Architects Toybox Founder Rita Catinella Orrell Talks the Latest on Architecture and Design


Rita Catinella Orrell
Rita Catinella Orrell

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Rita Catinella Orrell is a seasoned design journalist and has been writing for over eighteen years covering everything from interior design, home furnishings, kitchen and bath design, and architectural building products. She was the products editor for Architectural Record for over fourteen years and was the founding editor of SNAP, a building products tabloid. Orrell continues to contribute to Record and SNAP, amongst many other publications and websites including Architizer and Texas Architect. She is also a published poet and her chapbook Stuck in the Dream Wheel was published by Finishing Line Press in 2005. She earned her LEED Green Associate certification in 2012, which also gives her an even better understanding for the industry she writes about.

Her blog,, was launched in 2011 as a curated list of gifts, gadgets, and gear for consumers. Most recently in 2013, Orrell launched as a resource for architects and designers looking for the latest building products. VIATechnik interviewed Orrell to get her point of view on today’s latest architectural and design news happening in the industry.


VT: Over the last several years, Americans have been downsizing spaces from their homes to their offices in order to alleviate high costs and to live more economically efficient. What do you see happening with building products and the types of products that will or will not be in demand due to this trend?

RCO: What I have noticed is that more furniture is being designed to multi-task. I’ve seen sofas that come apart to form a three-piece seating group when you need it, and then interlock into one piece again when you don’t. I’ve also seen home offices become more residential and relaxed, which means the pieces can be used for other spaces more easily when the home office is not being used for that purpose.

On the corporate side, office workspaces are becoming “landscapes” where you can perch on a nearby seating area and have impromptu meetings more easily. A recent example is Fuseproject’s new Public Office Landscape collection introduced by Herman Miller at this year’s NeoCon. Systems like this modular, kit-of-parts for collaborative desk and meeting spaces have the overall effect of using space more efficiently.

VT: What are some of the building products right now that you are a big fan of or recommend to consumers?

RCO: A few favorites that I’ve written about on the blog this year include Contemporary Pull’s modern hardware line, Rich Brilliant Willing’s new Palindrome modular bent tube metal frame fixture, and Heat&Glo’s new IntelliFire Touch App that lets homeowners control gas fireplaces remotely. I’m particularly partial to products that have taken sustainability or safety to a new level.

VT: Are there any products not out on the market currently that you feel needs to be introduced and would benefit consumers?

RCO: On the residential side I would love to see a more affordable way to customize window coverings. I live in an 1880s Queen Anne Victorian and it costs me a fortune just to be able to control the plentiful natural light that pours in the uniquely shaped windows throughout my home.

As far as a consumer product, I think we need more products for left-handed children. My daughter is left-handed and when she started school last year I had a hard time tracking down scissors, pencil grips, and other products to help aid her with her schoolwork. Kids have enough distractions in their lives right now – we should make it as easy as possible as we can for them to be comfortable while they are learning.

VT: With so much experience writing about architecture and design over the years, who are some of your favorite up and coming architects or designers?

RCO: I’m always terrible at this type of question because the amount of talent in the industry is overwhelming. Off the top of my head on the product design side I am a big fan of Dominic Wilcox, Tom Dixon, Yvés Behar, Black + Blum, and the Japanese design firm Nendo. Some of my favorites in architecture include Olson Kundig, Anne Fougeron, Snohetta, MASS Design Group, and Studio Gang. There are many, many more though that I admire.

VT: What’s your take on the future of sustainable design and architecture? Is it something that is necessary for future architects and designers to apply in their lines of work?

RCO: There is no future for architecture and design, or for this planet, without sustainability. We must embrace clean, natural sources of energy, like wind and solar, and integrate them into as many projects as possible. Right now there is a complex group of competing evaluation systems to determine what is “green”. While the industry works together to make this simpler for specifiers and designers, we must not give up the ultimate goal of building the healthiest and most sustainable buildings and products that we can.

VT: With your experience and knowledge of the industry, what cities can you tell us about that seem to be successfully moving progressively with some of the more innovative and unique building products out there?

RCO: It depends what you are looking for. NYC is a powerhouse of innovative furnishings and finishes right now, partly because of the amount of design schools in the area. There is incredible work coming out of California right now, and not just from Los Angeles and San Francisco. FireClay Tile, for example, is handcrafting incredible tiles in San Jose. Lately I’m hearing more about Portland – there is a strong design scene happening there right now from consumer accessories from Walnut Studiolo to reclaimed wood paneling from Viridian.

VT: Any recommendations on upcoming design or architectural events for those interested in exploring more in this field?

RCO: I have found that the best domestic events for scouting new products include GreenBuild, the AIA Expo, ICFF, NeoCon, and Lightfair. This year the International Home Builders’ Show and the Kitchen & Bath Industry show combined forces for the inaugural Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas. This show will expand next year with the addition of Surfaces and StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas, giving you even more to see while in town. If you want to go further abroad, the Milan Furniture Fair, Light + Building in Frankfurt, and London Design Festival are worth visiting if for no other reason than to be inspired.


For more on building products in architecture and design, check out Rita’s website ARCHITECTS TOYBOX

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