?
RZ: We are pretty involved in our rural town of Courtland. Anna holds a few leadership positions and I am the guy building, moving and cleaning stuff behind her. I also teach as a lecturer at UC Davis Design Department and with UC Davis Extension.
SM: Many people that we talk to have said that travel is very important to their inspiration. Are there places that you like to go for inspiration?
RZ: Anywhere near the ocean, preferably with good waves.
SM: Do you attend trade shows or fairs; fashion week etc. when you travel?
RZ: Yes, business and personal travel get very intertwined!
SM: What are your favorite magazines? Digital or print?
RZ: I don’t read a lot of magazines. I prefer digital formats if the screen is big enough to be immersive.
RZ: There is a well-known baptist pastor also named Rob Zinn.If he starts designing, I’ll be on Google’s page eight.
SM: What is your favorite color?
RZ: I’m naming two because they need each other - orange and light blue.
SM: What’s the NWBLK?
RZ: A cool design gallery. It seems to be becoming and evolving, so time will tell.